The Saudi Problem

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It shouldn’t have needed confirmation, but the latest WikiLeaks release affirmed what astute observers of the Middle East have known for a long time: Saudi Arabia is a most dangerous ally. On the one hand, King Abdullah is reported as having urged America to “cut off the head of the snake,” referring to the radical fundamentalist regime in Iran. On the other hand, another cable states that “Saudi donors remain the chief financiers of Sunni militant groups like al-Qaida.” Neither bit of news is terribly surprising, but it puts new focus on the troubling, entangling and often hypocritical alliance between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Obama administration, like administrations before it, surely understands the complexity of the Saudi problem. The question is: how to solve it? Given Obama’s lamentable foreign policy track record, it would seem that America is farther away than ever from formulating a plan to deal with the Saudi monarchy.

There are multiple challenges in dealing with the Saudis and they’re all intertwined. Oil is at the root of the problem of course. As much as we love to dream of a world in which Saudi crude doesn’t matter, that’s not the world we live in. Nor will we live in such a world in the foreseeable future. No amount of cornfields or wind farms are going to supplant crude in any meaningful way. A stable, reliable global petroleum supply chain is essential to America’s economic health, and the nation that churns out twenty per cent of the world’s crude oil is the most critical aspect of that supply chain. So, in the case of Saudi Arabia, we are choosing the devil we know and hope we can make the relationship work. Yet, the larger problem inherent in dealing with Saudi Arabia is that we’re not dealing with the interests of a nation, but rather those of a family.

Estimates vary, but the Royal House of Saud, which has ruled the kingdom since unification in 1932, has between 7,000 and 20,000 members. In a nation of 25 million, a stunning amount of national wealth flows through the hands of the Sauds – around forty percent of GDP by some estimates. Over $200 billion per year is under the control of one extended family. The princes of the House of Saud and their families live very well and they know it. They are also very aware that the foundation of their authority rests on two very shaky pillars: their continued control of the kingdom’s vast oil reserves, and keeping the restless and often resentful populace of the nation in check. Those two over-riding goals of the royal family manifest themselves in two very contradictory policies when it comes to relations with the United States of America.

Keeping control of the source of the family’s wealth (those enormous oil reserves) means ensuring that none of Saudi Arabia’s more dangerous, covetous neighbors get their hands on it. Thus, King Fahd was happy to help American during the First Gulf War in order to thwart Saddam Hussein’s naked ambitions — even if doing so meant suffering the undying enmity of Islamic purists like Osama bin Laden. In the same vein, which nation in the region represents the greatest threat to the royal family today? Iran, and in particular, a nuclear-capable Iran. Thus, King Abdullah’s wish that America use its military might to cut off the head of the kingdom’s latest threat comes as no surprise. The King could hardly be expected to hope for anything else.

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  • Chezwick_Mac

    1) Duplicity and subterfuge define our relationship with most of our allies in the Islamic world. The Pakistanis, the Egyptians, the Qataris, the Indonesians, the Turks, all are playing a double-game to one extent or another with the USA, relying on our protection and aid while undermining much of our regional efforts and demonizing us in their respective domestic realms in order to alleviate political pressure. Saudi Arabia is certainly not unique in this regard.

    2) I despise the House of Saud as much as anyone, yet like Mr Trzupek, I realize that there could be much worse alternatives. And like Me Trzupek, I have no magic bullet for our quandary. The recession of 1974-75 and every one since (1979-82, 1990-91, 2000-02, & 2007-09) have all come on the heels of sharp increases in the price of oil. The Saudis have consistently brought us back from the brink by leveling prices through production increases. This is fact. Until we can get off our oil addiction, the Saudis are indispensable allies in maintaining our economic well-being….(and for the record, they aren't doing it for reasons of altruism; if the price of oil ever got sufficiently high that alternatives became economically viable, they will have killed the goose that laid the golden eggs).

