Some Notes on Michael Hiltzik’s Piece on Saudi Arabia | #911 on Blog#42

The L.A. Times’ Michael Hiltzik writes a piece on Saudi Arabia’s threat to sell off a massive amount of assets if the U.S. Congress passes legislation that opens the country to lawsuits arising from its alleged involvement in aiding 9/11 terrorists. The New York Times reported:

“The administration, which argues that the legislation would put Americans at legal risk overseas, has been lobbying so intently against the bill that some lawmakers and families of Sept. 11 victims are infuriated. In their view, the Obama administration has consistently sided with the kingdom and has thwarted their efforts to learn what they believe to be the truth about the role some Saudi officials played in the terrorist plot.

“It’s stunning to think that our government would back the Saudis over its own citizens,” said Mindy Kleinberg, whose husband died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 and who is part of a group of victims’ family members pushing for the legislation.

President Obama will arrive in Riyadh on Wednesday for meetings with King Salman and other Saudi officials. It is unclear whether the dispute over the Sept. 11 legislation will be on the agenda for the talks.”

I write alleged because while there have been leaks for some time now, no formal charges or accusations have been made and a report that has been quoted and written about, has yet to be released. Nevertheless, with everything that has become public about the founding of Al Qaeda and ISIS, it is difficult to imagine that Saudi Arabia had no direct involvement.

I agree with Hiltzik on the wisdom and the economics, never mind the logistics, of selling off $750 billion of U.S. assets in the blink of an eye. I also agree that more than anyone else, meaning more than us, the Saudis stand to lose the most, financially speaking. That said, with an economy that is still very vulnerable and politics that are the most dysfunctional the U.S. has experienced in a very long time, one should not discount the havoc such a sell-off could wreak at a time when the legislative branch of the U.S. government has been engaged in a zero sum game of obstruction for years, and at a time when the party in control of Congress is involved in an internal war the likes of which we’ve never seen.

Would Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell cease their hostilities against Barack Obama, in a presidential election cycle, no less? In normal times, I’d have said yes. But these are hardly normal times, and the GOP establishment is involved, quite literally, in a fight for its very existence.

Where I disagree with Hiltzik is on whether or not the threat to sell off is an empty one. One needs to evaluate the level of emotion and fear behind the Saudi monarch’s reaction and his decision to give into it, and not the more level-headed analysis of how such a threat could be carried out. While one would certainly be inclined to deem such an enormous threat illogical and purely based on emotion, one needs to understand the mentality that underlies the decision to make it. Viewed through a purely American and Euro-centric lens, the enormity of such a threat is easily dismissed as emotional and, therefore, unlikely.

Viewed through the angry side of that lens, the emotion becomes the driver. What is key here, is why Saudi Arabia feels it is entitled to control us. What do we owe it and why? For that, one must look at the US-Saudi relationship throughout the last few decades and the most obvious question that arises, is why have we stood by them for so long? With all we know today, and if some portion of the 9/11 report will indeed be released, why is the administration opposed to this legislation? Other than what would amount to nuisance suits due the largely secret nature of the evidence involved in proving Saudi guilt, why does the administration oppose the legislation?

Were American families to be given the right to sue, what real threat would such lawsuits pose to a Saudi regime that holds so much in U.S. assets? Surely, the fear isn’t that successful lawsuits payouts would somehow equal Saudi Arabia’s total wealth? Could such lawsuits be destabilizing to the Kingdom in some other way? A very public airing of Saudi dirty laundry, at a time when oil revenues are down, the Syrian saga has weakened many Saudi allies, Iraq is still a big mess, and Iran is at peak strength, undoubtedly, would further weaken the monarchy. Turmoil surrounds the kingdom.

It is in that light that the Saudi monarch’s calculus of blackmail must be examined. This story is more about survival than it is about showing a superpower who’s boss. Whatever it is, however, what we should all keep in mind is the old saying “with friends like these…” It is high time America reevaluated the nature and purpose of its relationship with Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf nations. President Obama is traveling to Saudi Arabia this week. I wish he’d cancel this trip. Whether this story amounts to nothing more than a sandstorm in the desert, there is no reason on earth why this relationship shouldn’t be put in its proper place and context. The time for that should be now.

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