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TBR News September 24, 2018

Sep 24 2018

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Isaiah 40:3-8 

Washington, D.C. September 24, 2018 : There is an old British music hall song entitled, ‘Oh he’s dead but he won’t lie down.’

This now clearly appears to be a reasonably accurate evaluation of President Trump’s situation. Little by little, a giant legal anaconda has been wrapping itself around his chubby body and bones are beginning to snap.

Soon enough, he will vanish into the jaws of the anaconda and will commence the digestive process.

Later, many noble trees will be sacrificed to produce endless books on the how and why of the fate of a person called inside the Beltway as Fat Donald the Groper.

And hopefully, Trump supporters, who consist mostly of far right gun lovers and evangelical Christians, will erupt into sporadic violence when their cardboard icon is shredded, and the US Army can do to them what they love doing to other civilian populations.”

 

The Table of Contents 

  • Donald Trump has said 2291 false things as U.S. president: No. 30
  • ‘Criminal negligence’ or disregard to Russia-Israel ties: MoD details chronology of Il-20
  • Azov Sea Flashpoint: Russia, Ukraine Teetering on the Brink of War
  • If Brett Kavanaugh’s Calendar Doesn’t Show the Binge Drinking He Boasted of in His Yearbook, What Does It Prove?
  • Iran warns U.S., Israel of revenge after parade attack
  • Saudi Arabia’s Uncertain Future

 Donald Trump has said 2291 false things as U.S. president: No. 30

August 8, 2018

by Daniel Dale, Washington Bureau Chief

The Toronto Star, Canada

The Star is keeping track of every false claim U.S. President Donald Trump has made since his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017. Why? Historians say there has never been such a constant liar in the Oval Office. We think dishonesty should be challenged. We think inaccurate information should be corrected

If Trump is a serial liar, why call this a list of “false claims,” not lies? You can read our detailed explanation here. The short answer is that we can’t be sure that each and every one was intentional. In some cases, he may have been confused or ignorant. What we know, objectively, is that he was not teling the truth.

Last updated: Aug 8, 2018

 

  • Oct 7, 2017

“Well, if we could make a deal, at least on a temporary basis, because Obamacare is exploding — it’s gone.”

Source: Comments to media before Marine One departure

in fact: fact: We allow Trump rhetorical license to call Obamacare “collapsing” and even “exploding,” though experts say neither is true. But it is plainly false to say the law is “gone.” While its marketplaces have problems, they are still functioning and providing insurance to millions; so is its Medicaid expansion.

Trump has repeated this claim 33 times

“We hit, as you know, 3.1 (per cent) GDP (growth) last quarter. Everybody was shocked. They said it wouldn’t happen for years…everybody was shocked.”

Source: Interview with Mike Huckabee on Trinity Broadcasting Network

in fact: Everybody was not shocked. Some experts thought GDP growth would hit 3 per cent in that very quarter, the second quarter of 2017. The Atlanta Fed had forecast 4.2 per cent growth, then revised it to 3.6 per cent in May. At the time of the revision, financial publication Barron’s wrote, “It’s still a high forecast. Most economists see second quarter growth between 2.1 per cent and 3.2 per cent.”

Trump has repeated this claim 4 times  

“We’re the highest-taxed nation in the world.”

Source: Interview with Mike Huckabee on Trinity Broadcasting Network

in fact: The U.S. is far from the highest-taxed nation in the world. While its corporate tax rate is near the top, it is below the average of developed OECD countries when other taxes are included.

Trump has repeated this claim 28 times

“Obama should have never gotten out (of Iraq) the way he got out. That’s how ISIS formed. It formed in the vacuum.”

Source: Interview with Mike Huckabee on Trinity Broadcasting Network

in fact: ISIS has roots dating back to the late 1990s. It became known as the Islamic State during the Bush administration, more than two years before Obama took office. While Trump can argue that Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq helped ISIS gain strength, it is false to say this is how ISIS “formed.”

Trump has repeated this claim 3 times

“You look at President Clinton. He paid billions of dollars, gave them (North Korea) billions more. And the day after the agreement was done, meaning his father….they started doing what they were doing.”

Source: Interview with Mike Huckabee on Trinity Broadcasting Network

in fact: The Washington Post reports that “billions” is an exaggeration: “Under the Clinton accord with North Korea, between 1995 and 2003 the United States spent about $400 million supplying the fuel oil to North Korea that was required under the deal. An international consortium spent about $2.5 billion to replace the North’s plutonium reactor with two light-water reactors; the project was not completed before the deal collapsed…the money mostly went to South Korean and Japanese companies, not North Korea.”

Trump has repeated this claim 5 times

“The enthusiasm for business and manufacturing is the highest it’s ever been in the history of these various indicators — that’s I think 28 years.”

Source: Interview with Mike Huckabee on Trinity Broadcasting Network

in fact: The National Association of Manufacturers’ optimism survey has been conducted for 20 years, not 28. The chief executive of the association actually reminded him that the survey had a “20-year history” at an event less two days prior to the taping of this interview.

Trump has repeated this claim 3 times

“When I walked in (to a church in Puerto Rico), the cheering was incredible…it was deafening.”

Source: Interview with Mike Huckabee on Trinity Broadcasting Network

in fact: This is an exaggeration. Trump received enthusiastic applause, but “nowhere in the realm of deafening,” said someone who was in the room and spoke on condition of anonymity.

“The media is really, the word, I think one of the greatest of all terms I’ve come up with, is ‘fake.’ I guess other people have used it, perhaps, over the years, but I’ve never noticed it.”

Source: Interview with Mike Huckabee on Trinity Broadcasting Network

in fact: Trump obviously did not invent the term “fake.” Nor did he invent the term “fake news.”

Trump has repeated this claim 2 times

“The Coast Guard…in Texas…they saved 16,000 lives. Sixteen thousand lives.”

Source: Interview with Mike Huckabee on Trinity Broadcasting Network

in fact: Trump’s figure is an exaggeration. The Coast Guard told the Star that they rescued 11,022 people during their response to Hurricane Harvey.

Trump has repeated this claim 8 times

“They had 200 mile-an-hour winds. It just ripped the place apart.”

Source: Interview with Mike Huckabee on Trinity Broadcasting Network

in fact: Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico with sustained winds of 155 miles per hour, not 200 miles per hour.

Trump has repeated this claim 2 times

“You see the budget, and what took place just recently with respect to — almost $800 billion for the military this year. Eight hundred billion.”

Source: Interview with Mike Huckabee on Trinity Broadcasting Network

in fact: The military budget is $700 billion — a $640 billion base budget, plus $60 billion in “Overseas Contingency Operations” war funding.

Trump has repeated this claim 4 times

“That happened — that horrible thing happened — because of a few people. Really, a few people. The problem we have is we have 52 senators, and they have to get rid of the just absolutely crazy voting where you need 60 — it’s called filbuster rule, it’s a disaster. It’s a disaster for Republicans.”

Source: Interview with Mike Huckabee on Trinity Broadcasting Network

in fact: Trump strongly suggests that he failed to get the Senate to pass an Obamacare repeal bill because of a requirement that 60 senators vote for such legislation. In fact, he merely needed 50 votes in this case, since Vice-President Mike Pence gets to break 50-50 ties, and fell short.

Trump has repeated this claim 3 times

  • Oct 8, 2017

“Bob Corker gave us the Iran Deal, & that’s about it.”

Source: Twitter

in fact: Corker criticized and voted against the deal that aims to constrain Iran’s nuclear activities — “What you have done is codify a personally aligned pathway for Iran to get a nuclear weapon…I believe you’ve been fleeced,” Corker told Secretary of State John Kerry in 2015 — and he played no role in negotiating an agreement negotiated by the Obama administration, Iran, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, Germany, China, and the European Union. Some conservatives fault him for his role in finding a compromise with Democrats over a bill to allow Congress to review the agreement. But the final version of the bill was overwhelmingly supported by Republicans — it passed the Senate 98-1 — and was, obviously, not the same thing as the deal itself.

Trump has repeated this claim 3 times

 

“He (Bob Corker) is also largely responsible for the horrendous Iran Deal!”

Source: Twitter

in fact: Corker criticized and voted against the deal that aims to constrain Iran’s nuclear activities — “What you have done is codify a personally aligned pathway for Iran to get a nuclear weapon…I believe you’ve been fleeced,” Corker told Secretary of State John Kerry in 2015 — and he played no role in negotiating an agreement negotiated by the Obama administration, Iran, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, Germany, China, and the European Union. Some conservatives fault him for his role in finding a compromise with Democrats over a bill to allow Congress to review the agreement. But the final version of the bill was overwhelmingly supported by Republicans — it passed the Senate 98-1 — and was, obviously, not the same thing as the deal itself.

Trump has repeated this claim 3 times

  • Oct 9, 2017

“Now, we’re going to have to do something with Obamacare because it’s failing. Henry Kissinger does not want to pay 116 per cent increase in his premiums, but that’s what’s happening.”

Source: Remarks at meeting with Henry Kissinger

in fact: Intentionally or inadvertently, Trump created the impression that Kissinger was personally experiencing a hefty spike in his health insurance premiums. But as the Associated Press noted, it is “super safe to assume” that Kissinger, a wealthy 94-year-old, is not buying his insurance through Obamacare marketplaces. As a senior, he is eligible for Medicare coverage; the Associated Press notes that it is “against the law for an insurer to sell an Obamacare plan to someone who’s covered by Medicare.” Even on the tiny chance Kissinger was, for some bizarre reason, buying insurance through Obamacare, the “116 per cent” figure would still not apply to him — that number is from a disputed Trump administration estimate of the situation in Arizona, while Kissinger resides in New York and Connecticut.

“We’re the highest-taxed nation in the world.” And: “But I will say that we’re the highest-taxed nation in the world. ”

Source: Remarks at meeting with Henry Kissinger

in fact: The U.S. is far from the highest-taxed nation in the world. While its corporate tax rate is near the top, it is below the average of developed OECD countries when other taxes are included.

Trump has repeated this claim 28 times

  • Oct 10, 2017

“The Failing @nytimes set Liddle’ Bob Corker up by recording his conversation. Was made to sound a fool, and that’s what I am dealing with!”

Source: Twitter

in fact: The Times did not “set up” Corker. Corker deliberately decided to do an interview with the paper, and he explicitly made sure he was on the record before he delivered his criticism of Trump.

 

 

‘Criminal negligence’ or disregard to Russia-Israel ties: MoD details chronology of Il-20

September 23, 2018

RT

A minute-by-minute account of the Il-20 downing shows Israel’s culpability and either its military bosses’ lack of appreciation of relations with Moscow, or their control of commanding officers, the Russian defense ministry said.

“We believe that the blame for the Russian Il-20 aircraft tragedy lies entirely with the Israeli Air Force,” said spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov, before revealing a detailed account of events leading to the downing of the Russian Il-20 military aircraft on September 17. The plane was shot down by the Syrian air defense units as Israeli’s F-16s effectively used it as a cover during the attack on its neighbor.

The report featured previously undisclosed radar data and details of communications between Russian and Israeli militaries, and concluded that “the military leadership of Israel either has no appreciation for the level of relations with Russia, or has no control over individual commands or commanding officers who understood that their actions would lead to tragedy.”

