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News & analysis from Proletarian Internationalist Notes—news, reviews and analysis from a global perspective
Saudi Arabia: Obama deals with the consequences of Democrats’ warmongering
April 23, 2016
Obama was in Saudi Arabia this week to smooth things over with the government there. The visit came amid, among other things, a legislative effort verbally supported by u.$. presidential candidate (and likely next u.$. president) Hillary Clinton to make it easier for relatives of the 9/11 dead to sue Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia had responded by threatening to divest itself of hundreds of billions of dollars in assets in the united $tates.
After news had broke of the divestiture talk, Clinton said through a spokespersyn on Twitter, “Hillary Clinton supports the efforts by Senator Schumer and his colleagues in the Senate to secure the ability of 9/11 families and other victims of terrorist acts to hold accountable those responsible. As president, she would work with Congress to this end.”(1)
The comments of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders(2) in support of the JASTA bill came after months and years of suggestions in media including CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, NPR, the Huffington Post, Common Dreams, CounterPunch, Democracy Now!, World Socialist Web Site, etc., of larger Saudi involvement in 9/11 or relations with Saudi Arabia being unfavorable for the Amerikan so-called people. The appearance of a Democratic president seeming to disagree with other prominent Democrats, including by going to Saudi Arabia after opposing the lawsuit bill, may confuse some observers though Obama was in Saudi Arabia to talk about the united $tates’ current foreign policy priorities with respect to other Muslim countries. Clinton and Sanders are both ISIS hawks and have supported Obama on ISIS and Syria or proposed doing more than Obama has done with the u.$. military or allies. Despite Clinton’s and Sanders’ comments, exposing Saudi Arabia to lawsuits over 9/11 wouldn’t be helpful in seeking Saudi military cooperation. In opposing the 9/11 lawsuit bill, the Obama administration has said that its passage would set a precedent for the united $tates to be similarly sued for actions in other countries.
It is important to remember that the idea of suing Saudis for trillions of dollars and seizing assets was originally raised when George W. Bush was president, even before Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” came out giving Amerikans ideas about where to invade next. It was perfectly acceptable as a Democrat or liberal then to accuse Bush and Republicans as having business and financial ties to Saudi Arabia getting in the way of “justice.” It was obvious few u.$. workers and middle class people had direct dealings with Saudi Arabia, but anyone involved in oil could have had a conflict of interest easily. Left out of the picture was that the living standards of ordinary Amerikans were possible because of imperialism, and because of u.$. foreign policy in general, and that the consequences of trying to seize Saudi assets would affect them, too, not just millionaires and billionaires. Not understanding such a thing could lead to war for more wealth or war to recover losses due to mistaken economic policy or foreign policy.
“Socialism” has been in the news a lot, largely due to Bernie Sanders’ candidacy, so there has been occasion to talk about socialism more than unusual. There is more Amerikan interest in “socialism” and “Marxism,” but there is no real proletarian upsurge in the bourgeois- and petty-bourgeois-majority united $nakes. No doubt there are many Muslim proletarians with something to complain about in regard to u.$. backing of the Saudi government, but in the Amerikan context criticism of Saudi Arabia as if it were abusing (jointly with u.$. capitalists or not) u$ people tends to be warmongering. At this time, it ends up being warmongering mostly against Muslims more vulnerable than Saudis. However, it is true the united $tates probably still has plans it can use for an invasion of Saudi Arabia, and the public has—in various ways—been prepared psychologically for the invasion, which may take place in the distant future.
The past invasion or bombing of multiple Muslim countries, including under a Democratic U.$. president, that didn’t have a citizen or disowned national involved in 9/11 would make it easier to invade Saudi Arabia, which did. Even talking about Saudi victimization of poor Muslims or Muslims of another branch creates a condition for invasion or for further u.$. involvement in other countries in the region. So does breaking things down in terms of class or subgroup and targeting royals or “elites,” which to Amerikans suggests “regime change.” Remember what happened with Iraq. Criticizing past u.$. government support for a “dictator” etc. in a Muslim country became a part of warmongering discourse. There was no proletariat in the united $nakes to process the information other than in a chauvinist and warmongering way. Now there is renewed talk of energy or oil independence (which Bush was talking about, together with “clean energy,” toward the end of eir presidency, and earlier, in connection with “security”) supposedly making it possible to have weaker ties with Saudi Arabia. Even if the united $tates could do without oil from Saudi Arabia, it would still have an interest in dominating the region.
