The US-Saudi Relationship After Khashoggi

The US-Saudi relationship has been a rocky one, and its setbacks and scandals have mostly played out away from the public eye. This time, too, common interests and mutual dependence will almost certainly prevail over the desire to hold the Saudis to the standards expected of other close US allies.

.. But significant damage to bilateral ties, let alone a diplomatic rupture, is not in the cards, even if all the evidence points to a state-sanctioned assassination. Saudi Arabia is simply too crucial to US interests to allow the death of one man to affect the relationship. And with new allies working with old lobbyists to stem the damage, it is unlikely that the episode will lead to anything more than a lovers’ quarrel.
.. Saudi Arabia’s special role in American foreign policy is a lesson that US presidents learn only with experience. When Bill Clinton assumed the presidency, his advisers were bent on distancing the new administration from George H.W. Bush’s policies. Among the changes sought by Clinton’s national security adviser, Anthony Lake, was an end to the unfettered White House access that Saudi Arabian Ambassador Bandar bin Sultan enjoyed during the Reagan and Bush presidencies. Bandar was to be treated like any other ambassador.
.. when Clinton needed a quote from the Koran to go alongside those from the Old and New Testament for a ceremony marking an Israeli-Palestinian accord, he turned to the Saudi ambassador.
.. Before Donald Trump assumed office, he frequently bashed the Saudis and threatened to cease oil purchases from the Kingdom, grouping them with freeloaders who had taken advantage of America. But after the Saudis feted him with sword dances and bestowed on him the highest civilian award when he visited the Kingdom on his first trip abroad as US president, he changed his tune.
.. Even the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, could not damage the relationship. Though al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, himself a Saudi national, recruited 15 of the 19 hijackers from the Kingdom, senior Saudi officials dismissed the implications. In a November 2002 interview, the Saudi interior minister simply deemed it “impossible,” before attempting to redirect blame by accusing Jews of “exploiting” the attacks and accusing the Israeli intelligence services of having relationships with terrorist organizations.
.. Bandar provided key insights and advice as President George W. Bush planned the 2003 Iraq invasion.

.. But Saudi Arabia wears too many hats for America to abandon it easily. Though the US no longer needs Saudi oil, thanks to its shale reserves,

  • it does need the Kingdom to regulate production and thereby stabilize markets.
  • American defense contractors are dependent on the billions the Kingdom spends on military hardware.
  • Intelligence cooperation is crucial to ferreting out jihadists and thwarting their plots. But, most important,
  • Saudi Arabia is the leading Arab bulwark against Iranian expansionism. The Kingdom has supported proxies in Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen to contain Iran’s machinations. Any steps to hold the Saudis responsible for Khashoggi’s death would force the US to assume responsibilities it is far more comfortable outsourcing.

.. When the United Kingdom, the region’s colonial master and protector, decided that it could no longer afford such financial burdens, US leaders ruled out taking its place. Policymakers were too focused on Vietnam to contemplate action in another theater. Instead, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger conceived a policy whereby Iran and Saudi Arabia, backed by unlimited US military hardware, would police the Gulf. While Iran stopped playing its role following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Saudis still do.

.. It is not only defense contractors who are going to bat for the Saudis. Before Khashoggi became Washington’s topic du jour, the Saudis paid about ten lobbying firms no less than $759,000 a month to sing their praises in America’s halls of power.

.. Former Saudi bashers such as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s confidant Dore Gold now meet with the Kingdom’s officials. Following the 2013 military coup that toppled Egypt’s democratically elected government, Israeli leaders urged US officials to embrace the generals. They are likely to do the same today if US anti-Saudi sentiment imperils their Iran strategy.

.. in the wake of Khashoggi’s disappearance, common interests and mutual dependence will almost certainly prevail over the desire to hold the Saudis to the standards expected of other close US allies.

‘Jefferson’s Pillow’

Yet I am always acutely aware that however noble their accomplishments, Jefferson and his fellow Virginians George Washington, George Mason, and James Madison — great patriots and founders all — lived lives cushioned by slavery. They were also the conveyors of the culture that has done and continues to do hideous damage to millions of black human beings and to many more millions of white Americans as well. They created a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that whites were and should be supreme. They celebrated freedom while stealing the substance of life from the people they “owned.” They fought off the mightiest military power then on earth with the cry “We will not be slaves!” And they created the country that gives me, the descendant of slaves and slave owners, much of the context for my existence, the freedom that I cherish and the democratic citizenship that I have used relentlessly for the past half century.

.. For many Southern whites, the outcome of the Civil War brought a loss of prestige, power, and privilege, and some of the resulting resentment was felt in the North as well. Black people and white people became for each other color-coded symbols of the things they had lost or never achieved, and of the things they continued to resent and fear.

.. And yet I feel and look American, and I have labored over the years to make the Constitution work for everyone. Does that make me a patriot? Can I embrace founders who may have “owned” some of my ancestors? Can I try to see them in their complexity and understand them — even identify with them? Can I see myself and my ancestors as active participants in a history from which we are too often absent?

 

 

There’s a right way to judge America’s past

we are as badly fractured in approaching history as we are in confronting the present.

.. And shouldn’t we all be able to rally around the core idea of the Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal” with rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”?

.. “The historic record is clear,” Landrieu said. “The Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This ‘cult’ had one goal — through monuments and through other means — to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity.”

“It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America, they fought against it,” he continued. “. . . These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement and the terror that it actually stood for.”

.. He cited Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens’s straightforward declaration that the Confederacy’s “cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical and moral truth.

.. Those who opposed independence could fairly respond that the “long train of abuses and usurpations” the Declaration put forward did not justify breaking our bonds with Britain. But the critics could not claim that the founders had ignored the obligation they took on by expressing “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.”