Misinformation & ‘criminal negligence’

On the evening of September 17, the Russian Ilyushin IL-20 with 15 crew on board was circling over the Idlib de-escalation zone on a special reconnaissance mission, when four Israeli F-16 fighter jets left their country’s airspace and flew over the neutral Mediterranean waters towards the Syrian coast. The Israeli Air Force gave the Russian side less than a minute’s warning before dropping the precision-guided glide bombs, leaving virtually no time for any safety maneuvers, Konashenkov said, calling such actions “a clear violation of the 2015 Russian-Israeli agreements.”

Moreover, the Israeli military failed to provide the location of their jets or properly specify their targets, claiming they were going to attack several ‘industrial facilities’ in northern Syria, close to the Il-20’s area of operation. The misinformation prompted the Russian Command to order the recon plane back to the Khmeimim air base. The Israeli jets, however, instead almost immediately attacked the western Syrian Latakia province.

Once the Syrian air defenses responded to the initial strike, the Israeli jets switched on radar jamming and pulled back, apparently preparing for another attack. One of the Israeli jets then came closer to the Syrian coast and approached the Russian plane, which was preparing to land at that time.The Israeli pilot must have been well aware of the fact that the Il-20 has a much larger radar cross-section than his F-16, and would become a “preferred target” for the Syrian air defense units, who use different friend-or-foe systems with the Russians, Konashenkov said. Thus, for the Syrians, the reconnaissance plane could appear as a group of Israeli jets.

Finally, the Israeli jets carried out their maneuvers in the immediate vicinity of the Khmeimim air base, which is used both by military and civilian aircraft, including passenger planes, the ministry’s spokesman emphasized, saying that the reckless actions of the Israeli pilots could also have posed a threat to any passenger or transport aircraft that may have happened to be there at that time.

Israel ‘crossed the line of civilized relations’ with ‘ungrateful response’

Israel’s negligent behavior amounts to a flagrant violation of the very spirit of cooperation between the countries, Konashenkov stated, noting that Russia has never broken its commitment to the deconfliction agreement – it has always informed Israel about their missions in advance and has never used its air defense capabilities against the Israelis, even though their airstrikes sometimes put the Russian servicemen in danger.

Russia has sent as many as 310 notifications to the Israeli Air Force Command, while the latter appeared to be reluctant to show the same level of commitment, notifying only 25 times even though its jets carried out more than 200 strikes against targets located in Syria over the past 18 months alone.

“This is an extremely ungrateful response to all that has been done by the Russian Federation for Israel and the Israeli people recently,” Konashenkov said.

The Russian military supported the Syrian military operation in the Golan Heights to “ensure there were no shelling attacks on Israeli territory” anymore, thus allowing the UN peacekeeping mission to resume patrolling of the contested border between Syria and Israel after “a six-year hiatus.”

Russia also managed to secure the withdrawal of all Iran-backed groups from the Golan Heights to a “safe distance for Israel,” more than 140 kilometers to the east of Syria, the spokesperson said, adding that this was done at the request of Tel Aviv. “A total of 1,050 personnel, 24 MLRSs and tactical missiles, as well as 145 pieces of other munitions and military equipment were withdrawn from the area,” Konashenkov told journalists.

The Russian Defense Ministry had provided assistance in preserving Jewish sacred places and graves in the city of Aleppo. Putting Russian Special Forces soldiers’ lives in danger, it also organized the search for the remains of some Israeli servicemen that died during the past conflicts in an area where the Syrian forces were combating Islamic State (IS, former ISIS) terrorists at that time.

While Israel said that it mourned the deaths of Russian troops, the IDF statement following the incident shifted all the blame for the incident solely on Damascus, and its Iranian and Lebanese allies.

 

Azov Sea Flashpoint: Russia, Ukraine Teetering on the Brink of War

September 16, 2018

by Peter Korzun

Strategic Culture

Ukraine has increased its military presence in the Azov Sea region. Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council met on Sept. 7 and agreed to take a variety of steps to boost the country’s combat capabilities in the area, including the creation of a missile-equipped naval infantry group to counter potential amphibious attacks and naval shore bombardments. Ukraine’s Gurza-M-class armored artillery boats have been brought in to boost the naval component of the forces deployed in the region.

Russia and Ukraine enjoy free use of the Sea of Azov under the 2003 “Agreement between the Russian Federation and the Ukraine on cooperation in the use of the sea of Azov and the strait of Kerch.” The document is in place but it does not specify any precise border. The parties agree that the Sea of Azov and the Strait of Kerch are the internal waters of both Ukraine and Russia.

Talks have dragged on for a long time but have failed to produce a solution. Ukraine does not want to recognize Russia’s rights, which are based on the fact that Crimea has joined the Russian Federation. Moreover, Ukrainian authorities insist on their right to detain any ship traveling to or from Crimea without Kiev’s permission.

Ukraine is calling for the imposition of international sanctions against Russian Black Sea ports, due to what it calls the “blockade” of the Sea of Azov. It has already imposed punitive measures unilaterally. Tensions have heightened since March, when ships were detained and searched.  On March 24, Ukrainian border guards stopped the Russian-flagged, Crimean-registered Nord fishing vessel in the Sea of Azov. The ship was hijacked. The crew members reported being interrogated and abused by Ukrainian authorities who held them accountable under domestic laws, not recognizing the crew as Russian citizens. The detained sailors were finally set free to return to Crimea without passports. Ukraine violated a number of international agreements and this marked the beginning of a campaign of provocative actions that has been waged ever since. Last month, the Russian Mekhanik Pogodin tanker was detained in the Ukrainian port of Kherson. Russia compared the move to the activities of Somali pirates.

The US is taking sides in order to ratchet up the tensions.  The State Department has taken a deliberately provocative stance, urging Ukraine toward confrontation. Without bothering to study the details, it simply puts the blame on Russia as usual for anything that goes wrong. Washington is goading Ukraine into seeking a military solution, including such unrealistic but dangerous ideas as using the warships of NATO’s standing force to protect its shipping lanes, mining the Azov Sea, or using fast-moving attack vessels to encircle a large Russian naval asset from all directions like a wolf pack. This tactic was invented by German Admiral Karl Dönitz during WWII, when “wolf packs” of U-boats were used to attack capital ships.  The very fact that such ideas have been generated and are floating around shows how unwise it is to abet Ukraine by throwing unconditional support behind it.

Stephen Blank of the American Foreign Policy Council, a leading US expert on Russia, believes that the US administration “should send anti-ship missiles available from or through the US-AGM-84 Harpoon Block II, AGM-158C LRASM A, and the Norwegian Naval Strike Missile” as well as “a viable launch platform and a targeting system, particularly a radar.” The author thinks this should be done right now, without delay. His article was published on Sept. 7 by the Atlantic Council, the prestigious think tank that advises the State Department and enjoys great influence among those who shape US foreign policy.  In another article, Mr. Blanc calls for supplying Ukraine with platforms — older ships that have been decommissioned or are about to retire.  Last month, Mykola Bielieskov, the Deputy Executive Director at the Institute of World Policy, called for fast-track shipments to Ukraine of the Harpoon Block II ER+ anti-ship missile, enabling it to attack Russian vessels. The idea of providing Ukraine with Island-class coast guard ships is under consideration by the US government. On Sept. 1, Kurt Volker, US Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations, stated that the US administration “is ready to expand arms supplies to Ukraine in order to build up the country’s naval and air defense forces.”

The powers that be have failed to keep their promises and improve the lives of ordinary people in Ukraine. The presidential election will be held in March 2019. A threatening Russian bogeyman is needed to explain away the failures. The country’s economy and finances are in the doldrums and corruption is staggering.   None of the problems have been solved and the West is getting tired of Ukraine. The fairy tale about Moscow’s “aggressive foreign policy” comes in handy right when the Ukrainian rulers need a scapegoat.

Nobody needs an armed conflict in the Azov Sea region. A number of countries are interested in protecting the right of free passage, enabling vessels to arrive at their destination ports without risk or delay. The region does not have to be a flashpoint. Russia and Ukraine could sit down at a round table to discuss controversial issues, as the 2003 agreement stipulates the parties should do in order to settle their disputes, should they have any, but that’s not what the State Department is calling for. The only option the US administration is considering is that of providing Ukraine with arms to fight Russia and then egging Kiev on to escalate the tensions. And those are already dangerously running high. A spark can ignite a big fire at any time if the problem is not addressed in a positive way without saber rattling. It’s a pity the US is playing such a destructive role. The time is right for Russian and Ukrainian experts and officials to set their differences aside and start talking to find a peaceful solution to this urgent problem.

 

If Brett Kavanaugh’s Calendar Doesn’t Show the Binge Drinking He Boasted of in His Yearbook, What Does It Prove?

September 24, 2018

by Robert Mackey

The Intercept

The New York Times reports that Brett Kavanaugh plans to offer the Senate Judiciary Committee pages from his high school social calendar which include no mention of a scheduled engagement with a teenaged Christine Blasey in the summer of 1982, as if that somehow proves that he did not attempt to rape her at a drunken house party.

It is, of course, blindingly obvious that teenage boys do not typically use calendars to schedule criminal acts of sexual assault, or, for that matter, to make a written record of their illegal activities after the fact. But in Kavanaugh’s case, there is an obvious way to establish how incomplete a record his calendar is — by comparing pages for that summer, and the ensuing school year, to the regular binge-drinking sessions he referred to in his high school yearbook.

In his yearbook entry for the 1982-1983 school year, Kavanaugh boasted about his leading role in a club devoted to drinking 100 kegs of beer, and referred to episodes of drunken vomiting, a wild “FFFFFFFourth of July” party, and run-ins with the police during outings at the beach.

As my colleague Peter Maass explained, the cryptic references to those drunken episodes from Kavanaugh’s yearbook entry have been described in greater detail by his close friend, Mark Judge, in two memoirs, “Wasted: Tales of a Gen X Drunk,” and “God and Man at Georgetown Prep.” According to Christine Blasey Ford, Mark Judge was in the room when Kavanaugh assaulted her, both as a witness and an accomplice. Judge has denied that account, but his memoir details repeated episodes of blacking out while drinking, and having no memory of his activities even the following day.

According to CNN, in “God and Man at Georgetown Prep,” Judge describes the 100-keg quest in detail and also writes of a bachelor party that he and friends threw for a teacher at someone’s house, which included one of those kegs and a stripper. If Kavanaugh was present at that party, or helped to plan it, it would be interesting to see if it is mentioned on his calendar, and if the name of every guest was listed.

In other words, unless Kavanaugh’s calendar chronicles in detail the drunken behavior that we know, from him, he took part in that year, it is clearly an incomplete record of his activities that year, and proves nothing more than that he did not note on his calendar that he planned to get drunk and sexually assault a younger student.

 

Iran warns U.S., Israel of revenge after parade attack

September 24, 2018

by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin

Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) – Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Monday that the attackers who killed 25 people at a military parade were paid by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and that Iran would “severely punish” those behind the bloodshed.

The deputy head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards also accused the United States and Israel of involvement in the attack and he said they should expect a devastating response from Tehran.

