In Trump’s world, money talks, and Saudi Arabia gets a free pass

Middle East
on 6 Comments

President Trump’s Muslim ban is not only mean-spirited and, hopefully, unconstitutional, but it is irrational because it doesn’t even include the country most responsible for spreading terrorism around the world: Saudi Arabia.

The travel restrictions on seven Muslim-majority countries was rationalized as a way to thwart potential terrorists from entering the United States, with Trump citing the tragedies of 9/11 and the San Bernardino shooting as motivations behind the executive order. But no citizens of the seven banned countries were responsible for the deaths of any Americans on U.S. soil. It is indeed a glaring omission that Saudi Arabia, the country that furnished 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11, was absent from the list.

Protecting Saudi Arabia is not new; it has been U.S. policy since the discovery of oil in the desert nation in the 1930s. Despite evidence that the Saudi government was supporting ISIS and Al Qaeda affiliates, President Obama continued the cozy Saudi relationship, including selling the Saudis massive amounts of weapons. But when Obama signed the nuclear deal with Saudi’s nemesis, Iran, the relationship started to fray. It now appears that Donald Trump, despite his criticisms of the repressive kingdom during the campaign, will be an even more staunch supporter of the Saudi regime.

Trump is certainly well aware of the Saudi terrorist connection and the irony of the U.S.-Saudi relationship. Back in 2011 he called the Saudi regime the world’s biggest funder of terrorism and said the Saudi government uses “our petro dollars, our very own money, to fund the terrorists that seek to destroy our people while the Saudis rely on us to protect them.” In a 2016 Fox News interview during the campaign, Trump said, “Who blew up the World Trade Center? It wasn’t the Iraqis, it was Saudi [Arabia].” He also repeatedly criticized Hillary Clinton for taking Saudi money for the Clinton Foundation and challenged her to return the money.

Saudi Arabia’s omittance from the ban does not seem so irrational when the dots are connected between the Kingdom and Donald Trump’s bank account. While Trump was on the campaign trail, his business ties in Saudi Arabia were blooming with the opening of eight different enterprises. Just after the election, he half-heartedly attempted to avoid conflicts of interest by closing four of the Saudi business endeavors but the status of the other holdings is unknown.

The financial connections extend both ways, with Saudis invested in Trump hotels, including the Saudi purchase of an entire floor of the New York Trump Hotel, channeling at least $5.7 million to Trump’s company since 2001. At a campaign rally in Alabama, Trump professed his affection for the Saudi royalty and their money, “They are buying apartments and properties from me. They spend $40-50 million. I am supposed to hate them? I love them very much.”

Trump is not the only one with deep Saudi ties. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was closely linked to Saudi Arabia during his time as CEO of Exxon. Exxon boasts that it is “one of the largest foreign investors in the Kingdom and also one of the largest private sector purchasers of Saudi Aramco crude oil.” Here in the United States, Exxon and Saudi state companies are working together to build a natural gas refinery facility along the Gulf of Mexico to manufacture plastics.

When grilled by Sen. Marco Rubio at his confirmation hearing about whether Saudi Arabia was a human rights abuser, Tillerson said that such a label would be undiplomatic and potentially counterproductive.

With Rex Tillerson at the helm of the State Department, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih concluded that Trump’s policies would be “good for the oil industry.” While the Saudis have already invested billions of dollars in U.S. refining and distribution facilities, the Energy Minister said that the Saudis “may be increasing that investment on the back of pro-industry, pro-oil and gas policies of the Trump administration.”

The Saudi government is also delighted with the Trump administration’s tough attitude toward its long-time adversary, Iran. They were encouraged by Trump’s constant criticism of the nuclear deal on the campaign trail and by the appointment to cabinet positions of several anti-Iran generals. Indeed, the warning by Trump’s National Security Advisor Michael Flynn that the United States was putting Iran “on notice” after a recent missile test must be music to Saudi ears.

