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US-Saudi Relationship: Beyond the Obvious

Photograph Source: Saudi Press Agency – CC BY 4.0

An adage favored by Claud Cockburn as well as Otto von Bismarck advises “Never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied.”

Indeed, it should be a clear tenet of political analysis that stated goals are frequently not actual goals. US war planners used rhetorical concerns over non-existent Iraq WMDs as a pretext for invasion. Alleged human rights preoccupations were falsely heralded as the rationale for NATO bombings in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Libya.

One reason it was clear in real time that the US establishment was putting forward false pretexts in those cases was the contrast with the US relationship with Saudi Arabia and Israel.

But stated goals are not always false.

The bulk of the discussion over Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia framed it as an attempt to get some relief for US consumers paying $100 to fill up their gas tanks.

Interestingly, that largely contradicted what Biden was actually saying: “The commitments from the Saudis don’t relate to anything having to do with energy. … And it has to do with national security for them — for Israelis. … It has to do with much larger issues than having to do with energy.”

But that was frequently ignored in the media discussion. That is, on a rare occasion when a US politician was indicating that he was focusing on geopolitical goals rather than working for the benefit of US consumers, this very real possibility was remarkably marginalized.

For example, Mehdi Hasan on MSNBC stated: “Whatever we’re getting from this meeting [with Saudi leader MBS] maybe, maybe a slight fall in gas prices, is it really worth selling out the family of Jamal Khashoggi, the people of Yemen, and our own moral authority and values?”

The end of Hasan’s statement highlights a certain strain of US victimology, wherein the US government — which has illegally invaded country after country with horrific results, as indicated above — is deemed to have “moral authority.” Biden himself backed the Iraq invasion and has lied about it for years on the rare occasions he’s been asked.

In fact, the US establishment has lots of other motives for working closely with the Saudis: It wants to sell billions of dollars in weapons, something Trump was almost refreshingly honest about; normalize Arab states’ relations with an expansive Israel, as symbolized by Biden flying directly from Israel to Saudi Arabia; ensure lots of financial and political and media relations with Saudi Arabia.

One obvious “benefit” is that oil profits are used largely to finance Wall Street and Big Tech at the expense of funding reasonable regional development — Silicon Valley is awash with Saudi money while countless are compelled to live in cemeteries in Cairo. The late scholar activist Eqbal Ahmad frequently commented on how the Arabs were separated from their wealth.

The US establishment also wants to ensure its primacy with respect to Russia and China in the region of course. It has been long argued that US control — not just access — to oil from the Mideast gives it leverage over Europe, something all the more important as the US seeks to block Russian oil. Indeed, Biden’s visit helped pave the way for MBS’s subsequent trip to Europe.

The US, Saudi Arabia and Israel also have a shared interest in squashing any moves toward independent states and movements.

But all those things may not be as appealing to the US public as cheaper gas. Accepting the notion that the motive is cheap gas for the benefit of the US consumer makes the twisted US-Saudi relationship seem more decent than it actually is.

Additionally, if cheaper gas were the actual US government goal, couldn’t Biden do lots of other things — like lift sanctions on Iran, Venezuela (which may be modestly occuring), and (even) Russia?

Biden could also address oil company profits.

Sen. Bernie Sanders has proposed the latter, but has often played a role regarding the US-Saudi relationship that may be unexpected to some.

In 2019 he urged a Senate override to Trump’s veto of a congressional resolution to end US involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen — described by many as genocidal. But his movement against the Saudi war slowed when Biden came to office.

He finally introduced another resolution to end the US support for the Saudi war on July 14, while Biden was in Israel. But remarkably, when Sanders got on “This Week” on ABC, just after the infamous fist bump, he made absolutely no mention of the war in Yemen. The word “Yemen” literally does not appear in the transcript.

So, when Sanders was given the mic by the major media he was silent — even though he had just — finally! — introduced a resolution on the Yemen war. This indicates that Sanders’ alleged opposition to the Saudi war is not even rhetorical when it matters most.

Indeed, in 2015, after the Saudis began their horrific attack on Yemen, Sanders actually proposed a larger Saudi role in the region, arguing against increased US intervention in Syria because what was needed was a force: “led by the Muslim countries themselves! Saudi Arabia is the third largest military budget in the world, they’re going to have to get their hands dirty in this fight” he told former AIPAC employee Wolf Blitzer.