In the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz, thousands packed the streets to mourn the victims of Saturday’s assault, many chanting “Death to Israel and America”. Twelve members of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were among the 25 dead.

The coffins, wrapped in the flag of the Islamic Republic, were carried by the mourners. Many held pictures of a four-year old boy killed in the incident, one of the worst such attacks against Iran’s the most powerful military force.

Gunmen fired on a viewing stand in Ahvaz where Iranian officials had gathered to watch an annual parade marking the start of Iran’s 1980-88 war with Iraq.

Iran’s Fars news agency said on Monday that five attackers were killed in the attack, not four as previously reported by state media. The body of the fifth assailant had not been identified as it was mixed up with other casualties, it said.

“Based on reports, this cowardly act was done by people who the Americans come to help when they are trapped in Syria and Iraq, and are paid by Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” Khamenei said on his official website.

Guards Brigadier General Hossein Salami, in a speech broadcast on state TV, said: “You have seen our revenge before. You will see that our response will be crushing and devastating and you will regret what you have done,”

Tasnim new agency also quoted Salami as saying that the “horrific crime” exposed the dark side of an alliance that the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel had created to counter Iranian influence in the region.

The secretary of Iran’s National Security Council said Tehran needed to talk to its neighbors to avoid tensions.

“It’s essential to be fully aware and increase our constructive dialogues to neutralize the plots of enemies who want to create suspicion and disagreement among regional countries,” Ali Shamkhani said.

He also criticized the United States, saying U.S. sanctions against Iran were illegal and that President Donald Trump was using them as a tool for “personal revenge”.

ANTAGONIZE

The United Arab Emirates, a close ally of Saudi Arabia and Washington, rejected Iran’s allegations alluding to its involvement in the violence.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, asked by a Fox News interviewer if the United States played any role in the attack, said: “When you have a security incident at home, blaming others is an enormous mistake.”

The loss of innocent lives was tragic, Pompeo added. There has been no reaction yet from Saudi Arabia or Israel.

Accusations against Gulf countries will almost certainly antagonize Iran’s regional foe Saudi Arabia. The oil super-powers are waging a war for influence across the Middle East, backing opposite sides in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon.

It is, however, highly unlikely the Guards will strike any of its foes directly and risk sparking a regional conflict.

Analyst said the violence has led to a boost in domestic support for the Guards which they could use to silence their critics, who include pragmatic President Hassan Rouhani.

Rouhani engineered Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers that ushered in a cautious detente with Washington before tensions flared anew with Trump’s decision in May to pull out of the accord and reimpose sanctions on Tehran.

Iran’s Intelligence Minister, Mahmoud Alavi, said a network of suspects had already been arrested in connection with the attack, the judiciary’s news agency Mizan reported. He did not elaborate..

Ahvaz National Resistance, an Iranian ethnic Arab opposition movement which seeks a separate state in oil-rich Khuzestan province, and Islamic State have both claimed responsibility.

The Guard Corps was set up after the 1979 Islamic revolution to protect the Shi’ite clerical ruling system and revolutionary values. It answers to Ayatollah Khamenei and has an estimated 125,000-strong military with army, navy and air units.

Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Writing by Michael Georgy, Editing by Angus MacSwan

 

Saudi Arabia’s Uncertain Future

Should the U.S. strengthen ties with the kingdom?

March 9, 2018 – Volume 28, Issue 10

by Karen Foerstel

cq press

U.S.-Saudi relations are warming after years of conflict with the Obama administration. Citing mutual opposition to the Sunni kingdom’s Shiite arch-enemy, Iran, President Trump and the Saudi king struck a $350 billion arms deal last year aimed at fighting terrorism and creating American jobs. But critics warn that Trump’s unflinching support for the kingdom could pull the United States into one of the regional proxy conflicts between the Saudis and Iran. Meanwhile, the Saudis are seeking U.S. investors for high-tech and renewable energy ventures to help diversify the oil-dependent economy. They also are considering selling part of the massive, state-owned Aramco oil company to outside investors, which would open a window on the kingdom’s secretive finances. To lure international support and investments, a new, 32-year-old crown prince is pushing social and economic reforms in the religiously conservative society. But human rights groups say the Saudis oppress dissidents at home and continue to fund extremist groups that share their hatred of Iran.

Meanwhile, the Saudis tentatively are introducing social and economic reforms, partly to attract U.S. and other investors to help the kingdom diversify its oil-dependent economy.

Saudi Arabia’s increasingly antagonistic moves toward Iran stem from a 1,400-year-old split between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.Footnote * Both countries have strict, religiously based governments: Iran is a Shiite theocracy, Saudi Arabia a theocratic monarchy where Sunnism is the state religion. Exacerbating the political power struggle, the animosity also has a racial component: The Saudis are Arabs, the Iranians Persian.5

The age-old rivalry has led to proxy conflicts across the region, including in Yemen, where in 2015 the Saudis intervened in a civil war on behalf of the Yemeni president against Shiite Houthi rebels. That conflict has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced 2 million and left millions on the brink of famine in what one U.N. official has called “a man-made disaster.”6

Overview

As President Trump exited Air Force One in the Saudi capital of Riyadh last May, he was greeted by television cameras, a military brass band, young girls with flowers and King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud. Seven Saudi jets trailed red, white and blue smoke overhead.1

For the next two days, Trump received more than 80 gifts, including a silver dagger, swords and robes lined with tiger and cheetah fur. The king draped the golden Collar of Abdulaziz al Saud — the nation’s highest honor — around the president’s neck.2

Trump’s red-carpet treatment was in stark contrast to the chilly reception a year earlier for President Barack Obama, who during his final trip to the kingdom as president was met — not by the king but by the mayor of Riyadh — in an untelevised ceremony. Obama had angered the Saudis by brokering a deal in 2015 lifting economic sanctions on the Saudis’ longtime archrival Iran in return for limits on its nuclear program. The Saudis fear that eased sanctions will enable Iran to expand its power across the Middle East.3

“This is the beginning of a turning point in the relationship between the United States and the Arab and Islamic world,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed al Jubeir said during Trump’s visit. “[It] begins to change the conversation from one of enmity to one of partnership.”4

Indeed, after years of friction, the U.S.-Saudi relationship has warmed quickly. Citing mutual opposition to Iran, Trump and the Saudi king struck a $350 billion arms deal they said would create American jobs and help fight terrorism. The thawing of relations is occurring as Saudi Arabia is aggressively ramping up its geopolitical maneuverings against Iran and its allies, leading some experts to fear that Trump’s unflinching support for the kingdom could pull the United States into new Middle East conflicts.

Obama had halted the sale of cluster bombs and $400 million worth of missiles to Saudi Arabia over concerns the Saudis would use the weapons against Yemeni civilians. But the new arms deal Trump signed with the Saudis includes some of the same weapons Obama refused to sell.7

“Hundreds of billions of dollars of investments into the United States and jobs, jobs, jobs,” Trump tweeted about the deal. The Saudis praised the arms package as a united front against terrorism and “the face of malign Iranian influence.”8

However, Saudi Arabia’s critics question the kingdom’s true commitment to fighting terrorism, since it adheres to — and spends millions of dollars spreading — Wahhabism (Salafism), an ultraconservative form of Sunnism that relies on a literal interpretation of the Quran. Violent jihadist groups such as al Qaeda, the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, have adopted an even more extremist interpretation of Wahhabism.

Besides engaging in the civil war in Yemen, the Saudis have supported Sunnis in conflicts and power struggles with Iranian-supported Shiites in:

  • Syria, where the two rivals have provided money and troops to opposing sides in a civil war that has killed a half-million people and displaced 5 million. The Saudis back rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar al Assad, who is supported by Iran.9
  • Iraq, where Saudis have long opposed the Iran-backed Shiite-controlled government that came to power after the United States toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003. The Saudis are now trying to regain a foothold there to counter Iranian influence and have pledged $1.5 billion to help Iraq rebuild.10
  • Lebanon, where the Saudis have sought to send a strong message that they will no longer tolerate Iran’s influence in the coalition government, which includes the Iranian-backed Shiite group Hezbollah. In a bizarre incident during a visit to Riyadh last November, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a longtime Saudi ally, was held hostage until he resigned. But Hariri rescinded his resignation after returning to Beirut, where he was welcomed as a hero.11
  • Qatar, which the Saudis blockaded — two weeks after Trump’s visit — in retaliation for alleged links to Iran and terrorism.

Trump not only expressed support for the blockade in Qatar but took credit for it, tweeting that his Saudi trip was “already paying off” because: “During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar — look!”12

But Trump’s overwhelming support for the blockade surprised many — including his military commanders. Qatar hosts the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East, with 11,000 personnel, and is the staging ground for airstrikes against Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists in Iraq and Syria.13

Some experts say Trump’s belligerent stance against Iran and the nuclear deal have emboldened the Saudis to increase their aggression toward Iran.

“The Saudis are really flexing their muscles in unnerving ways,” says Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a Middle East fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. “They … feel they have at least four years [under Trump], so there is a window of opportunity where they are determined to press their advantage to the maximum.”

Meanwhile, the Saudis’ oil-dependent economy faces serious challenges. Oil prices are down about 50 percent from 2014, with demand dropping as the use of renewable energy grows.14 But in 2017 oil and oil-related industries accounted for 90 percent of the kingdom’s export earnings, 87 percent of its budget revenues and 42 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP).15

Now 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — named heir to the throne last June 21 by King Salman, his father — is leading efforts to wean his country from its dependence on oil. His economic plan, called Vision 2030, aims to grow Saudi Arabia’s technology, entertainment and tourist industries.

In November, as part of an “anti-corruption” campaign designed to recoup money allegedly stolen from the government, the crown prince ordered the arrest of hundreds of fellow princes and prominent Saudi business leaders, mostly on charges of money laundering and embezzling government funds. Most have since been freed, after handing over an estimated $100 billion to the Saudi treasury.16

“It was a shakedown” for funds to replace dwindling oil revenues, says Thomas Lippman, a scholar at the Middle East Institute, a nonpartisan think tank that aims to increase Americans’ understanding of the Middle East. “No one was doing this when oil was $100 a barrel. They were spreading the word to other people that they’d better cough it up. It was making an example while making money.”

To court foreign investors and to secure support from young Saudis, who make up more than half of the population, Crown Prince Mohammed has pushed for social reforms, such as repealing a ban on women drivers and reopening public movie theaters, which were banned 35 years ago.17

“He has recognized, to an extent that no other Saudi leader ever has, that his country is going to have to find a different path in order to succeed in the 21st century,” says Peter Mandaville, a professor of international affairs at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. “He has realized that with the demographic equation and the pace of change that is happening in the global energy market, something rapid and dramatic is going to have to happen.”

But critics of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record question whether recent reforms are enough to modernize the religiously conservative country, which bans homosexuality, holds public beheadings of those convicted of capital crimes, prohibits non-Wahhabi religious expression and regularly arrests citizens who speak out against the government.18

“Once things settle down and people get accustomed to movies and women driving and find out this is not a big deal, … people will demand more, and that’s when the problems arise,” says Ali Alyami, executive director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, a Washington-based group that promotes political reform in the kingdom. “There will be more incarceration, more people disappearing. 2017 is the beginning of the end of the Saudi royal family.”