Some may view the u.$. government headed by Obama as having just as much responsibility as Saudi Arabia for problems, but if the next u.$. president is a Democrat Amerikans will have another opportunity to perceive Saudi Arabia as being a particular enemy and beat the drum for war, on a liberal or “progressive” basis. This has already started. Obama is on eir way out, giving Democrats an opening to wash their hands of Saudi Arabia. A candid Obama emself recently portrayed emself as being hamstrung by “orthodoxy” (“compels him to treat Saudi Arabia as an ally”), according to The Atlantic.(3) (This appearance would be useful if the united $tates needed to ruin its relationship with Saudi Arabia in the future, or if the 28 redacted pages of the 9/11 Commission report were sufficiently embarrassing.) When Clinton is in power, ey will be seen as having inherited a problem and struggling to extricate the united $tates from it. Clinton’s supporters and collaborators will view Salman as more of a problem than Clinton. Clinton may end up in the same position Obama is in now, but the point is that electing a new king/queen every four or eight years can change perception and contribute to war in the future. If the united $tates had monarchs that could be in power for decades, there would be fewer of these cycles of diplomacy and undiplomatic public criticism. There would be fewer of these cycles periodically raising the possibility of war while portraying even the u.$. president (poor Obama) as some kind of victim of intolerable structural circumstance—circumstance needing to be overthrown and giving rise to magazine interview outbursts.
It’s not clear to this writer what exactly caused the Saudi foreign minister to transmit the intention to sell u.$. assets apart from the obvious. Supposedly it is the “political” people, or the “political” side of people, in Saudi Arabia who are threatening divestiture, people who don’t prioritize the bottom line or think about economic matters realistically. “Political” could mean various things. It could actually make economic sense to threaten divestiture and then not carry it out, but it is true there are many rich Saudi citizens strongly opposed to Western presence or polytheistic influence so close to Mecca and Medina. Not everyone cares about money to the extent bourgeois atheists and watery Christians in Amerika do. Yet, the rich anti-Amerikans in Saudi Arabia aren’t on the same side as these people talking about suing Saudi Arabia or Saudi officials for 9/11. Even if a Saudi opposed both Salman and Amerikans’ interests—not just the interests of imperialists concerned with the consequences of trillion dollar judgments against Saudi Arabia—the Saudi would not be in the same camp as these people, including Bernie Sanders supporters, supporting 9/11 allegations and lawsuits against Saudi Arabia. To the majority of Amerikans, the idea of a rogue or dissident Saudi just involves terrorism allowed by an inept, conniving or actively complicit ruling family, females in need of Western help via the CIA or Amerikan/NATO bombs and missiles, and so on.
There have always been some extremely rich non-foreign people in oppressed nation lands: pre-revolution, or during capitalism or post-counterrevolution. There were some rich people even in countries dominated or partly dominated by a non-capitalist mode of production. Oil is still the vast majority of Saudi Arabia’s exports, the monetary value of which (exports in terms of total dollar/riyal value) was fluctuating dramatically from year to year even before the recent oil price drops. Saudi investments in other countries were functioning as a reserve in times of low exports, and in fact Saudi Arabia was drawing from them even before the divestiture threat over JASTA. Because of the structure of the Saudi economy and its disadvantages in non-oil sectors relative to Western economies, Saudis as a group aren’t able to spend their money (or borrow) in all of the ways Westerners can, to the extent that Westerners do. This is part of the reason the Saudis have so much invested in the united $tates in the first place in addition to so much military spending and spending on things like real estate. No doubt there are many individual Saudis who are capable of being imperialists or have enough money that they could be imperialists. However, it is important to emphasize right now u.$. backing of the pro-Amerikan lackeys in Saudi Arabia, whose rulers and capitalists have their own economic and political interests and face pressure from the Muslims, migrants and proletarians that surround Saudi royals in their country and in the region.
Saudis have demonstrated they are willing to cause ripples in their relationship with the Amerikans at least on the surface. Even the most serious among those talking about divestiture may actually include both pro-Amerikans and anti-Amerikans, or people who vacillate as exploiters. A divestiture threat may not be what anti-Amerikans really want or much less than they want, but anti-Amerikanism would make it easier to go along with it. Similarly, those willing to let oil prices hit rock bottom have different motivations. The reason could be long-term economic interests (and the united $tates’ own interests in connection with that) of course, but there could also be anti-Amerikan reasons though somewhat at odds with other countries’ interests at the moment. (It is actually Iran now that may be more willing to let prices stay lower. Although, WTI and Brent crude have been increasing since January-February.)
Even if Saudi Arabia doesn’t sell the u.$. assets, or it sells them and there is no great economic consequence for Amerikans, global media coverage of the intention to sell the Treasury bills and other assets may transmit a signal about needing to abandon the dollar as a main reserve currency. Media discussion of Saudi divestiture minimizing the significance or likelihood of it may represent (consciously or not) an ongoing struggle to preserve the dollar’s status as the world’s primary reserve currency. Saudi Arabia has been trying to borrow money on good terms, and the threatened passage of JASTA may already be making it more difficult for Saudi Arabia to borrow. Both pro-Amerikan and anti-Amerikan Saudi capitalists with varying degrees of short- and long-term economic self-interest may have seen credit effects of the JASTA effort of the past several months and agreed on selling or threatening to sell more u.$. assets. They may have done so after deciding it might be better sell some assets somewhere instead of borrowing to address the deficit.
