Back in 2016, as history buffs will recall, Barack Obama vetoed a piece of legislation called the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). The point of the bill was to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for its role in 9/11 by allowing victims’ families to sue the Saudi government for damages, which they have since done. Obama justified his veto—later overridden by Congress—by warning that such a law “would upset longstanding international principles regarding sovereign immunity, putting in place rules that, if applied globally, could have serious implications for US national interests.” That is to say, it would set a menacing precedent that could leave the United States vulnerable to similar legal action in various parts of the world.
On its face, his point seems valid enough. The American empire maintains approximately 800 military bases in over 70 countries and has been directly responsible for well over a million wrongful deaths in the last fifteen years alone. Imagine having to compensate the family members of all that “collateral damage”—the Treasury Department’s printing machines would self-destruct. But to suggest, as Obama did, that the United States would recognize the legitimacy of any such edict strains credulity. We’ve never been the least bit concerned with what the law has to say about our actions. Nor does our hypocrisy know any limitations. Former American diplomat Chas Freeman Jr. hit the nail on the head when he called the US “the foreign relations equivalent of a sociopath—a country indifferent to the rules, the consequences for others of its ignoring them, and the reliability of its word.”
It’s not as though the US has never been ordered to pay reparations for its criminal activity before. In 1986, about five years after the CIA began arming, training and financing terrorists in Nicaragua, the International Court of Justice found the US to be, among other things, “in breach of its obligation under customary international law not to intervene in the affairs of another State” and “in breach of its obligation under customary international law not to use force against another State.” As such, the US was ordered by the court to pay an “interim award” of $370.2 million to the Republic of Nicaragua (the total sum of reparations would be determined at a later date). Flaunting its sociopathy, the US disregarded the court’s ruling and continued providing material support to Nicaraguan terrorists until the Sandinista government ceded power in 1990.
So Obama’s stated rationale for vetoing JASTA is impossible to take seriously. More likely it had to do with the fact the bill would offend the House of Saud, and offending the House of Saud is very, very bad for business. Five months before Congress voted to pass JASTA, the Times reported that Saudi Arabia threatened to “sell off hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of American assets held by the kingdom” in retaliation; $750 billion to be exact. A lot of dough. It was probably a bluff, but it’s instructive to note how much US debt is owned by the Saudis, as debt correlates with leverage. (Note also how quickly the Kingdom resorts to blackmail. It’s second nature for them.)
There are other considerations as well. Oil, for instance, and weapons. According to an analysis by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, US arms exports to Saudi Arabia—by far the leading importer of US arms—have been trending steadily upwards since 2009. Between 2013 and 2016, arms exports to Saudi Arabia rose by over 300 percent. That was Barack Obama’s handiwork (“Change,” yes; “Hope,” not so much). Trump seems determined to upstage his predecessor, having just finalized a $110 billion arms deal with the women-, Jew-, homosexual-, Shia-hating—and don’t forget head-chopping—Wahhabi dictatorship on Saturday. Our alliance with Saudi Arabia, then, is a bonanza for America’s death merchants (aka “defense contractors”), whose charitable donations to political campaigns come with more than a few strings attached.
A White House official said Saturday’s transaction will “support the long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region in the face of Iranian threats while also bolstering the Kingdom’s ability to contribute to counterterrorism operations across the region, reducing the burden on the US military to conduct those operations.” Here again we have an example of the sociopathic behavior Freeman Jr. wrote about. Washington knows damn well that no one is stupid enough to believe that selling munitions to Saudi Arabia contributes to regional “security,” or that Saudi Arabia engages in “counterterrorism operations.” But it makes these claims regardless because it couldn’t care less about how it’s perceived by the rest of the world. Credibility, as any good sociopath will tell you, is for losers. Just ask Trump.
