The brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has thrown into sharp relief the relationship between the West and the Saudi police state in the Middle East.
The muted nature of the US and its Western allies’ response to the extra judicial execution of a relatively moderate critic of the authoritarian monarchy shows the importance that Saudi Arabia has for Western imperialism.
US President Trump promised some sort of “retaliation” against Saudi Arabia when evidence emerged that the Saudi government murdered Khashoggi.
But he balked at endangering an arms deal with the country saying, “I would prefer we don’t use as retribution [cancelling] $110 billion worth of work, which means 600,000 jobs.”
Western countries have withdrawn from going to a Future Investment Initiative Summit in Ridayh, capital of Saudi Arabia. Last year, Australia sent the then Trade Minister, Steven Ciobo, and a sponsored delegation of Australian companies.
In December 2016, Christopher Pyne, then Minister for Defence Industry also visited Saudi Arabia. That year the Defence Department approved four military export licences to the country.
Turkey leaked details of Khashoggi’s murder to the media, inflicting serious damage on the Saudi regime. Khashoggi was murdered inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
Both countries are competing for leadership of the dominant, Sunni wing of Islam and for influence in the region.
The Saudi royal family has always claimed legitimacy from its role as keeper of the main Muslim holy places—Mecca and Medina.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AK party stands for a more “modern”, explicitly pro-capitalist version of political Islam. Turkey and Saudi Arabia have both sponsored and armed rival jihadi groups in Syria.
Trump sees the Saudis as a key ally in squaring off against the other regional power, Iran. The US is keen to bolster the Saudi’s military.
Its killing of Khashoggi, who was living abroad as a columnist on the Washington Post newspaper, has caused uproar in the US capital.
According to Foreign Policy, “Some diplomats and analysts see in the leak campaign a clever Erdogan ploy to drive a wedge into what he sees as the worrisome alliance between Washington and Saudi Arabia.” Turkey has been on the outer lately with the US.
Saudi Arabia contains an estimated one-quarter of the world’s known oil reserves and supplied nearly half of the US petroleum needs in 1980.
For decades it has been a key ally of the US in the Middle East.
Oil led the US into Saudi Arabia in 1933, with four companies—Standard Oil of California, Esso, Texaco and Mobil—establishing the Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO).
ARAMCO lobbied to US government of the Democrat Franklin Roosevelt to prop up the Saudi King through aid payments.
The President’s Secretary of Commerce and most trusted advisor, Harry Hopkins, was for providing the funds even though he said it was hard to “call that outfit a ‘democracy’”.
The country is as an absolute monarchy controlled by the Saudi royal family. Their current wealth is estimated at $1.4 trillion.
In 1943, the US decided, “the defense of Saudi Arabia is vital to the defense of the United States.” A US military mission arrived to train the Saudi army and to build an airforce base at Dhahran, near the eastern oil-fields.
It became the largest US air base between Germany and Japan and was operated by the US until 1962. Now a Saudi defence facility, US aircraft were again deployed there during the war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1991.
War crimes in Yemen
For three years, a Saudi-led coalition has been bombing Yemen, killing thousands of civilians and crippling medical services. The country is now on the brink of famine, according to the World Food Program. Australia is “complicit in this ongoing crisis”, Amnesty’s Diana Sayed says.
In June, Amnesty International noted that, “The Australian government in the last year and a half has been providing military exports to the Saudi Arabian regime… There is no transparency on what these exports contain.” The US and Britain also support the attack as Saudi Arabia is a close ally.
The Saudi regime wants to restore ousted Yemeni President Hadi. He was installed after the Yemeni people forced out dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2012 as part of the Arab revolutions.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and Defence minister Mohammed bin Salman thinks the more Yemenis killed the better. He told Arabic media, “We want to leave a big impact on the consciousness of Yemeni generations. We want their children, women and even their men to shiver whenever the name of Saudi Arabia is mentioned.”
This is quality of the West’s bedfellows in the Middle East.
By Tom Orsag