There is considerably less anti-Amerikanism on the Amerikan side of things. Obama is doing damage control because of what Obama’s fellow Democrats have said, but Obama and Amerikan critics of the u.$.-Saudi relationship, who portray Saudi Arabia as oppressing the united $tates/Amerikans or more oppressive than the united $tates, are all warmongers. The seeds of this were sown long ago by Obama emself. In eir famous October 2002 “dumb war” speech supposedly against war with Iraq (in which Obama said Saddam Hussein “butcher[ed] his own people” and “developed chemical and biological weapons”), Obama flattered the “patriots” in the crowd and described the Saudis as “so-called allies” “oppressing their own people”—public criticism that subtly actually makes U.$.-Saudi cooperation easier for everyone to go along with, while paving the way for disengagement. Fast-forward to March 2016, when President Obama was being quoted by The Atlantic as talking about “free riders” in the context of Saudi Arabia. Rewind and there was Obama in 2006 at the National Progressive Conference to Take Back America saying, “I’ve had enough of giving billions away to the oil companies when we’re told that we can’t invest in the renewable energy that will create jobs and lower gas prices and finally free us from our dependence on the oil wells of Saudi Arabia.” In 2005: “But for too long now, this can-do spirit has been stifled by a can’t-do government that seems to think it has no role in solving great national challenges or rallying a country to a cause. One that’s content with . . . sending $650 million a day to countries like Saudi Arabia to pay for our fuel.” To clarify, Obama in 2006 criticized Bush as not being serious about decreasing oil imports from the Middle East, in this way: “If there’s a single example out there that encapsulates the ability of unstable, undemocratic governments to wield undue influence over America’s national security just because of our dependence on oil, this is it.” (Search: “Saudi Arabia” on obamaspeeches.com.) Fretting about “stability” and “poor defenses” where Amerika’s interests are concerned contributed to Obama’s ability later to send more troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, and it can contribute to vague notions of Saudi Arabia being a threat needing to be controlled and dealt with with increasing harshness.
The 9/11 families are not some kind of proletariat opposed to Western imperialist influence in Saudi Arabia. They are exploiters in a conflict with other exploiters: Saudi exploiters and Obama, who contributed to the situation with eir own Amerikan-friendly criticisms of Saudi Arabia over the years. Even the most anti-Islam or anti-Saudi Amerikans aren’t against Amerikan influence with the exception of some who view u.$. diplomacy, spying, military presence and access to the Saudi economy as too costly or influencing the united $tates in reverse. The 9/11 families seeking payday, and their supporters, aren’t against u.$. influence, but they are contributing to a climate for war against multiple Muslim countries, not just Saudi Arabia.
So is Obama with quotes like this appearing in the media recently: “a country cannot function in the modern world when it is repressing half of its population” (in the Atlantic “Obama Doctrine” article and now all over the place). Obama has used the same pseudo-feminism to attack more than a few Muslim countries militarily. At this time, Iran seems to appear in international media as indicating the appearance of a few kinks in U.$.-Saudi relations, and the idea of Saudi complicity in 9/11, is worth the warmongering. Many of those Amerikans defending Saudi Arabia are warmongering against Iran, and certain efforts to counter this are understandable. Certainly there are people in Iran who are aware of the complexities of struggle, but everyone else should understand that Amerikans don’t do confrontation with other countries well. Even if certain allegations are true, Amerikans can’t handle the truth. They can’t handle it the right way, and there are various ways the Great Satan could exert influence on the Arabian Peninsula or in the Middle East. 9/11 happened a decade and a half ago, and the united $tates keeps changing justifications for war. And AmeriKKKans of various political persuasions keep going along with it, keep repeating the justifications, or keep supporting war with ignorant, stupid or reactionary talk about some Amerikkkan uprising against elites conniving with Muslim oppressors.
Amerikans don’t handle confrontation with their own government, or elites, well either. Some of the better Amerikans at the moment include some conservative Christians who can look at what’s happening in Amerika and what Amerika has done, under different parties, and say, “I know why they think we are evil. We are unrepentant sinners, and we cause others to do evil. We cause the atheists to do evil. We are a Satan. We are polytheists. Yeah, we may not use that word as much, but we are idolaters. We are not the better People of the Book described in the Qur’an.” Internationally, such people regardless of some mistaken notions may do less harm than false so-called leftists and progressives talking about class struggle in Saudi Arabia and the united $nakes as if Amerikkkans were ready to embrace real socialism. Real socialism doesn’t involve back-asswards ideas about reparations from the Middle East or capital exported from Saudi Arabia needing to be seized and stay in Amerika because of the feelings of some traumatized exploiters who after fifteen years obviously need new psychotherapists. Denying your own imperialist-country privilege while threatening more war against Muslim countries because some Muslims killed your family member is parasite hysteria. ◊
“S. 2040: Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act.” https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/114/s2040
1. 7:54 AM - 17 Apr 2016. https://twitter.com/NickMerrill/statuses/721713567490314240
2. “Sanders statement on 9/11 bill,” 2016 April 17. https://berniesanders.com/press-release/sanders-statement-911-bill/
3. “The Obama Doctrine,” 2016 April. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/04/the-obama-doctrine/471525/