    3) The deliberate and systematic spread of Wahhabism around the world has been Saudi policy for the last 40 years. By financing groups like CAIR and the ISNA, as well as by buying influence in Washington and Wall Street, the Saudis are succeeding in penetrating our society and culture in ways the old Soviets could only have dreamed of. This is why a two-pronged strategy for dealing with Islam is so important: realpolitik abroad (including alliances of mutual benefit with certain Muslim countries), coupled with an aggressive anti-Islamic policy at home (restricting Muslim immigration, constricting the cultural/legal space for any and all vestiges of Sharia).

    American conservatives have a tendency to over-estimate the power and abilities of the USA. Folks here love to vent and postulate that we should do this and do that, without a measure of necessary realism and forethought. The ugly truth is, America is broke and our influence in the world is waning. We need shock therapy at home…(a massive dose of fiscal restraint)…and we need to tread cautiously abroad, orchestrating retreat from our commitments in as responsible a manner as possible. The days of empire are over.

    • WildJew

      Your response is disappointing. How about a little truth-telling to the American public? I don't deny some of what you've written, in particular our dependency on foreign (Middle East) oil. But why for instance did former President Bush do everything in his power after 9/11 to mislead the American public into thinking the Saudis are our good "friends," when in fact 9/11 was a Saudi job? Bush White House helped some 140 members of the bin Laden and Saudi royal family fly out of the US, only hours after the 9/11 atrocities at a time when FAA prohibited all domestic flights; while thousands of Bush's fellow citizens lay beneath the smouldering ruins of the World Trade Center towers, he apparently authorized these flights. These potentially critical witnesses were not interrogated by the FBI. Bush redacted some 28 pages of the Congressional 911 report which dealt with the Saudis and their alleged complicity in the September atrocities as well as their export of this virulent stream of Islam throughout America and the world at large.

      Conservatives (many) and Republican party leaders stood shoulder to shoulder with Bush even as he told flagrant lies about Islam, in Bush's view, a religion of goodness, peace and justice that had been hijacked by a few "terrorists" who were "traitors to their faith" and who "blasphemed the name of Allah," etc. Days after 9/11, Bush unveiled his vision for another Muslim-terror state in the region; this one in Israel. Because of what you appear to advocate in the name of pragmatism, is it any wonder Americans elected a dangerous Muslim-born president? Do you condone this kind of flagrant lying, because American conservatives have a tendency to over-estimate the power and abilities of the USA? Bush said, you are either with us or you are with the (jihadists) knowing full well Saudi Arabia is with the jihadists and IS a jihad state, a state sponsor of international Islamic terrorism, etc. There is a great distance between the lies Bush (and now Obama) told / are telling, and the truth.

      • Chezwick_Mac

        Your response is bizarre and emotional. If you know anything about my expressed opinions here, you'll know that I've castigated Bush repeatedly for his "religion of peace" nonsense. Where in what I've written above was there ANY validation of Islam as a belief system? In a nutshell, I wrote that….

        1) Saudi Arabia is not unique upon Muslim nations playing a double game. This is fact.

        2) The Saudis have – through production policy – kept the price of oil relatively cheap throughout the years. They've done so for their own reasons, but a less pragmatic regime could have been much more economically ruinous to the West. This is fact.

        3) The Saudis are exporters of the most radical branch of Islam. If we are to prevent the Islamization of America, we must fight a much more focused ideological battle here at home. But doing so shouldn't prevent us from pragmatic cooperation with "certain" (I was deliberate in my use of language) Muslim regimes abroad. Tunisia is a good example of a Muslim regime that warrants our cooperation. As for the Saudis and the other Gulf states, it behooves us to use deterrence to prevent Iran from gobbling them up.

        Finally, I made the point that America's fiscal problems preclude continued expensive, long-term commitments abroad. It will be impossible to expect the necessary sacrifices from the American people to balance our budget if we continue our generous foreign aid packages and the the open-ended commitment of American lives and treasure trying to civilize Islamic hell-holes like Afghanistan.

