FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Beyond 28 Pages: Saudi Arabia and the West

shutterstock_206414182

We taste the spices of Arabia, yet never feel the scorching sun which brings them forth.

-Inscribed around the rotunda of the Jefferson Reading Room in the US Library Congress, above the figure of Commerce

The long-overdue release of the classified 28 pages of a 2002 congressional inquiry into the 9/11 attacks represents the fullest public accounting of evidence that certain Saudi nationals potentially assisted some of the hijackers. Any evidence, however, that the Saudi government may have knowingly provided assistance at this point remains circumstantial and unproven, a perspective shared by a 2005 FBI-CIA memo, which was released the same day as the 28 pages. Former Senator Bob Graham, who was a member of the congressional inquiry, along with Terry Strada, the national chairwoman for 9/11 Families United for Justice Against Terrorism, have riposted that the matter of Saudi involvement is long from concluded and that more classified information needs to be issued.

While the 28 pages may provide little closure on how the largest terrorist attack on US soil transpired, its publication is yet another indication that the primacy of Saudi Arabia as irreproachable Middle East ally is in question. The declassification of the 28 pages comes on the heels of other developments that have undermined the carefully manicured image of Saudi Arabia as stalwart and stable ally, such as: the signing of a nuclear accord with Iran in 2015- raising the prospect of increased cooperation with the kingdom’s chief rival; the distribution of a cache of Saudi foreign cables discussing internal matters, which includes monitoring its citizens and attempts to combat critical voices in the media abroad; the unverified court testimony of Zacharias Moussaoui (the “20th hijacker”) detailing potential Saudi governmental involvement in 9/11; a war in Yemen that has caused thousands of civilian deaths and led to a humanitarian crisis, and international concern over the execution of 47 individuals on terrorism charges.

One consequence of these developments is the introduction of bipartisan legislation by members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee to curtail American arms support to Saudi Arabia for use in its Yemen campaign. In another case, the U.S. House of Representatives only narrowly passed a bill allowing the transfer of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia, evidence that lawmakers are beginning to approach this issue with greater care. Further, the U.S. Senate recently passed a bill that would allow the Saudi Arabian government to be held legally liable for any potential role in the 9/11 attacks, though a last-minute loophole in the bill will likely diminish its impact. Ongoing concerns continue to be expressed over the country’s funding of extremist groups and mosques worldwide. Following the massacre at an Orlando nightclub last month, for example, Hillary Clinton declared that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries are apathetic toward their citizens’ financial support of violent extremism- not the first time the presumptive Democratic nominee singled out Saudi Arabia on the campaign trail in such a manner.

Elsewhere relations with Saudi Arabia are undergoing a similar reappraisal. Last year Sweden decided not to renew a Saudi arms agreement maintained since 2005, largely from concern over the country’s human rights record. The United Kingdom withdrew a £5.9m bid for a prisons contract, after criticism of human rights abuses by both Tory and Labour officials. Belgium and the Netherlands have taken steps to end or limit arms sales to Saudi Arabia, while the EU passed a non-binding resolution for member countries to halt arm sales. The Canadian government proceeded with a controversial $15-billion arms deal (signed by the current government’s predecessor) only amidst a public outcry to annul it and a lawsuit arguing that the deal contravenes federal laws over prohibiting such sales to countries suspected of use against civilians or having a record of repeated human rights violations. Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion, even while taking responsibility for pushing through the arms deal, recognized the public concern by noting that the matter of selling arms to Saudi Arabia may be a question best left to the electorate.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Adel al Jubeir may be correct in noting that “the surprise in the 28 pages is that there is no surprise,” but he would be hard-pressed to exhibit a similar lack of concern about the increased public scrutiny and shifting perceptions of Saudi Arabia’s role in the world. The Saudis instead have responded to the above developments with direct actions, threatened reprisals, and a spirited public relations campaign. The Saudi ambassador to Sweden was briefly recalled. The U.S. has been threatened with the selling of $750 billion worth of Saudi investments in this country, over the Senate’s 9/11 legal liability bill. In response to the Canadian arms deal imbroglio, Saudi Arabia defended its judicial system as one that “calls for preserving and protecting human rights,” even though Freedom House ranks it worst in all categories of its freedom index. Current Saudi state officials and ambassadors and former advisors have increasingly sought forcefully to defend their country’s actions and image to the public, referencing Saudi Arabia’s key role in combating international terrorism in alliance with the United States and United Nations. They seek to justify Saudi Arabia’s “Operation Decisive Storm” in Yemen as an effort to restore “legitimate order” and “combat a militia influenced by Iran.” This public relations campaign has been abetted by other attempts to promote a counter-narrative to voices critical of Saudi Arabia, including the use of PR firms to charm American policy-makers and journalists and the attempted censoring of voices critical of the country’s human rights record. In March 2016, the Saudi American Public Relations Affairs Committee (SAPRAC) was established, the first US-based lobbying group with the expressed task of working toward strengthening US-Saudi ties and highlighting opportunities for investment. “Vision 2030,” the plan promoted as an effort to diversify and modernize the Saudi economy that includes the partial privatization of the state-owned oil company Aramco, may reasonably be seen as part of this charm offensive, as bankers worldwide eye a piece of the prize.