Sanders’ lack of scrutiny allows the US government to continue its machinations regarding Yemen, as Biden and MBS issued a one-sided statement regarding Yemen, laying the foundation for more war.

Meanwhile, the German press reported that “Rumors of a new Middle Eastern military alliance are flying. They’re significant because an ‘Arab NATO’ may include Israel, signaling next steps in better ties between Israel and Arab neighbors. But are the rumors real?” The Wilson Center reported with less speculation that despite their glaring headline — “America’s Arab Partners Show No Interest in Biden’s Cold War” — they are “secretly increasing their participation in an air defense system arrayed against Iranian missiles in partnership with Israel and the United States.”

Such apparent US goals show a remarkable continuity of US policy over the decades, which formed CENTO in the 1950s (also known as the Baghdad Pact) which was to be NATO’s southern flank. The organization became moribund after the Iraq revolution of 1958 which overthrew the monarchy and collapsed altogether with the 1979 ousting of the Shah. Thus, smaller monarchies have become pillars of “security” for US policymakers.

Saudi apparent designs to acquire nuclear weapons may thus seem more plausible. That is, one would think that US planners — and especially the Israelis — would be adamently opposed to a possible Saudi bomb, but it might not be so clear cut when one considers that a nuclear arsenal might be seen as an anchor to Saudi rule. This may help explain the Biden administration’s rejection of renewing the “Iran Deal” since an alleged Iranian nuclear weapons program may provide a sufficient pretext. Meanwhile, even “The Squad” refuses to acknowledge Israel’s massive nuclear weapons arsenal.

Of course, it’s not inconceivable that the US and Israeli establishments could turn on Saudi Arabia at some point as they did against Iraq when it has outlived its usefulness to them. Interestingly, a new profile of MBS in the sophisticated establishment outlet the Economist repeatedly likens MBS to Saddam. The Saudi role in 9/11 has largely been pushed down the memory hole, but could be revived at any time by the US establishment.

Notably, the Saudi assault on Yemen escalated last year and a truce was put in place shortly after the Ukraine invasion. This truce may have been partly motivated by the obvious public relations problem of having the US helping bomb Yemenis while decrying the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This raises a complex question: Did the Saudi escalation indicate some foreknowledge of the coming Ukraine invasion — that Saudi Arabia needed to get their licks in while they could?

Scrutinizing the timing of Biden’s trip itself [which had been delayed] may also offer a window into the actual decision making process by US planners. It was announced to substantial media attention just as gas prices for US consumers peaked in June at over $5.00 for the first time ever. In the time since — and since the trip itself — gas prices have gone down significantly — I just saw gas at $3.99 for the first time in ages. There’s no evidence this was related to anything the trip accomplished, but it may well have been an effective mechanism of public relations. That is, the trip may have been timed to coincide with a predictable slide in price. The US public hears of the trip, sees the fist bump and gets relief at the pump. This indicates a great deal of planning by the US establishment to manage the public consciousness on such issues.

The timing of the Israeli assassination of Shireen Abu Akleh in May, while derided in some quarters, may also have had a very serious silver lining for US planners. Since virtually no one with access to major media and the US establishment would argue that Israel is a “pariah”, the Israeli killing likely helped relieve pressure on Saudi Arabia. The Saudis themselves pointed to the assassination of Abu Akleh (as well as US torture at Abu Ghraib) to defuse criticism. Of course, this too is hypocritical, since Saudi Arabia is facilitating other Arab states recognizing Israel as it continues its onslaughts upon the Palestinian people, most recently with the so-called Abraham Accords — part of a long-standing pattern. Additionally, the Saudis are now apparently pushing Pakistan to follow suit, particularly since that country may be even more malleable with the de facto coup against Imran Khan.

For the time being, each of the Saudi crimes as recognized by the US establishment was overcome: 9/11 was memoryholed and replaced by the Khashoggi killing and that in turn was somewhat diffused thanks to Israel’s killing.

Thus, there’s a perverse cycle at play wherein tyrannical forces from these states effectively absolve each other of their respective oppression by engaging in their own. They pose as critics of the other while in fact colluding together against their respective publics and professed principles.