        Unlike Robert Spencer and Hugh Fitzgerald, I believe withdrawing from our commitments abroad – particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, WILL be deleterious to America's national security. But we're broke and we can't afford playing the world's policeman any more. This is fact. The best we can do is to withdraw as gradually and as responsibly as possible, hoping to leave behind stable governments.

        I'm sorry if these facts upset you. They upset me too. I wish America was omnipotent, able to determine the course of history with the wave of a hand, but alas, this is not reality.

        • WildJew

          Let's keep things simple. Like I wrote, I do not disagree with some (perhaps much of) what you've written above. I'm not arguing whether we should or should not withdraw from some of our commitments abroad because the days of empire are over. That is another issue.

          You embrace "realpolitik," ("realpolitik abroad…") as you've stated in your initial post. Realpolitik is essentially the rejection of morals and ethics for material and practical reasons. There are times nations are forced to make difficult choices, often because they made bad choices from the beginning. Other times things are pretty straight forward as is the case in this instance. For pragmatic reasons, you can defend the kind of lying we witnessed from George W. Bush – a man I voted for in 2000 by the way. How can you not believe in dishonesty in both speech and action in the name of realpolitik, if it suites your purposes?

          • Chezwick_Mac

            There is a distinction between – for example – protecting the oil and gas fields of the Persian Gulf states from Iranian aggression…and making pronouncements validating Islam as a "religion of peace". The former is consonant with American vital interests, the latter is not (if one looks at the totality of the ideological struggle we find ourselves in).

          • WildJew

            I don't disagree, but when you talk of 'alliances of mutual benefit with certain Muslim countries' these should be based on good behavior. Clearly Saudi behavior has not been and is not good. I'm sure you know, it was the victorious Allies that gave these people what became an independent state in Arabia following the first world war. If they merit it, they should keep it. If not, they shouldn't. That's the way I see it. Iran's nuclear sites should have been bombed into rubble years back. And if bombing Iran's nuclear sites isn't entirely successful, go in there and physically reduce them to insignificance. I do not understand all the hand wringing we've seen from this administration and the previous one.

            Unfortunately, American policy in the region has been and is largely based on realpolitik, as you've stated. Otherwise why is the US attempting to carve up tiny Israel – which is America's only dependable ally – thereby providing a jihad base to destroy her? All in an attempt to appease our Muslim 'allies' in the Middle East?

          • stephencuz

            I enjoy reading both your responses WildJew and Chez and look forward to them. One issue I haven't heard anyone address is our ability or willingness to become independent of M.E. oil by getting our own out of our own ground. Wouldn't this simple and practical measure humble all the M.E. oil moguls and give us the ability to talk turkey with them straight up? I'm a simple guy and hold no pretense as to my intellect but this seems worthy of exploration, no?

          • WildJew

            Obama and the left are not going to pursue energy independence because of the Democratic party's radical environmental base. Obama and his base (I believe) would rather the US be dependent on foreign oil than drill domestically.

            That leaves conservatives and Republicans. Unfortunately the Republican party gave us the Bushes (both George H. W. and "W," who are deeply indebted to the Saudis for their personal wealth.

            Thus George W. Bush hid from the American people the full extent of Saudi complicity in the spread of Salafi / Wahhabi Islam over the globe; their complicity in the 9/11 attacks, etc.

            Had George W. Bush (even diplomatically) made the case "why" America needs to wean herself from Middle East oil, we might have begun an important process / journey. Only Bush did NOT explain this need to the public and why, I believe in large part because he has been so very corrupted and compromised (indebted to the Saudis), both he and his father.

            Instead he lied about the Saudis. He told the public they are our friends. Bush put the focus on Israel and her (illegal) "occupation" of Muslim land; on Israel's humiliation and oppression of Muslims. Secretary of State Rice pushed these official Bush administration policies.

          • Chezwick_Mac

            Stephen, what we need is the equivalent of a Manhatten project that will develop immediate and long-term alternatives to fossil fuels. But apparently, the grip of the oil companies is so pervasive that congress and the executive have simply twiddled their thumbs for 36 years since the first oil crises.

