David Miller Online: US-Saudi Relations Fraying
Why the US Will Not Deal With Saudi Support for Terror
According to Senator Joseph Lieberman the United States’ ties with Saudi Arabia have reached a "crisis stage". Senator Lieberman claims that this renewed strain is being driven by the US’ looming showdown with Iraq and allegations that a Saudi princess helped channel funds to two of the men involved in September 11.
These claims come in the wake of an inquiry by Congress’s Intelligence Committee reported that there is evidence showing that this transaction took place. Several Congressmen, including Mr. Lieberman are asking whether Saudi Arabia is doing enough to co-operate in the War on Terrorism and whether the Saudi’s are actually on the US’ side.
Until now, the US has adopted a ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ approach to Saudi Arabia. This is not the first time that the Saudis have been accused of providing shelter for al-Qaeda and other organisations and of being a financial sponsor of terrorism.
There is also the Saudi ruling that the US cannot use its territory as a launch point for any attack on Iraq, despite the large American military presence there and the outward impression that relations between Riyadh and Washington remain close. If Mr. Lieberman’s claims are correct then the closeness of this relationship is placed in serious doubt and it begs the question as to how long the Bush Administration can keep turning a blind eye to such allegations and the situation in Saudi Arabia.
Both the Bush Administration and the House of Saud are in a corner with this issue. The Saudi support was crucial during the 1991 Gulf War and it has remained a pillar in US Middle East policy ever since. The US has provided the Saudi’s with a defensive screen and deterrent against any possible Iraqi aggression while the Saudi’s continue to provide oil.
Oil is not the only concern for the US. Saudi Arabia wields powerful influence throughout the Persian Gulf region, especially among states such as Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. All of these are considered US allies and friends. Without that Saudi influence it is likely that the US would find it much more difficult to maintain these relationships. The US also feels that Saudi Arabia is in its debt after it helped protect the Kingdom from Iraqi aggression during the Gulf War and that its military deployment is a continuation of Operation Desert Shield.
For its part, the House of Saud must balance this relationship with the US with the growing dissatisfaction and Islamic resurgence among its own people.
Any dissent within Saudi Arabia has been stifled however if the dissidents begin to protest strongly against the American presence, then the royal family could also find their own position under threat. If there is a revolution within Saudi Arabia or the Royal Family lost their preeminent position then there will be dire consequences for the world.
Both the Bush Administration and the Saudi government have reached a point where they both need to make decisions about their relationship and what possible consequences that might bring. If there is evidence that elements within the Saudi government or population are helping to finance terrorism then the US government must either keep pretending it is not happening or take action of some sort.
The US must weigh up how much it relies on the Saudi co-operation before doing that, and if it feels that that support cannot be jeopardised then it must be prepared to face the accusations from its opponents at home. The Saudi’s must decide whether they can afford to lose the US as an ally or whether they feel strong enough to crack down on those supporting terrorism.
It is unlikely that they will do so hence they will continue to try and play both ends towards the middle. This will not matter to the Saudi’s; as it is unlikely the US will find the courage to take action even if the evidence of Saudi compliance in September 11 or al-Qaeda is overwhelming. After all, since the end of the Second World War, this has remained one of the world’s great marriages of convenience.