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Brookings' Bruce Riedel Urges Intensified US Support for Saudi Despots
Every now and then, leading mavens of the Foreign Policy Community have an uncharacteristic outburst of candor
When it comes to the US "foreign policy community", few if any people are more representative of it than Bruce Riedel. A 30-year CIA officer and adviser to the last four US presidents, he is now a senior fellow at the wing of the Brookings Institution funded by entertainment mogul Haim Saban (whom the New York Times described as "a tireless cheerleader for Israel" and who described himself this way: "I'm a one-issue guy and my issue is Israel"). In 2012, Riedel contributed to a book on Iran by Brookings "scholars" which argued that the US could launch a war against Iran by covertly provoking its government into responses that could then falsely be depicted by the US to the world "as an unprovoked act of Iranian aggression" - exactly what Brookings' Ken Pollack proposed be done in 2002 to deceitfully justify the attack on Iraq. According to Brookings, "in January 2009, President Barack Obama asked Riedel to chair a review of American policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan, the results of which the president announced in a speech on March 27, 2009."
When they speak publicly, the mavens of the Foreign Policy Community - whose primary function is to justify US militarism and aggression - typically disguise their real beliefs and objectives with specialized obfuscating jargon. But every now and then, they have an outburst of uncharacteristic candor that clarifies their actual worldview. Such is the case with a remarkably clear memorandum to President Obama that Riedel just authored and Brooking published regarding the extremely close US alliance with the regime in Saudi Arabia.
Riedel begins by noting that "Saudi Arabia is the world's last absolute monarchy" and "like Louis XIV, King Abdallah has complete authority." Moreover, "the Saudi royal family has shown no interest in sharing power or in an elected legislature." The Saudi regime not only imposes total repression on its own people but is also vital, he argues, in maintaining tyranny in multiple neighboring states: "they have helped ensure that revolution has not unseated any Arab monarch" and "the other monarchs of Arabia would inevitably be in jeopardy if revolution comes to Saudi Arabia." Specifically:
"The Sunni minority in Bahrain could not last without Saudi money and tanks. Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates are city-states that would be unable to defend themselves against a Saudi revolutionary regime, despite all their money."
So given this extreme human suffering and repression imposed by the Saudi monarchy in multiple countries, what should the US - the Leader of the Free World and the self-proclaimed Deliverer of Freedom and Democracy - do? To Riedel, the answer is obvious: work even harder, do even more, to strengthen the Saudi regime as well as the neighboring tyrannies in order to crush the "Arab Awakenings" and ensure that democratic revolution cannot succeed in those nations.
Riedel stridently argues that the US must remain steadfastly opposed to any democratic revolutions in the region. That's because Saudi Arabia is "America's oldest ally in the Middle East, a partnership that dates back to 1945." Thus, "since American interests are so intimately tied to the House of Saud, the US does not have the choice of distancing the United States from it in an effort to get on the right side of history."
Instead, he insists, while Obama should "encourage" the Saudi King to accelerate the modest reforms he has abstractly embraced, the overarching principle driving US actions should be that "the overthrow of the monarchy would represent a severe setback to America's position in the region and provide a dramatic strategic windfall for Iran." And the US should not only prop up the Saudi dictatorship, but also must "be ready to shore up the neighboring kingdoms and sheikhdoms." As a Bahraini correspondent wrote about this Riedel memo: "Brookings is basically telling Obama to make sure we remain ruled by dictatorial regimes."
The only thing unclear about Riedel's memo is why he perceives any urgency to write it. As he notes, US policy long has been and still is exactly what he advocates: to ensure that the people of Saudi Arabia remain tyrannized by this monarchy:
"The critical defender of the regime would be the National Guard. King Abdallah has spent his life building this Praetorian elite force. The United States has trained and equipped it with tens of billions of dollars' worth of helicopters and armored vehicles."
Just last week, President Obama emphasized how critical his alliance with the House of Saud is by doing something a US president rarely does: hosting not a fellow head of state but a mere minister (Saudi Minister of Interior, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud) in the Oval Office. Afterward, the White House proclaimed that Obama and the Saudi Prince "affirmed the strong partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia".