          • Rob

            Mr. Chezwick your tolerance for the status quo may seem practical, but so was the Missouri Compromise, and the many other compromises our first leaders made with the South, who repeatedly offended the nation and ultimately declared war, thinking their economy made them untouchable.

            If you know this part of history, then you know what needs to be done.

          • Chezwick_Mac

            Please elaborate sir, how am I being "tolerant for the status quo"?

            1) I'm advocating a Manhatten project to get us off oil. Is this tolerance for the status quo?

            2) I'm advocating restrictions on Muslim immigration and an ideological and legal challenge to the introduction of any and all vestiges of Sharia in America. Is this "tolerance for the status quo"?

            Until we can end our dependence on oil, I DO advocate a continued American protective umbrella to prevent aggressors from conquering the Persian Gulf oil states. I also advocate continued anti-terror cooperation with Muslim states GENUINELY interested in such cooperation. It is in our national security to do so.

            Please share with the rest of us what you feel "needs to be done."

          • Chezwick_Mac

            Carving up Israel isn't realpolitik, it is appeasement, pure and simple. It does NOT serve America's long-term national interests in any way. Keeping the Gulf states free from external aggression IS in our national interests, at least for the foreseeable future.

    • Diann

      This is so well said and absolutely true. Thanks for putting this huge problem into a concise and well-defined format.

      • Chezwick_Mac

        Thanks Diann.

  • Moshe

    As for the whole middle east (of which Turkey is not a part btw) there are "ancient hatreds and modern weapons", as George Carlin puts it, "My kind of show, man." Unfortunately, the Saudi's got a few "Muslim" things wrong; human beings are not private property, the prophet does not belong to anyone (read his last speech) and keep Israel at a safe distance. Saudi Arabia is an ally to the US because they are an ally to Israel. Guys over at FrontPage love the Saudis – they keep the "real" Middle East at bay while neatly giving Islam a sh*tstain of a reputation. Zionism + Wahabism = When Harry met Sally. How are fourteen 911 Hijackers Saudi origin and we're not bombing Riyadh? Talk to Bibi and I'll meet you in Constantinople, yea right. This is all a grand farce of money trolling phony religionist sh*theads playing real Jews, real Muslims and real Christian like a molested boys choir on Christmas. The only place we can speak from is pure victimization whether it's Jewish Holocaust victimization, Islamophic victimized or straight up sexual molestation. The grim reality is when Saudi King Abdullahs son kills his butler in the UK after a night of male homosexual escorts (yea, what ever happened to that story frontpage?) all we here is Julian Assange butt raped 2 blonde chicks. This information war is aural sex of the anal violation kind.

  • Ralph Adamo

    This article is total nonsense. The author writes as though the US is helpless to act against Saudia Arabia because the US needs the oil. The false assumption here is that the House of Saud is the "owner" of the oil. They're not the real owners. The US busines interests have always owned the oil resources. How do you think the oil gets out of the ground? A bunch of sand fleas extract it?

    • Chezwick_Mac

      Once upon a time, ARAMCO was indeed dominated by American interests. This is no longer the case. We are minority share-holders. The Saudis can readily turn to West European, Japanese, Russian or Chinese companies to maintain its oil industry.

    • TINSC

      I agree with Chezwik_Mac. Years ago, the Saudis lobbied the U.S. through the petrochemical companies and other vendors. Today, the Saudis lobby the U.S. directly through a myriad of Islamic organizations like CAIR.

      I agree with Ralph a little about the article being nonsense because it writes as though the US is helpless to act because of oil. I find it shameful that Frontpage Mag routinely points out the role oil plays in promoting Jihad yet never once proposes realistic ways to break the OPEC cartel.

      A flex-fuel vehicle mandate (GEM; Gasoline-Ethanol-Methanol) would break the OPEC cartel in 24 months. Some of Frontpage Magazine's contributors such as James Woolsey are part of organizations which are promoting this policy. Unfortunately, I've never seen Frontpage Magazine give them a forum. Rather, they just kvetch about the Muslims, Saudis, oil. Indeed, they do act "as though the US is helpless to act against Saudia Arabia because the US needs the oil."

      There are real solutions to this problem and it's time FrontPage Magazine got busy presenting them.

    • ralphadamoNewOrleans


  • Ralph Adamo

    Now time for reality. To illustrate how control works, let's use the original Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas as an example. Ben Siegel was the official owner of the casino. But he was really running it on behalf of the Outfit. When the Outfit didn't like how the Flamingo was being run, the order was given to terminate Siegel. Within an hour, the Outfit sent the new front men to take over the casino. So don;t believe any crap about the House of Saud controlling anything. If the US wanted to, the order would be given and the House of Saud would be terminated–in more deadly fashion than Siegel was. Then, the US could send their own front men to operate the oil wells, just like the Outfit did with the Flamingo. This ends the reality lesson. You may now return to your fantasy interpretations–since your feeble minds are unable to comprehend reality.

    • RalphAdamoNewOrleans

      These are NOT comments by the Ralph Adamo who lives in new Orleans.

  • muchiboy

    Happy Hanuukkah!


  • davarino

    All I can say, is the Sauds must be shaking in their boots, worry about the day they run out of oil. When that day comes they are done and they have nothing.

    • Chezwick_Mac

      Au contraire, by then, they will have used their oil trillions to have insinuated themselves into almost every major industrial and financial enterprise in the Western world (as they have already done).

  • moshav

    The sauds are the largest dysfunctional family in the world. Their greed and degeneracy are well known. arabia is a country as much as a vast family estate with 25 milion serfs. The United States should seek to undermine and destroy the saud regime once and for all. Ending a brutal and totalitarian islamist state has to be in our and the world's interest.

  • So Cal Mike

    American is literally sitting on over 500 years of natural gas and oil reserves but "we" can't touch them.
    The relationship explains why more than anything else.

    The environmentalists are just a distraction and useful idiots who help maintain the Saudi and multinational oil oligopoly.

    The shortage of oil and gas is political; not economic.

    • Fred Dawes

      so cal mike the chinese own our oil and gas, the japs sold the rights and our government said yes to the deal.

  • USMCSniper

    We already sold our souls for nickles and dimes when Harvard University and Georgetown University each accepted $20 million donations in 2006 from Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Alsaud, a Saudi businessman and member of the Saudi royal family, to finance Islamic studies. Harvard said it would create a universitywide program on Islamic studies, recruit new faculty members from Arab countries in the field, provide more support for graduate students and convert rare Islamic textual sources into digital formats to make them widely available. "For a university with global aspirations, it is critical that Harvard have a strong program on Islam that is worldwide and interdisciplinary in scope," said Steven E. Hyman, Harvard's provost, who will coordinate adopting the new program. Georgetown said it would use the gift – the second-largest it has ever received – to expand its Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, which is part of its Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. It said it would rename the center the H.R.H. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.

    • Chezwick_Mac

      I always wondered why the 'Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding' gave Muslims top billing. Chronologically, C comes before M…and considering we ARE still a Christian-majority nation, it would seem logical to have called it the 'Center for Christian-Muslim Understanding.'

      I know it's just in a name, but it really does highlight the abject dhimmitude of one John Esposito.

  • tommyboy52

    Read Dore Gold's book, "Hatred's Kingdom."

  • flyingtiger

    The Saudi plan to use the US as a scapegoat for their internal problems will backfire on them. Each terrorist attack will diminish our power. At a certain point, the wahabbies will violently overthrow the Saudis. I predict this will happen in about ten years, maybe sooner. We must think of our post saudi plans now.