Alyami believes the kingdom is prime for an uprising and could dissolve into a patchwork of fiefdoms.

As the United States increases its support of Saudi Arabia, here are some questions geopolitical analysts, U.S. policymakers and others are asking:

Should the United States strengthen its ties with Saudi Arabia?

A week after his inauguration, President Trump approved a covert military operation in Yemen in which a U.S. Navy SEAL was killed and five others were injured. The United States is providing logistical support and intelligence to Saudi Arabia in its fight against the Houthi rebels. U.S. airstrikes and ground raids also are being launched against al Qaeda and ISIS forces, which have spread in Yemen since the Saudis injected themselves into the civil war in 2015.19

Yemen has become the most violent of the proxy conflicts between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the Middle East. The Saudis support Sunni groups who are fighting the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, but other forces — including al Qaeda, ISIS and tribal separatists — are adding to the chaos and violence.

Trump has fully supported Crown Prince Mohammed’s increasingly aggressive efforts to stop Iranian influence elsewhere in the region — a switch from Obama, who chose to negotiate with Iran.

“According to Saudi Arabia, Iranians are the No. 1 problem. Trump came fully on board with that,” says James Gelvin, a professor of history at UCLA and author of several books on the Middle East. “Trump policy in the Middle East is fundamentally ‘un-Bama:’ You look at what Obama did and you do the opposite.”

But some veteran Middle East watchers say the new crown prince is doing what is necessary to keep Iran at bay and deserves U.S. support.

“In [the Saudis’] eyes, the last decade has seen extraordinary Iranian advances and a reluctance on the part of the United States to halt them. Thus their more assertive foreign and defense policy in Yemen, Lebanon and elsewhere,” said Elliott Abrams, deputy national security adviser under President George W. Bush and now a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank in New York City. “[Crown Prince Mohammed] is taking action. He will have failures and he will make mistakes, but it is very greatly in the interest of the United States that, in the main, he succeed.”20

Other Middle East experts worry that Trump’s unflinching support of Saudi opposition to Iran could draw the United States into dangerous conflicts. “Having a mindless anti-Iranian position that targets Shiites justifies a war [in Yemen] that is not in America’s interest,” says Eugene Rogan, director of the Middle East Centre at St Antony’s College at the University of Oxford in Great Britain.

Mandaville of George Mason University agrees, saying the Saudis’ “disproportionate” sense of paranoia toward Iran threatens U.S. foreign interests. However, he says, the United States should do what it can on the domestic front to ensure that economic and social reforms do not disrupt the kingdom’s status as one of the most stable nations in the Middle East.

“There are elements of the crown prince’s vision that I think are valuable and where the U.S. should be supporting him,” says Mandaville. “Vision 2030 is far-reaching and sweeping in its ambition. Helping the Saudis to identify which elements of that are feasible — and [which are] less realistic — that’s a clear area of partnership, and crucial to ensure the Saudi political order can hold together and prosper.”

Rice University’s Ulrichsen cautiously agrees. “The United States should try to support Vision 2030 but insist on transparency, accountability and good governance,” he says, so that it does not turn Saudi Arabia into “a one-man show” or damage the investment climate between the two countries.

The arrests last fall of powerful Saudis were carried out in the name of “anti-corruption,” but Ulrichsen says the campaign could backfire. “[The crown prince] may have intended to send the message that he was cleaning house, but … that wasn’t the message the world saw,” he says. International investors “are now wondering if the assets they have in Saudi Arabia will suddenly be seized.”

Others, however, say the arrests make Saudi Arabia a safer place for U.S. companies to invest. “It [was] a shakedown, but that’s the only way you can get these people to pay back the money they took,” says Jean-Francois Seznec, a senior fellow at the Global Energy Center at the Atlantic Council, a foreign affairs think tank in Washington, D.C. “There is no independent judiciary that you can use to go after people…. The arrests are sending mixed messages, but ultimately it will be better for anyone investing in the kingdom.”

Indeed, two American tech giants — Amazon and Google’s parent company, Alphabet — are considering opening data centers in Saudi Arabia. And more deals with U.S. companies could be struck this spring, when Crown Prince Mohammed is scheduled to visit the United States and meet with American business leaders.21

Other Saudi experts say the United States should focus on political, rather than economic, reforms in the kingdom. “It is in the U.S. interest to strengthen ties. But those ties have to serve the right strategy,” says Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. “In the Arab world today [that means] to embrace change, people’s rights, democracy, power sharing. This relationship should serve a good cause, but I don’t see it doing that right now…. [W]hat will serve the war on terror is bringing democracy to the Arab world.”

Human rights activists complained that Trump de-emphasized the kingdom’s poor human rights record during his trip to Riyadh. “We are not here to lecture,” he said. “We must seek partners, not perfection” in fighting terrorism.22

“The glaring absence of human rights from Trump’s agenda will only embolden further violations in a region where governments flout the rights of their own people in the name of the fight against terror, and violate international humanitarian law in conflicts fueled in large part by U.S. arms transfers,” said the human rights advocacy group Amnesty International.23

Is Saudi Arabia a true U.S. ally against terrorism?

In his 2011 book Time to Get Tough: Making America #1 Again, Donald Trump called Saudi Arabia “the world’s biggest funder of terrorism.” But after winning the White House, Trump agreed to sell billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to the Saudis and called Iran the “leading state sponsor of terrorism.”24

Many terrorist organizations — such as al Qaeda and ISIS — follow an even stricter interpretation of Wahhabism than the official Saudi state religion. The terrorists’ version of Wahhabism opposes any interaction with the West or its cultural influences and justifies violent jihad against anyone, including Muslims, who does not subscribe to that belief.25

Since becoming crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman has vowed to destroy extremist ideologies and return his country to the more moderate form of Islam that existed prior to 1979. During that tumultuous year Shiite fundamentalists led a revolution in Iran, minority Shiites in Saudi Arabia revolted against Sunni authorities and Sunni fundamentalists laid siege to Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mosque to protest Saudi alliances with the West. The Saudi government responded by imposing stricter adherence to Wahhabism.

But while Saudi Arabia has pledged to reform itself and work with the United States against terrorism, some experts question the strength of that alliance.

“Everyone is driven by pragmatism when it comes to combating their enemies,” said Rogan of St Antony’s College. “The U.S. talks about the war on terror as if it means the same thing to anyone. Al Qaeda has attacked both Saudi Arabia and the United States in the past, so the two countries are aligned in their opposition to al Qaeda. But there are other parties that Saudi Arabia supports that may not align with the United States.”

Al Qaeda’s founder, Osama bin Laden, was stripped of his Saudi citizenship in 1994 after calling for the overthrow the Saudi government for allowing U.S. troops to operate from bases in the kingdom. Since then, al Qaeda terrorists have conducted numerous attacks inside Saudi Arabia. But, today, Saudi troops are fighting alongside al Qaeda forces in Yemen because of their mutual opposition to the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.26

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has spent $100 billion over the years paying clerics and building mosques and schools to spread Wahhabi beliefs around the world, says Gelvin of UCLA. “The crown prince said he’ll oppose terrorism,” he says. “But I’m not convinced that is the case.”

Boosting terrorism probably was an unintended outgrowth of the religious spending, says Abdeslam Maghraoui, a professor of political science at Duke University in Durham, N.C. “After the Iranian revolution, Saudi Arabia felt threatened and reacted by mobilizing Sunnis and building mosques around the world,” he says. “Their intent was not to create al Qaeda.”

Although 15 of the 19 hijackers who attacked the United States on 9/11 were Saudis, the kingdom denies any direct link to them. It has asked a U.S. judge to dismiss lawsuits alleging that it aided the attackers.27

The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, known as the 9/11 Commission, said in its 2004 report that it had found no evidence that Saudi officials directly supported the attacks but that the kingdom had provided “fertile fund-raising ground” for al Qaeda. Documents from a joint congressional committee investigating the attacks declassified in 2016 said some of the hijackers had received support from individuals likely “connected” to the Saudi government.28

“After 9/11, the Saudis … recognized they didn’t know where [Saudi] money was coming from and going to, and they made a concerted effort to interdict these flows,” says Perry Cammack, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, an international affairs research organization in Washington, D.C. “I’ve heard senior Saudi officials privately reflect that they made some big mistakes in the ’70s and ’80s that came back to bite them in the 2000s.”

However, Cammack adds, there are “clear benefits” for the United States in maintaining ties to Saudi Arabia: “It’s the birthplace of Islam. It’s important for counterterrorism.”

Over the years, Saudi officials — particularly former Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef (known as MbN) — have cooperated closely with U.S. anti-terrorism efforts. “The information [MbN] shared with the United States over the last 15 years saved many American lives,” says George Mason’s Mandaville. In 2017, bin Nayef received a medal of honor from the CIA for his “excellent intelligence performance in the domain of counterterrorism.”29 Bin Nayef, who had been next in line for the throne, was pushed out last June when his cousin, Mohammed bin Salman, was named crown prince.30

“That has led to nervously raised eyebrows” in Washington, says Mandaville. “They’re not sure they will be getting the same cooperation they had under MbN.”

Others say U.S.-Saudi cooperation is essential for fighting dangerous fundamentalism based inside the kingdom. “If you’re going to stop the Salafi jihadists, you need all the weapons you can get,” says Greg Gause, head of the International Affairs Department at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University in Lubbock.

One of those weapons is “confronting fundamentalism within its own Islamic tradition,” he continues. “You need Saudi scholars to do that. Liberalism is not the weapon that will defeat Salafi jihadists.”

Can Saudi Arabia reform its economy and society?

Last September, King Salman announced that this June, Saudi Arabia would no longer be the last nation on Earth where women are not allowed to drive.31 Four months later Saudi activist Noha al Balawi was arrested for advocating for women’s rights via social media.32

Women still face many restrictions in Saudi Arabia’s conservative religious society. They must get permission from their husbands, fathers or other male guardians to obtain a passport, travel abroad or marry.33 The kingdom also prohibits homosexual behavior, free speech and other social freedoms, and it beheads criminals for capital offenses, often in public.34 The public practice of any religion other than Islam is banned, and speaking out against Islam is punishable by death

Crown Prince Mohammed’s Vision 2030 promises to build “a thriving country in which all citizens can fulfill their dreams, hopes and ambitions.”36 As part of that vision, women will be allowed to drive, and Saudis will be able to attend public concerts and see movies in theaters.37

These social reforms also have an economic element: More women than men are graduating from college in Saudi Arabia, but they comprise 80 percent of Saudi Arabia’s unemployed.38 If women are to get more jobs and contribute to the Saudi economy, they must be able to drive to those jobs. In addition, the theaters will create jobs, and movie-goers will spend money at the cinemas and at nearby restaurants.

Some experts say women’s rights are not a top priority for the crown prince but that he knows economic success cannot occur without women’s progress. “Let’s not think this is some liberal progressive reformer,” says Mandaville of George Mason University. “Enfranchising women [such as allowing them to drive] is an instrumental step needed for economic reform.”

Some religious conservatives have pushed back against the reforms, but experts say the young prince will find support among the country’s large population of young people. “The conservatives themselves include a large percentage of young people. [Yet] these young people know that things have to evolve,” says the Atlantic Council’s Seznec. It is not a struggle between conservatives and liberals but “more a generational battle,” he says. “But at this point I don’t think the pushback will be successful. I’m optimistic.”

