While many news outlets received good political mileage Wednesday, flaunting the fact that President Obama was met at the airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia by a low-level official (the mayor) followed by cool, if not outright cold, negotiations — there are underlying reasons that we should be really caring about.
What is Really in the 28-pages of the 9/11 Report?
This has always been something that has been a potential political firestorm, as 15 of the 19 hijackers during 9/11 were Saudi citizens.
While the pressure and emphasis has always been put on bin Laden’s terrorist planning and organization, we’ve really never addressed the fact that Al-Qaeda was a popular movement within Saudi Arabia, with citizens traveling to strongholds for training and deployment.
The American people have never known exactly what our government truly knew about the Saudi government’s involvement, or even if they had advanced intelligence.
The potential release of this information could severely change public opinion on a long-term, quasi-friendly ally that is geographically important to us because of their proximity to current enemies.
Congressional Bill Allowing 9/11 Victims’ Families to Sue Saudi Kingdom
A 1976 federal law makes it fairly difficult for an American citizen to sue a foreign nation in American courts.
This could change if more support is gathered on a bill that would directly allow families of 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi Kingdom, members of the Royal Family, their banks, and charities.
President Obama is against such measures, while Trump, Cruz, Sanders, and Clinton all support it.
Of course, Saudi Arabian officials have threatened to pull their assets from the U.S., but many of their assets are in the form of property that would not be easily liquidated before it could be frozen by courts.
This is more than a slight irritation for the Saudis, as oil transactions worldwide are almost universally conducted in U.S. dollars. This places the House of Saud in a position where they can never really fully protect their assets from U.S. courts.
A ‘New’ Form of Saudi Jihadist Movement Arising
In America, we too often focus on ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and Boko Haram (to a lesser extent) without really examining their roots, or even looking to newer threats.
Wahhabism, an ultra-conservative sect of Islam, has been on the rise since the 1970s and directly inspired bin Laden’s Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union in the 1980’s — the very beginning of what would become Al-Qaeda.
While having some setbacks in popularity in the late 1990s through the 9/11 aftermath — largely from government crackdowns — the movement is now fully back in place, a populist movement within the country that the government can’t control.
The more we crack down on terrorism, the more likely we will have to deal with this movement. And this can’t make the House of Saud rest easily.
Let’s not Forget About Oil
At this point, no oil producing country is happy with the fact that oil prices have been suppressed since late 2014.
American domestic companies are pumping to pay debt service; Russian and Iranian companies need dollars at any cost. They’d rather trade their own currency at a loss to gain dollars to stabilize their businesses and economy.
What started as a Saudi ploy to kill off newer production methods has now fully backfired on them. The longer this continues the bigger the losses they are accruing.
And while we really don’t care how much money they lose, it does put strains on diplomatic relations in a region where we need every ‘ally’ we can get.
But Do We Really Still Need Them as an Ally?
That’s the big question.
Most of the time, they realize that they tend to need us a whole lot more than we need them. But they have been on a mass weapons buying spree, becoming the largest importer of arms in the world in 2015.
While we’ve been busy with Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran, they’ve led their own intervention in the Yemeni Civil War.
Not only that, but it’s widely believed that Saudi Arabia funded Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, with the understanding that they would eventually take delivery on their own off-the-shelf nukes.
At this point, they are quickly becoming a significant threat politically, economically, and militarily — and they don’t seem too interested in backing down.
While it may be expedient to poke fun at the president for a foreign policy failure by being snubbed, we really need to rethink our relationship with Saudi Arabia and not be short-sighted in only seeing the domestic political mileage.
Because like it or not, they are becoming one of our greatest threats.