    • MixMChess

      Piss off, like you care…

  • muchiboy

    As one who has worked in a correctional environment for many years,I would like to express my sympathies to the Israeli Correctional Officers who perished in the bush fires in the line of duty.Go Well,my Band of Brothers.Ron Grant

  • USMCSniper

    It continues!—–Obama has NO CLUE!
    Obama will bow to Saudi Kings but wont salute an extraordinary American hero. Incredible! You and I never get over being shocked at this Presidents lack of respect for our Military Obamas Medal of Honor Salute that Didn't Happen for Sgt. Giunta on November 21, 2010. When Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta received his historic Medal of Honor, he did not receive the Presidential salute from Barack Obama. Instead, he got a hug, and an awkward one at that. But thats not all, he referred to the SGT. as "Sal" and at this rare and solemn ceremony, quipped I really like this guy. The man thinks everything is about him. In an article by Rees Lloyd, he explains not only is Sgt. Giunta the first living American soldier to receive the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War, he is first to not be saluted by his Commander in Chief, as far as anyone knows. It is a tradition in the military for all military personnel, no matter how high their rank, including the Commander-in-Chief, to salute a holder of the Medal of Honor no matter how lowly his or her rank.

  • ObamaYoMoma

    Given Obama’s lamentable foreign policy track record, it would seem that America is farther away than ever from formulating a plan to deal with the Saudi monarchy.

    There is only one way to deal with the Saudi monarchy and with Islam for that matter. Cut off the head of the snake and confiscate its oil wealth and oil assets, lest it use those resources against us forever to wage permanent perpetual jihad, per the texts and tenets of Islam. Without wealth, no jihad! With wealth, permanent perpetual jihad! You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out. Hence, the solution is obvious, but do we have the will and courage to do what it will take? That is the question.

    The House of Saud showers money onto radical Muslim clerics,

    Have you ever met a Muslim cleric that wasn’t radical? The fact of the matter is they are all radical or they are not clerics. Don’t believe me, then just read the Koran while paying particular attention to Sura 9, which because of the doctrine of abrogation is the only Sura that really counts in any event.

    The Sauds don’t appear to be troubled by the contradiction of relying on the protection of the world’s one remaining superpower

    Why would they? They are playing us for the completely gullible fools our diplomats and politicians are.

    the House of Saud knows that they hold the ultimate trump card in the form of black gold, and no one in America is willing to call.

    Actually, you are wrong. We hold the ultimate trump card, as we have the power to take it all away from them and we should before it is too late. Indeed, if we were smart we would obliterate the venerable Saudi monarchy for funding and financing jihad against us and confiscate their enormous oil wealth and oil assets. Otherwise, they will be used to fund and finance jihad against us forever. Indeed, if the shoe were on the other foot, they would get rid of us in a New York second.

    • aspacia

      Actually, no we do not have the power with two military fronts. We will not correctly prosecute the wars, eradicating the enemy" for fear of killing civilians. Why? Those civilians wish us harm.

  • flaedo

    The US gets very little oil from the Arabs. Why people keep going on about the US needing the Arabs oil is beyond me. The US gets a lot of oil from Mexico and Canada. When will these idiots stop talking about US dependency on Arab oil?


    The oil problem can be dispensed rather quickly. The Open Fuels Standard Act would require cars sold in America to be flex fuel. Cornfields alone can't make enough ethanol, but when you throw in METHANOL, we have all the resources we need.

    Methanol can be made from garbage, waste forest products, waste agriproducts and darn near any feedstock whatsoever. If you like the Pickens plan, then you'll be happy to know that the easiest way to make methanol is from steam reduction of natural gas. Methanol has the added advantage in that it can be mixed in the same fuel tank as gasoline and ethanol. One fuel tank can hold 3 competing fuels.

    We don't need to replace oil. We just need to make OPEC compete against other fuels. Moreover, not having enough cornfields is a good thing. Using ethanol opens up the US market to 3rd world producers thus lifting them out of poverty and giving them a share of the American fuel market.

    The trick isn't making more ethanol. The trick is to make cars that can use it AND methanol. Once the automotive fuel market becomes competitive, the Saudis evil monopoly will be broken.

    They say competition is a good thing. One wonders why our government refuses to act.

  • RalphAdamoNewOrleans

    Comments here are notby the Ralph Adamo who lives in New Orleans.