In another effort to strengthen the economy, the government announced in January it is banning foreign workers in 12 private-sector fields.39 Currently, foreigners — mostly from India and Pakistan — comprise more than half of private-sector workers. But most send their wages back home to family members instead of pumping the money into the Saudi economy.40

Another economic challenge for the country: Nearly 70 percent of Saudi citizens work for the government, which pays almost twice private-sector wage rates.41 In addition, all Saudi citizens have long received generous government handouts, such as subsidies for utilities, free education and tax-free salaries.42

“Many Saudis are not interested to work in the private sector because of low salaries,” said Mohammed Al Aufi, author of a study on Saudi unemployment. “The culture of shame also played a role. Most Saudis refuse to take up menial jobs as they fear it would affect their image in society.”43

The high percentage of citizens with public-sector jobs strains government finances. To create more private-sector jobs, the crown prince hosted a conference in Riyadh last October that drew 3,500 investors and business leaders from the United States and other countries. At the conference the prince unveiled plans for Neom, a $500 billion solar-powered city run by robots.44

Such extravagant projects may not help Saudi Arabia transform its economy, say some experts on the kingdom. The prince “believes in a top-down approach — building futuristic cities while neglecting the status quo,” says Saudi journalist Khashoggi. “Reform should be bottom up, not top down. [Saudi] cities lack infrastructure. We don’t need any more white elephants. We need to fix what we have already.”

Others say the prince’s personal behavior raises questions about his commitment to reform. Shortly after announcing his robotic city, The New York Times reported that in 2015 the prince had bought the world’s most expensive home (a $300 million French chateau) and a $500 million yacht. In 2017 he purchased a $450 million painting by Leonardo da Vinci — the most expensive art sale in history.45

“You start wondering: Why is the crown prince spending billions on his own possessions?” says Maghraoui of Duke University. “It raises doubt about the maturity of the crown prince.”

But experts such as Richard Sokolsky, a former U.S. State Department official, say even minimal success would be good for the country.

“I’m skeptical that he can realize his vision,” says Sokolsky, now a nonresident senior fellow with the Carnegie Endowment. “But if he realizes half or a quarter of it, Saudi Arabia will be much better off in 2030 than it is now.”

*Shiite and Sunni Muslims have been at odds since the seventh century and the death of the Prophet Muhammad. Most of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are Sunni, who live in many more countries than Shiite Muslims, who live primarily in Iran, Pakistan, India and Iraq. After Muhammad’s death, most Sunnis believed that Abu Bakr, Muhammad’s father-in-law and close friend, was his rightful successor. However, a small group of Muslims, the Shiites, believed Muhammad’s successor should be Ali ibn Abi Talib, his cousin and son-in-law. The Sunnis prevailed and Abu Bakr became the first Muslim caliph and successor to the prophet. Today the main difference between Shiite and Sunni Muslims remains the importance Shiites give to Ali, whom the Sunni do not recognize as the prophet’s rightful successor.

Background

Oil and Power

Saudi rulers have long understood the importance of powerful allies. The kingdom traces its beginnings to 1744, when Muhammad ibn Saud, the emir of a desert town, forged a pact with the cleric Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab, the father of Wahhabism.

Under the pact, Wahhab received military protection for his growing religious movement, which preached a return to conservative Islamic values with austere restrictions on women and discrimination against all other faiths (including other forms of Islam).46 In return, Wahhab presented ibn Saud as Allah’s chosen monarch.

With the support of the cleric’s followers and fighters, King Saud gained control of much of the region and established a theocratic monarchy with Wahhabism as the state religion and a legal system based on Islamic law, or sharia.47 The House of Saud has ruled the country ever since.48

When founding the modern kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, Saudi leaders again looked for powerful allies. This time it was the United States, and oil — not religion — that sealed the alliance. Struggling with the impact of the Great Depression, the new Saudi kingdom invited Standard Oil Company of California (known today as Chevron) to begin exploring for oil in Saudi Arabia in 1933.49

Five years later, the Americans struck oil and formed the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco).50 Oil revenues eventually turned the kingdom into one of the world’s richest nations.

Oil also gave Saudi Arabia global political influence. In 1945, near the end of World War II, the U.S. Department of State called Saudi oil “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history.”51 That same year, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with Saudi King Abdulaziz ibn Saud to cement ties between the two countries. Saudi Arabia ensured U.S. access to its oil fields, which Roosevelt knew would be needed in postwar America, while the United States agreed to provide military support for the kingdom.52

While the two countries strengthened their military and economic ties over the next decade, relations within the Saudi royal family were less secure. In 1953, King Abdulaziz died and was succeeded as by his eldest son, Saud. The new king was an extravagant spender and more than doubled the national debt during the first five years of his rule.53 In 1964 he was forced from the throne by his brother, Faisal, who became king.54

During this period, countries were gaining independence from their colonial powers and beginning to keep the revenues from the export of their natural resources. The vast majority of global oil production, however, remained under the control of seven Western oil companies — five of them American — known as the “Seven Sisters.”55 In 1960, Saudi Arabia and four other oil-producing nations — Iran, Iraq, Kuwait and Venezuela — created a cartel, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which aimed to help developing countries reclaim their oil resources.56

OPEC demonstrated its political power in 1973, when it imposed a devastating embargo against the United States and seven other countries in retaliation for their support of Israel during the Yom Kippur war with Egypt and Syria. Gas prices in the United States nearly quadrupled.57 OPEC lifted the embargo the following year.58

Oil wealth also allowed the Saudi government to export its conservative Wahhabi beliefs. From the 1960s through the 1990s, Saudi Arabia built 1,359 mosques, 210 Islamic centers, 202 colleges and 2,000 schools in non-Muslim-majority countries alone.59

Rise of Fundamentalism

During his reign from 1964 to 1975, King Faisal worked to modernize Saudi Arabia’s economy and society, promoting infrastructure development and public education — including for girls — and introducing the country’s first television broadcast.60

Because of his reputation as a pious Muslim, Faisal was able to cautiously push modern reforms, but the introduction of TV offended many religious conservatives. For instance, one of the king’s nephews was killed by police when he led an assault on a new television station.61

Several years later, in 1975, the nephew’s brother assassinated King Faisal in retaliation.

Faisal’s successor, King Khalid, continued with many of Faisal’s development programs including expanding the country’s telecommunications systems and building more airports, highways, schools and hospitals. Foreign firms boosted investments in the country’s petrochemical industry.62

John West, then-U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, wrote in a 1977 memo to President Jimmy Carter that Saudi Arabia was “undergoing an almost fantasy-like experience,” with the entire country changing overnight, “as though someone had rubbed Aladdin’s lamp and said, ‘Take this place into the Twentieth Century.’” Indeed, he added, “No country in the history of the world has ever before had such an influx of goods and services from outside in such a brief period.”63

West warned, however, that rapid modernization was “creating tensions and frictions at all levels” that would have an unpredictable effect on the government. The United States must “understand as best we can what may happen and how it affects our interests.”64

Indeed, Saudi Arabia and its neighbors were about to face a seismic shift in the political and social order of the Middle East. In 1979, a Shiite revolution against Iran’s authoritarian regime resulted in the establishment the Islamic Republic of Iran, a Shiite theocracy with cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as supreme leader.65

Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, Sunni fundamentalists seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca, one of the holiest sites in Islam, and accused the Saudi government of betraying Muslims by forging ties to Western nations. After a weeks-long standoff, the Saudi military stormed the mosque and removed the armed dissidents. More than 200 people were killed.66 Afterwards, more than 60 dissidents were executed.

Two weeks after the siege at the mosque, Shiites, who make up about 15 percent of the Saudi population and have long faced discrimination by the government, rose up against the kingdom, in part inspired by the Iranian revolution.67 Some Shiite communities held a traditional Shiite ritual, which was illegal. Saudi security forces shot and killed several people, triggering riots in which dozens were killed and thousands arrested.68

The back-to-back uprisings by both Sunnis and Shiites struck fear among Saudi leaders, who rolled back many of the modernization efforts and began enforcing strict adherence to Wahhabism.69

In December 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, a predominantly Sunni country, adding to the turmoil. Saudi Arabia, supported by the United States and Pakistan, provided cash and weapons to Afghan resistance fighters, and thousands of Sunnis from across the Middle East poured into Afghanistan to fight the Soviets. One of those was Osama bin Laden, the son of a wealthy Saudi construction magnate, who spent years in Afghanistan and founded al Qaeda. When bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia after the war in 1989, he was welcomed as a hero for defending Afghan Muslims against the Soviets.70

But bin Laden condemned the Saudi government for allowing U.S. troops to be stationed in the kingdom during the first Gulf War (1990-1991) and was expelled in 1991. In 1994, after financing numerous terrorist bombings — including at the World Trade Center in New York City in 1993 — bin Laden was stripped of his citizenship.71

Over the next 10 years, bin Laden created an international army of al Qaeda extremists who attacked U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen and American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Bin Laden’s holy war against the United States culminated in the 9/11 attacks, which killed nearly 3,000.72

Strained Alliance

After 9/11, the Saudis pledged to cooperate with the United States “in every way that may help identify and pursue the perpetrators of this criminal incident.” But the George W. Bush administration reportedly grew increasingly frustrated over the lack of Saudi cooperation. For instance, the kingdom refused to let the United States use its airbases to launch strikes against al Qaeda targets in Afghanistan.73

Tensions between the two countries continued to grow in the post-9/11 years as the Saudi government faced increasing criticism from citizens — including those sympathetic to al Qaeda — for its ties to the United States.74 Saudi Arabia, which had welcomed U.S. troops after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, declined to join U.S. and coalition forces in the war against Iraq in 2003. The Saudis also banned U.S. airstrikes from its military bases.75

In April 2003, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld announced that all U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia — numbering 550,000 at their peak — would pull out of the country.76 The U.S. presence had “become more of a burden than a benefit,” said one U.S. diplomat.77

Years later, Saudi officials described their relationship with the United States during the George W. Bush administration as a “train wreck,” claiming that the second U.S. war in Iraq had handed that country over to Iranian-backed Shiites.78 Iraq’s predominantly Shiite population had been governed by a Sunni minority under dictator Saddam Hussein, who was deposed in 2003 during the war.

Following Hussein’s ouster, Iraq became the venue for a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, with the Saudis claiming Iraq’s U.S.-backed Shiite prime minister was an agent of Iran; they supported Sunni insurgents trying to overthrow him.79

Barack Obama’s election in 2008 did little to improve U.S.-Saudi relations. The first meeting between President Obama and King Abdullah — who had inherited the throne in 2005 — grew tense when the two leaders could not agree on issues surrounding Israel and the closing of the Guantánamo Bay prison, where many Saudis were being held as terror suspects.80

The relationship frayed even more during the so-called Arab Spring in 2011, when massive protests across the Middle East and North Africa called for the ouster of authoritarian leaders. As tens of thousands of Egyptians gathered to demonstrate against the authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak, Abdullah wanted Obama to back the Saudis’ longtime ally. Instead, Obama called for Mubarak to step down.81

The Saudis were furious and began to wonder if Obama would one day abandon them as well.