As a general rule, you can arrive at the truth of a matter by simply reversing whatever the US government says. This case is no exception. So for “security” substitute “instability,” and drop the “counter” from “counterterrorism.” We’re left with: Saudi Arabia is using American weapons to carry out terrorism operations and destabilize the region. That’s a true statement. For example, one could actually trace, were one so inclined, a direct line between arms exports to Saudi Arabia and war crimes in Yemen, where more than 10,000 civilians have been killed since March 2015, millions of people are on the brink of starvation and a major cholera epidemic has just broken out. A report by Human Rights Watch indicates that the group “has found remnants of US-supplied weapons at the site of 23 apparently unlawful coalition airstrikes, including more than a dozen attacks involving US-made cluster munitions.” It goes on to state:
US-produced weapons were used in two of the war’s deadliest incidents so far: the March 15 attack on Mastaba market, which killed at least 97 civilians, and the October 8 attack on a funeral hall in Sanaa, the capital, which killed at least 100 people and wounded more than 500. Both attacks appear to have been war crimes.
To make matters a little more appalling, Saudi Arabia’s seat on the UN Human Rights Council (that’s right: Saudi Arabia is a member of the UN Human Rights Council) means that any attempt to launch an international probe into the Yemen crisis will be—and indeed has been—thwarted. Instead, we get “investigations” organized by the Saudi-backed Yemeni government, which conclude that any and all human rights violations are committed by the Houthi rebels. Saudi Arabia also managed to get its Sunni coalition removed from its well-earned spot on the UN secretary-general’s “list of shame” by threatening to “withdraw hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance to the UN if the coalition was not removed from the list.” As always, it boils down to money.
While the Saudis clearly have no qualms about employing the proverbial stick to get what they want, they’ve been in the criminal game long enough to appreciate that a balanced approach is necessary. Blackmail is nice, but bribery is better. Hence the Saudi lobby in Washington, which, according to The Intercept, has ballooned from 25 registered agents in 2015 to 145 agents today. No doubt inspired by the remarkable long-term success of its notorious Israeli counterpart, the Saudi lobby spent over $18 million on political influence over the past two years. That figure excludes donations to think tanks, universities and political foundations, none of which are subject to the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
The pampered Wahhabi princes also know a thing or two about vanity. In preparation for Trump’s visit to Riyadh, they did their best to pander to our reality star-cum-president’s historic ego, heaping fulsome praise upon him in the press, displaying his tweets on billboards, rolling out a giant red carpet and, in a bizarre appeal to the most regrettable elements of Western culture, inviting Toby Keith to perform a country music concert (no women allowed—a total sausage fest). Anyone with a remotely normal psychology would have been mortified and revolted by such a sordid spectacle. I’m sure Donny Boy was absolutely delighted.
In his bromide-laden speech to the “Arab Islamic American Summit,” Trump took all the obligatory potshots at Iran. In so doing, he discounted completely the fact that the Iranian people had just dealt the hardliners in their country a blow by reelecting Hassan Rouhani in a free and open national election. This is something, incidentally, Saudi Arabia has never had. Indeed, Khamenei is still the boss, but he’ll be dead soon, and the reformists—led by Rouhani—are now in a position to influence Iran’s future. But alas! All we got from Trump’s big mouth was the typical neocon (read: Zionist) claptrap. “Iran funds, arms and trains terrorists” … “Iran has fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror” … “all nations of conscience [e.g. Saudi Arabia] must work together to isolate Iran” … and so on and so forth.
Presumably Trump’s handlers would like us to ignore or forget the fact that Shia Iran, unlike Wahhabi Saudi Arabia, is a natural enemy of both ISIS and al-Qaeda, and furthermore that Osama bin Laden, as well as 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11, were Saudi nationals. Also to be flushed down the memory hole: our prominent role in overthrowing Iran’s democratically elected leader in 1953, our decades-long support for the iron-fisted shah, our support for Saddam Hussein’s brutal invasion of Iran in 1980, our shooting-down of an Iranian passenger jet in 1988. In other words, let’s forget that Iran has every reason to despise and distrust the United States. Let’s instead characterize the Iranians as irrational and paranoid, and aggressive to boot, because, after all, that’s what Israel wants, and what Israel wants Israel gets. As for the Saudis, they have oil and a rabid hatred of Iran, so it’s only right to obfuscate their human rights record and contributions to terrorism, and to sell them lots of military hardware.
In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston Smith’s torturer tells him that “Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.” It’s evident that the American Empire, of which Donald Trump is merely a figurehead, subscribes to this principle, and means to impose it onto you. Resist!