Indeed, the Obama administration has continuously lavished the Saudi Kingdom with a record amount of arms and other weapons, and has done the same for the Bahraini tyranny. He has done all this while maintaining close-as-ever alliances with the Gulf State despots as they crush their own democratic movements.
As always, the rationale for this steadfast US support for Arab tyranny is dubious at best. Riedel notes that "while the United States can live without Saudi oil, China, India, Japan and Europe cannot" - but it's absurd to think that whoever rules Saudi Arabia would refuse to sell its oil on the world market. Riedel also argues that "the CIA war against al-Qaida is heavily dependent on the Kingdom" - that gets closer to the truth, but it just shows how this endless "war" is the author of most of America's bad acts in the region, and it's ironic indeed that the only government with valid links to the 9/11 perpetrators has become the closest US ally in the "war on terror", while governments with no such links - starting with Iran - have become perpetual US enemies.
Riedel also says that "the Saudis have also been a key player in containing Iran for decades." But when it comes to repression and tyranny, Iran - as atrocious as its regime is capable of being - is no match for the Saudis. There is zero reason to view Iran as an implacable enemy of the US, and it is certainly no justification for imposing absolute tyranny on millions of people in the Arab world merely because those regimes are similarly hostile to Iran.
But as I emphasized last week, the point here is not to object to US support for the world's worst dictators; it is, instead, to urge that this reality be acknowledged. Despite this obvious truth - that the US has no objection whatsoever to tyranny but rather loves and supports it when tyrants are faithful to its interests - hordes of foreign policy "experts" shamelessly pretend that the US and its NATO allies are committed to spreading freedom and democracy and fighting despotism in order to justify every new US and NATO intervention.
Just listen to the patently deceitful rhetoric that spews forth from US political leaders and their servants in the Foreign Policy Community when it comes time to rail against anti-US regimes in Libya, Syria and Iran. That the US and its NATO allies - eager benefactors of the world's worst tyrants - are opposed to those regimes out of concern for democracy and human rights is a pretense, a conceit, so glaring and obvious that it really defies belief that people are willing to advocate it in public with a straight face. Even Riedel notes the real reason for those interventions: the Saudis, he writes, are "pragmatists and have backed revolutions in Libya and Syria that undermine longstanding enemies of the Kingdom, especially Iran."
The same inane rhetoric is pouring forth in the debate over the Mali intervention. The same countries that are arming the worst human rights abusers on the African continent are simultaneously flattering themselves as crusaders for human rights by bombing Mali. Meanwhile, those who point out that bombing Muslims in yet another country will be used by al-Qaida to strengthen itself further - as the NYT put it: "the backlash might end up being worse than the original threat" - are predictably smeared as Terrorist sympathizers by the self-proclaimed experts of the Foreign Policy Community who exist to justify US and NATO militarism (see here and here as examples).
It's the same warped, flagrantly propagandistic debate that has been taking place over and over for decades. It's how the Saudi-loving George Bush and Tony Blair were able to tell their citizens that their former ally, Saddam Hussein, had to be attacked and removed from power in part because of how tyrannical he was (citing past human rights abuses that took place when he was supported by the US and NATO allies). And it's how those who pointed out all of the contradictions and hypocrisies in these pro-freedom claims were systematically smeared as being pro-Saddam.
Critically, this propaganda about the commitment to human rights and democracy of the US and its NATO allies is aimed at, and only works on, the domestic populations of those countries. People in the region where these pro-tyranny policies are imposed by NATO members are fully aware of this reality, as public opinion polls unambiguously prove. But when there exists a massive apparatus of self-proclaimed experts calling itself the Foreign Policy Community that exists to propagate these myths, and a US media that similarly views the world through the prism of the US government, it is easy to see why these myths, despite how patently absurd they are, work so effectively. The fact that one can have a memo like Riedel's so clearly explaining US policy to support the worst tyrannies that serve its interests, sitting right next to endless US pro-war rhetoric about the urgency of fighting for freedom and democracy, is an outstanding testament to that myth-making.