Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Obama Visits False Ally, Saudi Arabia

Barack Obama traveled to Saudi Arabia to meet with the ruler's of America's duplicitous and false ally.  There are a host of issues that are dividing the supposed allies, which range from Saudi Arabia's continued human rights abuses, differences over the Iran nuclear agreement, and, perhaps most potentially damaging, possible Saudi complicity in the 9-11 terror attacks and demands from the families of the 9-11 attacks that Saudi Arabia make monetary compensation to these families.  On the issue of human rights abuses, a recent state department report sums things up for women and gays in these two paragraphs:
The [Saudi] law prohibits discrimination based on race but not gender, sex, disability, language, sexual orientation and gender identity, or social status. The law and tradition discriminate based on gender. The law and the guardianship system restrict women to the status of legal dependents vis-a-vis their male guardians. This status is unchanged, even after women reach adulthood. Women and some men faced widespread and state-enforced segregation based on societal, cultural, and religious traditions. The government generally reinforced sharia-based traditional prohibitions on discrimination based on disability, language, social status, or race. Nevertheless, discrimination based on race, lineage, or social status were common. Under sharia as interpreted in the country, consensual same-sex sexual conduct is punishable by death or flogging, depending on the perceived seriousness of the case. It is illegal for men “to behave like women” or to wear women’s clothes and vice versa.  Due to social conventions and potential persecution, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) organizations did not operate openly, nor were there gay rights advocacy events of any kind. There were reports of official societal discrimination, physical violence, and harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, statelessness, access to education, or health care. Stigma or intimidation acted to limit reports of incidents of abuse. Sexual orientation and gender identity could constitute the basis for harassment, blackmail, or other actions.

A piece in The Atlantic looks at the strained relations, including the suspicion that the 28 redacted pages from the 9-11 report show Saudi complicity in the terror attacks.  Here are article excerpts:
Almost exactly 11 years ago, in April 2005, Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia visited President George W. Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. It was a friendly occasion. The Bush family had long had good relations with the Saudi royal family. Though the war in Iraq was not going especially well, and the fallout concerned Riyadh, the Saudis were glad to see Saddam Hussein gone. The two men issued a statement hailing “our personal friendship and that between our nations.” They spoke about the need to “forge a new relationship between our two countries—a strengthened partnership that builds on our past partnership, meets today’s challenges, and embraces the opportunities our nations will face in the next sixty years.”
As President Obama heads to Saudi Arabia this week, that hope is unfulfilled, and relations between the two long-time allies are extremely strained. Bush is long out of office and mostly out of the political scene. Abdullah is dead, replaced by his half-brother Salman. The Saudi and American governments are at odds over a host of issues. The U.S. disapproves of the ongoing Saudi intervention in Yemen and was angry at Saudi Arabia’s execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr early this year. The Saudis want the U.S. to do more in Syria, and, in particular, remain upset about the U.S. nuclear deal with Iran.
But the most pressing issue at hand is much older: It’s the September 11 attacks. As Obama prepares to travel, Congress is considering a bill that would open the door for Saudi interests to be held liable in court for the attacks. And as The New York Times reported over the weekend, the Saudi government is threatening to sell off nearly a trillion dollars in assets held in the U.S. if the bill passes.
The families of 9/11 victims have attempted to sue Saudi Arabia for playing a role in those attacks, but under a 1976 law, foreign governments are immune from many types of lawsuits in American courts. The bill under consideration now would tweak current law, so that foreign governments could be held liable if they are found culpable for attacks on U.S. soil that kill Americans. That very narrow scope—carefully calibrated to apply to few situations—could allow lawsuits to move forward.
The bill is unusually bipartisan, co-sponsored by members of both parties’ leadership teams: . . . the Obama administration has opposed the bill. The White House has lobbied Congress not to pass the bill, and Press Secretary Josh Earnest threatened a presidential veto on Monday, saying, “It's difficult to imagine a scenario in which the president would sign the bill as currently drafted.” In February, Secretary of State John Kerry told senators that the bill would “create a terrible precedent” that could lead to other countries opening up the U.S. government to lawsuits, despite the carefully tailored language.
[T]op State and Defense Department officials warned lawmakers in a closed-door briefing that the law could expose American soldiers and diplomats abroad.
The Saudi threat to withdraw investments has gotten more attention than those cautions, though. The assets in question include $750 billion in Treasury notes, plus some other investments, which the government fears could be frozen by U.S. courts in a lawsuit. . . . There’s a great deal of skepticism from economists and lawmakers about the threat, which could be damaging to the U.S. economy, but even worse for the Saudi economy, which has already been battered by the declining price of oil.
But wait, what role did Saudi Arabia play in the attacks? The 9/11 Commission report said this: “We have found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization.” Just like the proposed change to sovereign foreign immunity, it’s a narrowly tailored sentence.
“You can’t provide the money for terrorists and then say, “I don’t have anything to do with what they're doing,’” Bob Kerrey, the former senator and a member of the 9/11 Commission, told 60 Minutes recently. . . . [T]hen, there’s some information about Saudi involvement that has been gathered but is not yet public. A 2002 joint congressional investigation into intelligence failures ahead of 9/11 produced 28 pages that remain classified, and which are said to shed light on potential Saudi involvement in the attacks—perhaps by lower-level Saudi officials, or by elements of the government but not the government “as an institution.” Former Senator Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat who chaired the Senate side of the committee, has been pushing for years for the 28 pages to be released. 
The pages were classified at the request of the FBI when produced. Graham and then-Representative Porter Goss, who was the House chair of the committee (and later directed the CIA) suggest there’s been no good reason given for keeping the document secret. Since the documents are classified, Graham won’t say what’s in them, but he has promised “a real smoking gun.”
Between the increased tension with the Saudis, Obama’s upcoming trip, and immunity bill, there seems to be greater pressure and awareness to release the 28 pages now than ever before. Interestingly, the Saudis themselves have in the past backed those efforts.
While American officials have expressed ambivalence about the Saudi government before, noting the kingdom’s dismal record on human rights and involvement in exporting radical Islamism, there’s a new drumbeat of questions about the value of the relationship. The new mood suits both liberals who have always disliked Saudi Arabia and seen America’s ties to it as cynical, and conservatives who think the kingdom is doing too little to stop terrorism, and may in fact be fomenting it.
Obama has shown himself to be no fan of the Saudi government, and far more skeptical of the royal family than his predecessor. As Jeffrey Goldberg reported in his recent Atlanticcover story, the president complained to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull about Saudi and Gulf influence producing stricter forms in Islam in places like Indonesia, where practice had been more liberal.
“Aren’t the Saudis your friends?,” Turnbull wondered, to which Obama replied: “It’s complicated.” Nor does it seem likely to get any simpler at the moment.

American taxpayers spend billions propping up the duplicitous Saudi royal family which allows the export and funding of Islamic extremism.  Between the Saudis and Iran, I would argue that long term America has more potential for alliance with Iran if the theocracy can be overthrown.  Meanwhile, the redacted 28 pages need to be released now.

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