Trump’s anti-Iran stance will undoubtedly translate into continued U.S. weapons sales to the Saudis and continued U.S. support for the Saudi war in Yemen, where for the past two years the Saudis have been bombing Yemen’s Houthi tribe, a group with ties to Iran. Indeed, the first weapons sale of Trump’s presidency provided Saudi Arabia with $545 million worth of observation balloons to patrol the Kingdom’s border with Yemen. While this sale pales in comparison to the record $100 billion in various arms deals under the Obama administration, Trump’s approval of the sale within his first few weeks as president indicates that he intends to continue both the arms sales and the military support, despite the catastrophic results for the Yemeni people.

The first two weeks of the Trump administration also produced a botched U.S. raid in Yemen against Al Qaeda (which is, ironically, an enemy of the Houthis). The raid resulted in the deaths of a U.S. Navy Seal and 30 innocent Yemenis, including a baby and 8-year-old Nora al-Awlaki, daughter of the U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2011. According to her grandfather, Nora was hit with a bullet in her neck and slowly bled to death.

In Trump’s world where money talks, poor Yemenis are banned from entering the United States (and are killed back home) and Syrians fleeing violence are portrayed as terrorists, while Saudi princes who cling to power by torturing and beheading dissidents get safe passage to their luxury digs in Manhattan’s Trump Towers.

About Medea Benjamin

Medea Benjamin, cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, is the author of The Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection.

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6 Responses

  1. Citizen
    February 7, 2017, 11:38 am

    But the one thing Saudi Arabia cannot buy is US weapons equal to what US gifts Israel.

  2. HarryLaw
    February 7, 2017, 3:51 pm

    This all proves US actions in the Middle East are driven by economics and brute power. Naive souls think it is for democracy and civil rights, baloney! The bottom line is what’s good [or what the powers that be regard as good] for the USA. Many Politicians [Obama amongst them regard the US as ‘the exceptional Nation’ it is this fatal mindset which will lead it into war after war. If Iran is next in line, the long term costs of the Iraq/Afghanistan wars which were slated by Linda Bilmes [at the Kennedy Law School, Harvard University] to be 6 trillion dollars $6,000,000,000,000, should be instructive, a war with Iran would make that figure chump change, as well as destroying the Middle East together with all the nations economies dependent on oil from there. Before the US election Trump was mindful of these costs when he said, those trillions spent on the Iraq war could have built the infrastructure of the US twice over. Does he have a short memory or is he a typical US Politician?

  3. Ossinev
    February 8, 2017, 7:45 am

    Now that the “Muslim Anti – Semite” Obama is out of the way and Daffy Donald is in charge of US Foreign Policy ( subject to Israeli approval of course ) the Yahoo can switch back to Iranophobia mode – not least because it serves to detract from the latest settlements expansion and the retrospective legalisation of theft of stolen Palestinian land. Who knows he may in due course wheel out an updated higher tech version of his immortal bomb cartoon. Other Iran bashers are also now emboldened to come out of the closet again following the Iran nuclear deal not least our very own mad Melanie Phillips here in the UK in her latest “article” in the Times newspaper. In the context of a tortuous justification of British Arm sales to Saudi Arabia ( accused of indiscriminate bombing of civilians ) she takes the opportunity to go through her well thumbed menu of “Iran poses a mortal threat to the Sunni states in the region,not just to Israel which it threatens with genocide but to the West” (double yawn heard all this crap before ad nauseum). Melanie of course doesn`t give a toss about what threatens or happens to the”Sunni States” and the “West”. All she cares about is what threatens her dearly beloved eternally etc Israel.In order to do this she jumps through so many mental hoops and really gets her mental knickers in a twist big time.She concludes the article with the following surely award winning piece of gibberish:
    “My enemy`s enemy may be my friend.Equally , my enemy`s enemy may still be my enemy.Then again my enemy`s enemy may be my enemy but also my friend at the same time”

    I kid you not that is what this idiot actually wrote. Warning – do not try writing crap like this at home !