Answers about Saudi Arabia’s involvement in 9/11 may prove elusive and forever unknown. But more than ever, questions are being raised and subsequent actions are being taken in relation to Saudi Arabia, extending far beyond what’s contained in the 28 pages of fourteen years ago and portending a new realignment of the US and other western countries’ long-standing relationship with this Middle East power.

Kevin L. Schwartz is a scholar and writer based in Washington, D.C. His website is http://www.kevinschwartz.org/

More articles by:

Kevin L. Schwartz is a Research Fellow at the Oriental Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague where he focuses on Iran. He was previously a research fellow at the US Library of Congress and a visiting professor at the US Naval Academy. His website is www.kevinschwartz.org.

February 19, 2019
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Troublesome Possibilities: The Left and Tulsi Gabbard
Patrick Cockburn
She Didn’t Start the Fire: Why Attack the ISIS Bride?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Literature and Theater During War: Why Euripides Still Matters
Maximilian Werner
The Night of Terror: Wyoming Game and Fish’s Latest Attempt to Close the Book on the Mark Uptain Tragedy
Conn Hallinan
Erdogan is Destined for Another Rebuke in Turkey
Nyla Ali Khan
Politics of Jammu and Kashmir: The Only Viable Way is Forward
Mark Ashwill
On the Outside Looking In: an American in Vietnam
Joyce Nelson
Sir Richard Branson’s Venezuelan-Border PR Stunt
Ron Jacobs
Day of Remembrance and the Music of Anthony Brown        
Cesar Chelala
Women’s Critical Role in Saving the Environment
February 18, 2019
Paul Street
31 Actual National Emergencies
Robert Fisk
What Happened to the Remains of Khashoggi’s Predecessor?
David Mattson
When Grizzly Bears Go Bad: Constructions of Victimhood and Blame
Julian Vigo
USMCA’s Outsourcing of Free Speech to Big Tech
George Wuerthner
How the BLM Serves the West’s Welfare Ranchers
Christopher Fons
The Crimes of Elliot Abrams
Thomas Knapp
The First Rule of AIPAC Is: You Do Not Talk about AIPAC
Mitchel Cohen
A Tale of Two Citations: Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and Michael Harrington’s “The Other America”
Jake Johnston
Haiti and the Collapse of a Political and Economic System
Dave Lindorff
It’s Not Just Trump and the Republicans
Laura Flanders
An End to Amazon’s Two-Bit Romance. No Low-Rent Rendezvous.
Patrick Walker
Venezuelan Coup Democrats Vomit on Green New Deal
Natalie Dowzicky
The Millennial Generation Will Tear Down Trump’s Wall
Nick Licata
Of Stress and Inequality
Joseph G. Ramsey
Waking Up on President’s Day During the Reign of Donald Trump
Elliot Sperber
Greater Than Food
Weekend Edition
February 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Time for Peace in Afghanistan and an End to the Lies
Chris Floyd
Pence and the Benjamins: An Eternity of Anti-Semitism
Rob Urie
The Green New Deal, Capitalism and the State
Jim Kavanagh
The Siege of Venezuela and the Travails of Empire
Paul Street
Someone Needs to Teach These As$#oles a Lesson
Andrew Levine
World Historical Donald: Unwitting and Unwilling Author of The Green New Deal
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Third Rail-Roaded
Eric Draitser
Impacts of Exploding US Oil Production on Climate and Foreign Policy
Ron Jacobs
Maduro, Guaidó and American Exceptionalism
John Laforge
Nuclear Power Can’t Survive, Much Less Slow Climate Disruption
Joyce Nelson
Venezuela & The Mighty Wurlitzer
Jonathan Cook
In Hebron, Israel Removes the Last Restraint on Its Settlers’ Reign of Terror
Ramzy Baroud
Enough Western Meddling and Interventions: Let the Venezuelan People Decide
Robert Fantina
Congress, Israel and the Politics of “Righteous Indignation”
Dave Lindorff
Using Students, Teachers, Journalists and other Professionals as Spies Puts Everyone in Jeopardy
Kathy Kelly
What it Really Takes to Secure Peace in Afghanistan
Brian Cloughley
In Libya, “We Came, We Saw, He Died.” Now, Maduro?
Nicky Reid
The Councils Before Maduro!
Gary Leupp
“It’s All About the Benjamins, Baby”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail