The US president is clearly reluctant to impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia with which the United States has enjoyed a close and beneficial relationship since 1945 when King Abdul Aziz Bin Saud first met with President Franklin D. Roosevelt aboard the US cruiser Quincy in the Suez Canal. The two leaders hit it off laying the foundations of an important economic, defence and intelligence-sharing partnership that overcame certain obstacles over the decades to endure until today.
Should Trump concede to pressure from lawmakers to apply “severe punishments” related to the unfortunate demise of Saudi national Jamal Khashoggi there may be no going back. If the Saudi monarch chooses to retaliate he has numerous options, not least the withdrawal of a $110 billion (Dh403.7 billion) arms deal with options for $350 billion in purchases over the next ten years.
Subsequent to meeting with Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman last year, Trump was ecstatic telling the media, “Hundreds of billions of dollars of investments into the United States — and jobs, jobs, jobs.” Notably the kingdom also holds over $166 billion in US debt.
Secondly, both the US and Saudi are on the same page when it comes to deterring Iran from continuing its destructive regional military interventions. US sanctions against Tehran’s sale of crude oil come into effect during the coming two weeks. Riyadh had offered to make up the short fall to keep oil prices stable. If Saudi decides to cut production, prices will soar, sending worldwide markets into freefall.
A statement on the US Department of State’s web page praises Saudi Arabia for its “crucial role in maintaining security in the Middle East, including “countering violent extremism from Daesh [the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] as well as other extremist groups.” The country that protects the Muslim world’s holiest sites is no insignificant backwater without geopolitical or economic clout.
Height of hypocrisy
Any future attempts by the US to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal cannot be successful unless Riyadh is on board. Saudi Arabia’s staunch friends in the GCC as well as others in the region, among them Egypt and Jordan, will not be amused if the US and its allies give the kingdom the cold shoulder.
It is the height of hypocrisy that Western leaders are willing to damage their countries’ friendship with Riyadh on the grounds that this incident offends their moral values. They should look in the mirror.
The CIA has a history of kidnapping, renditions, torture, black sites and attempts to topple or kill foreign leaders. And, as the Guardian has exposed MI6 officers are licensed to kill. Section 7 of Britain’s Intelligence Services Act gives protection to spies who commit murder, kidnap or torture — as long as their actions have been authorised in writing by a secretary of state. A tragic mistake was made but all those involved have either been sacked or detained. Saudi authorities have instituted a probe to be completed within a month.
Moreover, the country’s intelligence services are to be overhauled. Saudi Arabia is also cooperating in a joint investigation with Turkey opening up its consulate and consular residence to Turkish forensic teams. These steps have been met with such derision that the Saudis might have been wiser to remain silent.
The Saudis are a proud people. They will not appreciate being humiliated and will no doubt resent any attempts by Western nations and corporates to spoil Saudi Arabia’s Vision for 2030, a blueprint for the diversification of the nation’s economy away from oil as well as the development of trade, investment, tourism, health, education and entertainment.
Moscow and Beijing are waiting in the wings to replace Washington as Riyadh’s strategic partners and arms suppliers. Unlike the CEOs of Western companies and investment houses that lemming-like are riding on the same high horse by dropping out of “Davos in the Desert’, a Saudi economic forum scheduled to kick off today, their Russian and Chinese counterparts have no desire to dampen their financial prospects.
Let’s be realistic. Imagine a scales with all the advantages the West reaps from maintaining friendly relations with the Saudis on the one side and on the other the potential losses that could be incurred by the fake holier-than-thou attitudes of Western leaderships. Where was all this concern when Israel slaughtered Palestinian men, woman and children on their own soil this year? Israel was cheered on and rewarded with billions of dollars in additional aid.
The media fed by a drip-drip of lurid stories from anonymous Turkish officials has whipped up a global frenzy with commentators behaving like the toothless crones that crowded to watch Madame Guillotine’s rolling heads.
“Turkey is treating the Khashoggi affair like its Must-See TV” is a headline in The Atlantic that speaks volumes. What happened to behind closed doors diplomacy? Without doubt Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan whose own human rights record is scandalous must be thoroughly enjoying this show.
Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.