    I think she is badly in need of an enema or two.

  4. rjochs
    February 8, 2017, 10:27 am

    Now that the 28 pages of the Joint Congressional Intelligence Report of 2002 have been declassified, we know that Saudi Arabia did more than furnish 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11. It is no conspiracy theory that the the Chairman of this Committee Report, former Senator Bob Graham, said: “the Saudi government was a co-conspirator in 9/11.”

    It is a fact, not a theory, that the 28 pages state that then-Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., Prince Bandar bin Sultan and his wife sent $100,000 to Saudi agent Bassnan in San Diego, who lived across the street from the two named Saudi hijackers. A long-time colleague of Bassnan named Bayoumi, receiving money from the Saudi Ministry of Defense, paid the rent for the same two named hijackers for 18 months before 9/11/01 attacks. He paid for a translator for them because they did not speak English and arranged flight school for them. Bassnan told an FBI asset that he did more for the two named hijackers with the $100,000 from Prince Bandar than did Bayoumi. See: http://tinyurl.com/barry911

    “Kristen Breitweiser, who lost her husband to the 9/11 attacks, and four other 9/11 widows issued a press release stating “…when you listen to any member of our government state that the newly released 28 pages are no smoking gun – THEY ARE LYING.”

    Their statement continued: “Zelikow blocked and then fired Dana Lesemann when she tried to investigate the uninvestigated leads in the 28 pages.” Philip Zelikow was the Bush-appointed head of the 9/11 Commission of 2004. The New York Post reported that Zelikow blocked subpoenas of Saudi suspects and was thereafter made senior advisor to the Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. Three members of Zelikow’s Commission have since admitted that the Saudis were not adequately investigated by the 9/11 Commission.

    “The 9/11 widows statement concluded: “The kingdom of Saudi Arabia provided operational and financial support to the 9/11 hijackers. That is a fact. And, the U.S. Government has been covering up that fact for 15 years – even to this very day. And that is a crime.”

    The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), passed by Congress with bi-partisan support, removes diplomatic immunity from countries supporting terrorism in the U.S. It would seem this unanimous law, in light of the facts in the 28 pages, would show that Donald Trump is blaming the wrong people and the wrong countries for terrorism in the U.S.

    In a just world, the travel ban would be rescinded, the media would expose Saudi 9/11 crimes, the Royals would be legally charged, an arms embargo would be placed on them and the U.S.-Saudi alliance against Iran would be terminated. But before we expect transparency from the corporate media, we must expect transparency from our own social media. If we don’t tell the whole story to influence policy now, it will be left to historians to safely reveal 50 years from now, just like most of the other crimes in U.S. history.

    I believe this information is critical to prevent a disastrous war against Iran which will blow back on Israel.

    • gamal
      February 8, 2017, 11:44 am

      “it will be left to historians to safely reveal 50 years from now, just like most of the other crimes in U.S. history”

      United states of amnesia indeed, if you say: ” Dan Mitrione “or “USAID” to most Americans they don’t know what you are taliking about,

      “In Langguth’s book about Mitrione and USAID’s torture programs, “Hidden Terrors,” he quotes Hevia’s eyewitness account of Mitrione’s live torture demonstrations:

      “As subjects for the first testing, they took beggars, known in Uruguay as bichicones, from the outskirts of Montevideo, along with a woman from the border with Brazil. There was no interrogation, only a demonstration of the different voltages on the different parts of the human body, together with the uses of a drug to induce vomiting — I don’t know why or for what — and another chemical substance.
      “The four of them died.”
      Mitrione taught local police specialized forms of electroshock torture, introducing wires so thin they could fit between the teeth and gums. He also demonstrated drugs that induced violent vomiting fits, and advised on psychological tortures, such as playing tapes of a woman and child screaming in a room next to the interrogation room, and telling the detainee those are his wife and child. And it was all done under the aegis of USAID.”

      Saudi invovlement in 911 is US government involvement.

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