The Arab Spring uprisings then spread to Bahrain, where the Shiite majority threatened to topple that tiny Gulf State’s Sunni monarchy. Neither Saudi Arabia nor the United States, which has a naval base in Bahrain, wanted the protesters to prevail, but the Saudis took matters into their own hands, deploying more than 1,000 troops to quell the revolt in Bahrain.82

To protect his own monarchy, Abdullah spent $130 billion to avert potential opposition by ordering the construction of 500,000 low-income housing units and paying government employees two months’ extra salary. The kingdom also allocated $200 million to religious organizations. In return, the kingdom’s highest religious official issued an order saying Islam forbade street protests.83

Any pretense of cordial relations between Obama and the king disappeared after Obama helped broker a deal in 2015 that lifted economic sanctions on Iran in return for limits on its nuclear program. Obama later said Saudi Arabia should “share” the Middle East with Iran.84

Arab Spring uprisings by Syria’s Sunni majority threatened the Assad regime and opened another front in the Iran-Saudi proxy wars. The Saudis began providing funds and weapons to Sunni rebels opposing Assad, who was backed by Iran.

Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia continued to heat up in 2016, when the Saudis executed 47 people in a single day, including Nimr al Nimr, a Saudi Shiite cleric who opposed the royal family and called for greater rights for Shiite Muslims in Saudi Arabia.85 The executions sparked violent protests at the Saudi Embassy in Tehran, prompting the Saudis to sever all diplomatic ties with Iran.86

Friends Again

After President Trump’s inauguration in 2017, relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia warmed.

Days after being sworn into office, Trump phoned King Salman, and the two spoke for an hour. They agreed to join forces against terrorism and Iran’s “destabilizing regional activities.”87 Two months later, Trump welcomed to the White House a high-level Saudi delegation, which proclaimed Trump “a true friend of Muslims.”88

Trump told the delegation he would support a new U.S.-Saudi program in which the Saudis would invest more than $200 billion in U.S. energy, industry, infrastructure and technology projects over the next four years.89 Then during Trump’s visit to the kingdom in May, the Saudis struck deals with privately held U.S. companies worth tens of billions of dollars and agreed to buy $350 billion worth of U.S. arms over the next 10 years.90

Shortly after Trump returned from his Saudi trip, King Salman deposed Crown Prince bin Nayef and named his son Mohammed as crown prince.

The close personal relationship between Crown Prince Mohammed and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has helped solidify the friendship between the two countries. Kushner traveled to the kingdom three times during the first nine months of Trump’s administration.91 The 32-year-old prince and Kushner, also in his 30s, have been given a huge amount of political authority by their fathers; U.S. officials say they are never briefed on what the two discuss.92

With the United States firmly behind him, the young crown prince pushed for several bold moves during Trump’s first year in office. The Saudis blockaded Qatar, tried to force Lebanon’s prime minister to resign and arrested Saudi princes and business leaders. The moves sent clear messages to potential foes that Saudi Arabia — and the crown prince in particular — were forces to be reckoned with.

Along with its recent aggressive political moves, Saudi Arabia also proposed social and economic reforms in 2017, part of efforts to rebrand itself on the global market. It also held its first public concert in seven years, attended by some 8,000 men. Although women were prohibited from attending, the top religious authority warned that such concerts could potentially open the door to the mixing of sexes.93

Current Situation

Social Reforms

Saudi citizens are making the most of their country’s new social reforms. They kicked off 2018 by lining up to see two American animated films, “The Emoji Movie” and “Captain Underpants,” during a film festival in the city of Jeddah. It was the first time in 35 years that movie theaters were open to the public, and men and women were allowed to see the movie together — an indication that Saudi society is liberalizing.

Those lucky enough to snag a ticket to one of the sold-out screenings were treated to a red carpet and popcorn in a makeshift theater at the Society for Culture and Arts in Jeddah.94

But Saudi movie-goers soon will be able to enjoy big screens, surround sound and reclining seats, courtesy of London-based Vue International, the Kuwait National Cinema Co. and Front Row Entertainment of Dubai, which are planning to open more than 40 theaters in Saudi Arabia this year.95 In addition, AMC, the world’s biggest cinema chain, owned by China’s Dalian Wanda Group, has agreed to “explore a range of commercial opportunities for collaboration” in Saudi Arabia.96

However, the country’s General Commission for Audiovisual Media is expected to prohibit films with sexual or religious content.97

Meanwhile, women are lining up to obtain driver’s licenses. Nearly 1,000 women already have signed up for training as drivers for Careem, a ride-hailing company based in neighboring United Arab Emirates, which has millions of Saudi users and wants to hire 100,000 female Saudi drivers to expand into that market.98

The Saudi public seems to have embraced the change: A recent survey of both male and female respondents showed that 63 percent of Saudis support allowing women to drive.99

Still, Saudi Arabia remains one of the most restrictive countries in the world when it comes to women’s rights. The World Economic Forum’s “Global Gender Gap Report” for 2017 ranks Saudi Arabia 138th among 144 countries on economic, health, education and political equality for women.100 Male guardianship laws remain a major obstacle, although King Salman has ordered government officials to loosen the system. It requires women to have a male relative’s permission for travel and many other activities of daily life.101

While women make up more than half of graduates from Saudi universities, they comprise less than a quarter of the Saudi workforce, a percentage the crown prince aims to raise to 30 percent.102 And Saudi women appear eager to help achieve that goal. When it advertised 140 job openings for female passport control workers, the Saudi General Directorate of Passports received 107,000 applications — in one week.103

While women may be gaining some opportunities, Saudi Arabia continues to restrict free speech, religious expression and other democratic rights for both genders. Two human rights activists were sentenced to prison in January for various free-speech violations, the first human rights defenders sentenced under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed, who is not only heir to the throne but also heads the Ministry of Defense, the Council for Economic and Development Affairs and the Supreme Council for Saudi Aramco.104

Saudi Arabia often uses “counterterrorism” laws to convict anyone who speaks against the government. According to Human Rights Watch, a New York-based advocacy group that tracks human rights abuses around the world, more than a dozen political activists are in jail in Saudi Arabia for peaceful activities. Since Saudi Arabia has no written penal code, defendants can be convicted on broad charges such as “trying to distort the reputation of the kingdom.”

In addition, the Saudis regularly conduct public floggings of criminals, and in 2017, 138 people were executed — 57 for nonviolent drug crimes — usually by beheading and often in public, according to the human rights group.105

“There are some real important cultural changes happening,” says Cammack of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “but the political stuff is going to be really, really hard.”

Economic Reforms

The crown prince sees Vision 2030 as the key to long-term economic stability for Saudi Arabia. But the kingdom has tried to diversify its oil-based economy numerous times over the past 30 years, with limited success.106

Today, the Saudi economy is recovering from a recession, and unemployment has reached a record 12.8 percent, due largely to government measures that are reducing public sector jobs and dropping oil prices that are hurting the petroleum industry. Nearly 70 percent of Saudi citizens work for the government, including government-owned Aramco.107 To turn things around, the kingdom must beef up its private sector while reducing public spending.

But the government has proposed its largest budget in history — $260 billion — and the public is resisting plans to increase taxes and reduce public handouts, including subsidies to keep gas prices lower.108 In January, less than a week after the government more than doubled gasoline prices and introduced a new 5 percent sales tax on most goods, citizens complained bitterly on social media.109 The king responded by ordering a $13 billion government stimulus package that included bonuses for all government employees, a 10 percent increase in student stipends and a tax break for first-time home buyers.110

“It’s a prudent reaction to public opinion,” says Gause at Texas A&M. “[J]arring changes to the welfare state” could trigger discontent.

The kingdom plans to offset the stimulus with some of the $100 billion in payments the crown prince’s anti-corruption campaign has already collected from about 350 princes and business leaders.111 The kingdom also is counting on future revenue from international investments.

Besides the United States, Russia and China have expressed interest in investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia. Russia wants to finalize several multimillion-dollar deals with Saudi Arabia by this summer, and a Russian-Chinese investment fund aims to participate in the Saudis’ initial public offering (IPO) of Aramco. The Saudis plan to sell up to 5 percent of the giant oil firm’s shares on one or more foreign exchanges. At $2 trillion, the offering is expected to be the world’s largest IPO.112

Trump has asked the king to list the IPO on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), but that decision is stalled.113 While the crown prince is said to favor the NYSE for its prestige and deep pool of investors, a U.S. listing could open Saudi books to greater regulatory scrutiny and also put it at risk of lawsuits from 9/11 victims.114

Proxy Wars

A U.N. report in February said all sides in the war in Yemen had committed widespread human rights violations in 2017.

Along with charges that Iranian-backed Houthi rebels had used torture, arbitrary arrests and “indiscriminate” use of explosive ordinances, it said Iran had provided military support to the rebels in violation of an international arms embargo. The report condemned Saudi-led coalition forces for launching “indiscriminate” air strikes that killed civilians and for blockading ports — thus preventing food aid from entering the country in order to use “the threat of starvation as an instrument of war.”115

But in a somewhat contradictory move, the U.N. Security Council also is considering a British resolution praising Saudi Arabia for pledging $1 billion in humanitarian aid to Yemen and $2 billion to shore up its war-torn economy.116

For its part, the United States is using the U.N. report to call for “consequences” against Iran for violating the arms embargo.117

Meanwhile, mutual opposition to Iran is leading the Saudis and Israel to forge an unusual alliance. For more than 70 years Saudi Arabia has refused to recognize Israel because of its occupation of Palestinian territories.118 But Israeli Intelligence Affairs Minister Yisrael Katz recently called Saudi Arabia the “leader of the Arab world” and asked the Saudis to sponsor Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.119

Then, at a global security conference in February, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir delivered back-to-back warnings against Iran’s growing and aggressive interventions across the Middle East.120 Israel also has invited Crown Prince Mohammed to come and discuss cooperation against Iran.

“Saudi Arabia has abandoned the Palestinian issue,” says Gelvin at UCLA. They may pay “lip service” to the Palestinian problem, he says, but the “Israelis are far more important to them now, because they give them more power in their fight with Iran.”

The Saudis also have asked their ally Pakistan to deploy more troops to the kingdom in what many say is another effort to confront Iran. Although Pakistan’s military says the deployment is simply part of ongoing security cooperation with Saudi Arabia, some Pakistani lawmakers fear it could pull their country into a direct conflict with Iran.121

The Saudis have been seeking Pakistani troop deployments since the outbreak of the Yemen conflict in 2015. While Sunni-dominated Pakistan has deep economic, religious and military ties to Saudi Arabia, it shares a porous border with Iran, and Shiites comprise about one-fifth of Pakistan’s population. Critics warn that the deployment could upset Pakistan’s Shiite community and undermine bilateral relations with Iran.122

In Qatar, the foreign minister asked the U.N. Human Rights Council to stop the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar’s borders.123 Leaders of the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are planning to meet with Trump in Washington this spring in hopes of resolving tensions.124

And while tensions between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia have been strained since Prime Minister Hariri was detained in Saudi Arabia last November, he is scheduled to visit the kingdom in the coming weeks at the invitation of the Saudi government.125

Outlook

‘Tensions and Frictions’

The rapid political, economic and social change occurring in Saudi Arabia today is reminiscent of the “fantasy-like experience” Ambassador West described in 1977. But just as West warned 40 years ago, today’s changes also risk “creating tensions and frictions at all levels.”

