By Ruth Conniff
President Obama is debasing his office by making a trip to Saudi Arabia next month to appease the royal family there.
"Saudi Arabia and the United States are longtime allies, having been bound by mutual military interests and Saudi Arabia's oil supplies," CNN explains. "The alliance has been shaken, however, by the U.S. deal with Saudi Arabia's regional rival Iran."
The progress of the U.S.-Iran nuclear agreement has really rattled Saudi Arabia, especially since the rapprochement came not too long after the Obama Administration backed off from attacking Syria. The Saudis despise the Iranian and Syrian regimes largely because both are Shiite, while the House of Saudi is Sunni.
"We believe that many of the West's policies on both Iran and Syria risk the stability and security of the Middle East," Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz al Saud, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Britain, wrote in The New York Times two months ago. "This is a dangerous gamble, about which we cannot remain silent, and will not stand idly by."
Translation: We Saudis are really miffed that you don't view everything in the Middle East through the same sectarian lenses as we do.
Not only would Obama have to modify U.S. foreign policy to mollify the Saudi government, he would also have to continue ignoring the regime's outrageous behavior.
"Saudi Arabia stepped up arrests, trials, and convictions of peaceful dissidents, and forcibly dispersed peaceful demonstrations by citizens in 2013," Human Rights Watch stated in its recently released survey of the year gone by. "Authorities continued to violate the rights of 9 million Saudi women and girls and 9 million foreign workers. As in past years, authorities subjected thousands of people to unfair trials and arbitrary detention."
The Saudi monarchy's extremism is not even confined to the country's borders. It is able to globally propagate Wahhabism, the hard-line brand of Islam, on the basis of its oil money. Then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated in a December 2009 leaked diplomatic cable that entities in Saudi Arabia were the "most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide," including Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The malevolent impact of the Saudis can be seen everywhere from Syria and Bahrain to Egypt and Pakistan.
"I can't think of a more pernicious actor in the region," British-Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid told me. "The House of Saud has exported this very pernicious form of militant Islam under U.S. watch."
Yet cheap oil and lucrative arms deals make the United States keep mum on such irresponsible conduct by a supposed friend. "The United States, a key ally, did not publicly criticize Saudi human rights violations beyond Congressionally mandated annual reports," notes Human Rights Watch.
Obama is following in the path of his subordinates, who have regularly made visits to Saudi Arabia to soothe the monarchy's nerves. In 2010, Hillary Clinton was too busy feasting on lamb and rice and cracking lame jokes with King Abdullah to publicly raise any concerns about the regime's record. Secretary of State John Kerry followed last year and was his usual cautious self. It's hard to believe Obama will be more outspoken.
The President should do the world a favor and cancel his trip.
Photo: Flickr user DonkeyHotey, creative commons licensed.