Crown Prince Mohammed must confront several challenges inside and outside his country. While pushing social reforms needed to attract international investors, he must not alienate the kingdom’s powerful religious establishment. He also faces serious threats to the economy and increased tensions with Iran.

George Mason University’s Mandaville says he cannot remember a time in Saudi history that has been so intense in terms of internal and external change in the midst of regional and global upheaval. “This moment is the greatest possibility for a fundamental shift of Saudi Arabia that I have seen,” he says.

Shoring up the fragile Saudi economy over the next 20 years — especially if global demand for oil declines by a projected 25 percent — will be key to ensuring long-term stability, say many observers.126 But predictions for economic improvement, at least in the short-term, do not look good. Bloomberg News already ranks the Saudi economy as the 14th most “miserable” in the world and projects that it will hit the top 10 list by the end of 2018. In fact, the International Monetary Fund warned in 2015 that Saudi Arabia could face economic catastrophe in five years if sweeping financial reforms were not introduced.127

“My concern is if nothing really changes in five years, if young people still have problems finding jobs, do people lose faith in the Saudi leadership and look to an alternative?” asks Rice University’s Ulrichsen. “We saw [in Iraq] with ISIS how ugly things can be if a state collapses. Complete collapse of Saudi Arabia is unlikely but if [the crown prince] fails to deliver, there is always a danger that fundamentalists will lash out.”

Saudi journalist Khashoggi agrees jobs should be among the crown prince’s top priorities. “Arab Spring was about unemployment,” he says. “There will be people in the streets probably who will … be asking for jobs. It’s the economy that will make people happy or angry.”

“My sense is that the crown prince will be given the benefit of the doubt in the beginning. It might last one or two years,” says Duke University’s Maghraoui. “But at some point, he will have to show results. If he is just narrowing his circle of power, people will start protesting. Members of the royal family will turn against him.”

But human rights advocates, such as Alyami of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, say they will be pushing for political reforms as well as economic changes. “The country needs to be reinvented in a different way than what Prince Mohammed has chosen to do,” he says. “He is not interested in political reform. He’s not interested in human rights. Women driving cars, opening movie theaters — these are basic things that should have never been denied. He has achieved nothing except giving people this mirage of reform.”

If the prince fails to balance economic and political reforms, the implications could be far-reaching, says Richard Harris, a Saudi Arabia watcher who is CEO of the Hong Kong-based investment management firm Port Shelter and a columnist for the South China Morning Post. “We really ought to hope he succeeds whether we like him or not,” says Harris, “because if he doesn’t succeed what is the alternative? Civil war? Or it could be a pretender to the throne succeeding. None of that is good news for the West.”

Footnotes

[1] Philip Rucker and Karen DeYoung, “Trump Signs ‘Tremendous’ Deals with Saudi Arabia on His First Day Overseas,” The Washington Post, May 20, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/yau45v6y.

[2] Ken Klippenstein, “The Insane Gifts Saudi Arabia Gave President Trump,” The Daily Beast, Sept. 4, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/ybd6msx7.

[3] Ian Black, “Obama’s Chilly Reception in Saudi Arabia Hints at Mutual Distrust,” The Guardian, April 20, 2016, https://tinyurl.com/n64do6j.

[4] Rucker and DeYoung, op. cit.

[5] Charlotte Krol and Richard Spencer, “The Sunni and Shia Muslim split explained — in 90 seconds,” The Telegraph, Jan. 5, 2016, https://tinyurl.com/zjbfwjj.

[6] “More than 8 million Yemenis ‘a step away from famine’: U.N.,” Reuters, Dec. 11, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y7zmtw3o. Edith M. Lederer, “Crisis that has Yemen on brink of famine is a ‘man-made disaster’: UN,” The Associated Press, The Globe and Mail, Aug. 1, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/ybplrn2a.

[7] Jared Malsin, “The Big Problem with President Trump’s Record Arms Deal with Saudi Arabia,” Time, May 22, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/khwevev. Michael D. Shear and Peter Baker, “Saudis Welcome Trump’s Rebuff of Obama’s Views,” The New York Times, May 20, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/yatbhpm5.

[8] “Trump in Saudi Arabia Signs $110B Arms Deal with Persian Gulf Ally,” Fox News, May 20, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/kkjmb8r. “Remarks With Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir at a Press Availability,” U.S. Department of State, May 20, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y7x5osnx.

[9] Alan Gomez and Kim Hjelmgaard, “Syria Explained: Why Other Countries Poked Their Noses in a Tiny Nation’s Civil War,” USA Today, Feb. 11, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/y7gb6mwp.

[10] Jon Gambrell, “$30 Billion Pledged in Kuwait at Summit to Rebuild Iraq,” The Associated Press, Feb. 14, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/ybrpxqn7.

[11] Anne Barnard and Maria Abi-Habib, “Why Saad Hariri Had That Strange Sojourn in Saudi Arabia,” The New York Times, Dec. 24, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y8zgkzym.

[12] Mark Landler, “Trump Takes Credit for Saudi Move Against Qatar, a U.S. Military Partner,” The New York Times, June 6, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y6v6jbk2.

[13] Brad Lendon, “Qatar hosts largest U.S. military base in Mideast,” CNN, June 6, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y7zq9hhy.

[14] Zeeshan Aleem, “Saudi Arabia’s Anti-Corruption Purge Is All About Life After Oil,” Vox, Nov. 29, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/yctqrl5f.

[15] Anjli Raval and Andrew Ward, “Saudi Aramco Plans for a Life after Oil,” Financial Times, Dec. 9, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/ycgwuyxc.

[16] Aleem, op. cit.; Summer Said, Benoit Faucon and Georgi Kantchev, “Plea for Money Preceded Saudi Crackdown on Elites,” The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 28, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/y78t3pjs.

[17] Vivian Nereim and Sarah Algethami, “Some Saudi Millennials Won’t Dance to Their Young Prince’s Tune,” Bloomberg, Jan. 28, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/ybdj7qsf.

[18] “World Report 2018,” Human Rights Watch, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/y9pmyy5o.

[19] Cynthia McFadden, William M. Arkin and Tim Uehlinger, “How the Trump Team’s First Military Raid in Yemen Went Wrong,” NBC News, Oct. 2, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/ybyav33s.

[20] “The Latest Developments in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon,” Elliott Abrams testimony, Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, House of Representatives, Nov. 29, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y82s8tok.

[21] Maureen Farrell, Benoit Faucon and Summer Said, “Google Weighs Unusual Bid With Giant Oil Firm Aramco to Rev Up the Saudi Tech Sector,” The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 1, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/y7sl45uo. Tom DiChristopher, “Saudi Prince’s Big Challenge on US Visit: Easing Investor Fears after Sweeping Anti-Corruption Campaign,” CNBC, Feb. 6. 2018, https://tinyurl.com/yc86axxj.

[22] Jon Sharman, “Donald Trump ‘De-emphasised Human Rights’ in Saudi Arabia Speech,” The Independent, May 22, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/lb5fm3z.

[23] “Saudi Arabia: Trump Visit Risks Giving Green Light to Violations of Human Rights,” Amnesty International, May 19, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/ya6vkv4h.

[24] Tom O’Connor, “Why Doesn’t Saudi Arabia Join North Korea on U.S. State Terrorism List After 9/11?” Newsweek, Nov. 20, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y7mg536c. “Transcript: Trump’s Remarks On Iran Nuclear Deal,” NPR, Oct. 13, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y7a3xez3.

[25] Galina Yemelianova, “Explainer: What Is Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia?” The Conversation, Jan. 30, 2015, https://tinyurl.com/ycatbw5k.

[26] Tom Porter, “A Brief History of Terror in Saudi Arabia,” Newsweek, June 24, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/ycudymjm. Gregory Hellman, “House Declares U.S. Military Role in Yemen’s Civil War Unauthorized,” Politico, Nov. 13, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/yazrbzjx.

[27] Bob Van Voris, “Saudi Arabia Claims No Evidence It Aided 9/11 Plot,” Bloomberg, Jan. 18, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/ya4xr77x.

[28] O’Connor, op. cit.

[29] Bethan McKernan, “CIA Awards Saudi Crown Prince with Medal for Counter-terrorism Work,” The Independent, Feb. 13, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/zubtow7.

[30] Molly Hennessy-Fiske, “In a Shake-up, Saudi King Names Son Mohammed bin Salman New Crown Prince,” Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y7lokv79.

[31] Stephen Kalin and Yara Bayoumy, “Saudi King Decrees Women Be Allowed to Drive,” Reuters, Sept. 26, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y7qkzcaq.

[32] Cristina Maza, “Saudi Arabia Feminist Activist Detained as Country Claims It Is Increasing Women’s Rights,” Newsweek, Feb. 8, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/yapj4phj.

[33] F. Brinley Bruton, “Women in Saudi Arabia Make Gains but Overall Rights Remain an Issue,” NBC News, Jan. 22, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/ycnbgr7n.

[34] Harriet Agerholm, “Saudi Police Arrest Men Following ‘Gay Wedding’ Video,” The Independent, Jan. 11, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/y978ydxh.

[35] “2011 Report on International Religious Freedom,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, July 30, 2012, https://tinyurl.com/ya6ecvwe.

[36] “Saudi Arabia must do something about its barbaric human rights practices,” The Washington Post, Aug. 5, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y7hlq925.

[37] “Saudi Arabia to allow movie theaters for first time in decades,” The Associated Press, Dec. 11, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y82tye8p.

[38] “Careem Signs up Nearly 1,000 Saudi Women Drivers,” Arab News, Feb. 12, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/yat6vdo6.

[39] Samuel Osborne, “Saudi Arabia Bans Foreigners from Certain Jobs to Give Citizens More Employment Opportunities,” The Independent, Jan. 31, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/ycr9ujwm.

[40] “Saudi Arabia Beyond Oil: The Investment and Productivity Transformation,” McKinsey Global Institute, December 2015, https://tinyurl.com/ybt7bbku.

[41] Camilla Hodgson, “The fragile balance between Saudi Arabia’s ruling class and its people is ‘unsustainable,’” Business Insider, Nov. 16, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y8eyoo3d.

[42] Sam Meredith, “Saudi Arabia Promises a Return to ‘Moderate Islam,’” CNBC, Oct. 25, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y9u4lyyd.

[43] “Unemployment High in Rural Areas, Says Study,” Saudi Gazette, Jan. 10, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/ychy9c22.

[44] Ben Hubbard and Kate Kelly, “Saudi Arabia’s Grand Plan to Move Beyond Oil: Big Goals, Bigger Hurdles,” The New York Times, Oct. 25, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/ycec8y6q.

[45] Nicholas Kulish and Michael Forsythe, “World’s Most Expensive Home? Another Bauble for a Saudi Prince,” The New York Times, Dec. 16, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/ya9xmxex.

[46] Scott Shane, “Saudis and Extremism: ‘Both the Arsonists and the Firefighters,’” The New York Times, Aug. 25, 2016, https://tinyurl.com/y73usout.

[47] For background see Sarah Glazer, “Sharia Controversy,” CQ Global Researcher, Jan. 3, 2012, pp. 1–28.

[48] Carol E. B. Choksy and Jamsheed K. Choksy, “The Saudi Connection: Wahhabism and Global Jihad,” World Affairs, May/June 2015, https://tinyurl.com/y95t5jso.

[49] Bruce Riedel, Kings and Presidents: Saudi Arabia and the United States since FDR (2018), p. 23.

[50] Vivienne Walt, “Inside Saudi Aramco’s Kingdom of Oil,” Fortune, Oct. 24, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y8ssesuv.

[51] “Memorandum by the Under Secretary of State (Acheson) to the Secretary of State,” Foreign Relations of the United States: Diplomatic Papers, 1945, The Near East and Africa, Volume VIII, Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State, Oct. 9, 1945, https://tinyurl.com/ycjyceaj

[52] Riedel, op. cit., pp. 1–5.

[53] Ibid., p. 32.

[54] Ibid., pp. 32–35.

[55] Rich Smith, “A Short History of OPEC,” The Motley Fool, March 19, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y8martno.

[56] Ibid.

[57] “Oil Shock of 1973–74,” Federal Reserve History, https://tinyurl.com/y9t5heb2.

[58] “Oil Embargo, 1973–1974,” Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State, https://tinyurl.com/zjyj3kj.

[59] Shane, op. cit.

[60] Yury Barmin, “Can Mohammed bin Salman Break the Saudi-Wahhabi Pact?” Al Jazeera, Jan. 7, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/y86nhj6o.

[61] “Saudi Arabia: A Chronology of the Country’s History and Key Events in the US-Saudi Relationship,” Frontline, https://tinyurl.com/yb774bzt.

[62] Ibid.

[63] “Report Prepared by the Ambassador to Saudi Arabia (West),” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1977–1980, Volume XVIII, Middle East Region; Arabian Peninsula, Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State, August 1977, https://tinyurl.com/ycgqwla2.

[64] Ibid.

[65] “Oil Dependence and U.S. Foreign Policy,” Council on Foreign Relations, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/yalkgnys.

[66] “Saudi Arabia: A Chronology of the Country’s History and Key Events in the US-Saudi Relationship,” op. cit.

[67] Adam Coogle, “Saudi Arabia’s ‘War on Terror’ Is Now Targeting Saudi Shiites,” Foreign Policy, Aug. 23, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/yd8pokxl.

[68] Akbar Ahmed, The Thistle and the Drone (2013), p. 204.

[69] Barmin, op. cit.

[70] “U.S.-Saudi Relations Backgrounder,” Council on Foreign Relations, May 12, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y7vd3dvd.

[71] “Osama bin Laden,” CNN, https://tinyurl.com/ypuffd.

[72] “Timeline: Osama bin Laden, Over the Years,” CNN, May 2, 2011, https://tinyurl.com/3ka4rm4.

[73] Alfred B. Prados, “Saudi Arabia: Post-War Issues and U.S. Relations,” Congressional Research Service, Dec. 14, 2001, https://tinyurl.com/yccbpfrh.

[74] Sharon Otterman, “Saudi Arabia: Withdrawal of U.S. Forces,” Council on Foreign Relations, Feb. 7, 2005, https://tinyurl.com/y7aotjr3.

[75] Don Van Natta Jr., “The Struggle for Iraq; Last American Combat Troops Quit Saudi Arabia,” The New York Times, Sept. 22, 2003, https://tinyurl.com/c6mtfq.

[76] Ibid.

[77] Otterman, op. cit.

[78] Riedel, op. cit., p. 152.

[79] Helene Cooper, “Saudis’ Role in Iraq Frustrates U.S. Officials,” The New York Times, July 27, 2007, https://tinyurl.com/yb2apbxs.

[80] Riedel, op. cit., p. 153.

[81] Ibid., p. 158.

[82] Kelly McEvers, “Bahrain: The Revolution That Wasn’t,” NPR, Jan. 5, 2012, https://tinyurl.com/ybet2roc.

[83] Neil MacFarquhar, “In Saudi Arabia, Royal Funds Buy Peace for Now,” The New York Times, June 8, 2011, https://tinyurl.com/624zrkh.

[84] Jeffrey Goldberg, “The Obama Doctrine,” The Atlantic, April 2016, https://tinyurl.com/hyokvh9.

[85] “Saudi Arabia Executes 47, Including Prominent Cleric,” NPR, Jan. 2, 2016, https://tinyurl.com/y9jvqo55.

[86] Merrit Kennedy, “Who Was The Shiite Sheikh Executed By Saudi Arabia?” NPR, Jan. 4, 2016, https://tinyurl.com/ycq3bt42.

[87] “Saudi king agrees in call with Trump to support Syria, Yemen safe zones: White House,” Reuters, Jan. 29, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/ycrz3gkn.

[88] Josh Rogin, “Trump Resets U.S.-Saudi Relations, in Saudi Arabia’s Favor,” The Washington Post, March 16, 2017.

[89] Simeon Kerr and Shawn Donnan, “Trump Backs Plan to Boost Saudi Investment in the US,” Financial Times, March 15, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/yaoac3fd.

[90] Javier E. David, “US-Saudi Arabia Seal Weapons Deal Worth Nearly $110 Billion Immediately, $350 Billion Over 10 Years,” CNBC, May 20, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/ycbto29o.

[91] Kevin Bohn and Maegan Vazquez, “Jared Kushner traveled unannounced to Saudi Arabia,” CNN, Oct. 30, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y7pmcrqw.

[92] Ben Hubbard and David D. Kirkpatrick, “The Upstart Saudi Prince Who’s Throwing Caution to the Winds,” The New York Times, Nov. 14, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/ychvfkrd.

[93] Jack Moore, “Saudi Arabia’s ‘Paul McCartney’ Plays First Jeddah Concert For Seven Years,” Newsweek, Jan. 31, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y98p8kzv.

[94] Zahraa Alkhalisi, “‘Emoji Movie’ and Popcorn: The Cinema Experience Returns to Saudi Arabia,” CNN, Jan. 16, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/y7fgeglu.

[95] Nick Vivarelli, “Kuwaiti Company Is Latest Entrant in Saudi Arabia Theater-Building Derby,” Variety, Feb. 15, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/y8poh2gr.

[96] Zahraa Alkhalisi, “Coming Soon to Saudi Arabia: AMC Movie Theaters,” CNN, Dec. 12, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y742pjux.

[97] Vivarelli, op. cit

[98] Bethan McKernan, “Taxi App Signs up 1,000 New Women Drivers in Saudi Arabia,” The Independent, Feb. 13, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/yd4y4v5t.

[99] Nereim and Algethami, op. cit.

[100] “The Global Gender Gap Report,” World Economic Forum, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/ybufmzbs.

[101] Adel Abdel Ghafar, “A New Kingdom of Saud?” Brookings Institution, Feb. 14, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/yabx8qez.

[102] Ibid.

[103] Ivana Kottasová, “107,000 Saudi Women Apply for 140 Passport Control Jobs,” CNN, Feb. 1, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/yahqz5rg.

[104] “Saudi Arabia Sentences Human Rights Activists to Prison: Amnesty,” Reuters, Jan. 26, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/yda7d3ct.

[105] “Saudi Arabia: Events of 2017,” Human Rights Watch, https://tinyurl.com/y9pmyy5o.

[106] Ghafar, op. cit.

[107] Hodgson, op. cit.; “Saudi Boosts Spending to Record, Slows Austerity Drive in 2018 State Budget,” Reuters, Dec. 19, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/yb39l3rd.

[108] Aya Batrawy, “Saudi Arabia Heralds Biggest Spending Plans Yet Amid Deficit,” The Associated Press, Dec. 19, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y8gen88a.

[109] Alaa Shahine and Vivian Nereim, “Royal Handouts Cheer Saudis But Show Struggle to Revamp Economy,” Bloomberg, Jan. 5, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/yc8z8zym.

[110] Zahraa Alkhalisi, “Saudi Arabia Eases Austerity After ‘Very Negative’ Response,” CNN, Jan. 9, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/y866gjp7.

[111] Said, Faucon and Kantchev, op. cit.

[112] Rania El Gamal, “Russia Eyes Multi-million-dollar Saudi Investment Deals, Aramco IPO,” Reuters, Feb. 14, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/y7eljcvf.

[113] Justin Sink, Benjamin Bain and Javier Blas, “Trump Urges Saudi Aramco to List on New York Stock Exchange,” Bloomberg, Nov. 4, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/ycu6ejvn.

[114] Tom DiChristopher, “Massive IPO for Saudi Oil Giant Aramco Reportedly Stalled by Indecision Over Where to List Shares,” CNBC, Jan. 28, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/y7kjhetd.

[115] “February 2018 Monthly Forecast,” U.N. Security Council, https://tinyurl.com/y96ckdrx.

[116] Michelle Nichols, “U.N. Security Council Mulls Saudi Praise for Yemen Aid Pledge,” Reuters, Feb. 15, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/ybwjz3aq.

[117] Pamela Falk, “U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley Pushes United Nations for ‘Consequences’ for Iran’s ‘Behavior,’ CBS News, Feb. 16, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/y9lrlvxa.

[118] Rosie Perper, “Saudi Arabia May Allow Israel to Use Its Airspace — Shifting a Policy that Has Defined the Region for Decades,” Business Insider, Feb. 9, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/y8rpxk9u.

[119] Noa Landau and Hagar Shezaf, “Israeli Intel Minister to Saudi Media: Israel Can Strike Iranian Missile Plants in Lebanon, ‘As Is Happening in Syria,’” Haaretz, Dec. 14, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/yc2nv9nj.

[120] Marc Champion, Jonathan Ferziger and David Wainer, “Israel, Saudis Find Common Cause in Warning of Iran Expansionism,” Bloomberg, Feb. 18, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/yan29mmv.

[121] Ayaz Gul, “Pakistan Under Scrutiny for Planned Troop Deployment in Saudi Arabia,” Voice of America, Feb. 16, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/y89udcye.

[122] Ibid.

[123] Barbara Bibbo, “Qatar FM Calls for an End to the Saudi-led Blockade,” Al Jazeera, Feb. 26, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/ydepc9ug.

[124] “Saudi, UAE, Qatari Leaders to Visit Trump in March, April,” Reuters, Feb. 23, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/y9g8cueu.

[125] “Saudi Envoy Invites Lebanon’s PM Hariri to Kingdom,” Reuters, Feb. 26, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/y85w6tx7

[126] Ernest Scheyder, “Exxon Sees Global Oil Demand Plunging by 2040 under Climate Regulations,” Reuters, Feb. 2, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/ycflqytf.

[127] Michelle Jamrisko and Catarina Saraiva, “These Are the World’s Most Miserable Economies,” Bloomberg, Feb. 14, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/ycdrlv2d; Ahmed Feteha, “Saudis Risk Draining Financial Assets in Five Years, IMF Warns,” Bloomberg News, Oct. 20, 2015, https://tinyurl.com/yd9vfh2x.

 

 

 

 

 

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