Senior member of the Saudi royal family and former Ambassador to Washington slams 'petulant' Obama
One thing you can count on from the image-conscious Obama (the man published an autobiography before he was 35 years old) is that there's little he won't say to make himself look good. This is particularly true in his final year as president when his mind turns to the question as how he will be remembered as..
The book-length interview he recently gave his personal hagiographer, Jeffrey Goldberg, should be seen in this context – as Obama's desperate attempt to put a positive spin on his presidency. He has been an empty suit in thrall to a hyper-interventionist Washington establishment, but in the Goldberg interview is angling to leave us with the image of a strong, orthodoxies-busting realist instead.
That is no easy task, but neither is Obama taking any prisoners in accomplishing it. Firstly after breaking Libya and nearly breaking Syria he is now blaming Libya on his ally Cameroon and the near-disaster in Syria on his advisor Kerry.
Moreover after allowing Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia to pretty much dictate United States' Middle East agenda for the entirety of his presidency he has now come out to heavily criticize and try to distance himself from all three.
The Saudis, however, did not take kindly to Obama slamming them in public but have instead fired back. Prince Turki bin Faisal – the former Saudi top intelligence chief for over two decades and later the Saudi Ambassador to Washington in the Bush era – published a fascinating and very angry open letter in response that should really be read whole:
No, Mr. Obama. We are not “free riders.” We shared with you our intelligence that prevented deadly terrorist attacks on America.
We initiated the meetings that led to the coalition that is fighting Fahish (ISIL), and we train and fund the Syrian freedom fighters, who fight the biggest terrorist, Bashar Assad and the other terrorists, Al-Nusrah and Fahish (ISIL). We offered boots on the ground to make that coalition more effective in eliminating the terrorists.
We initiated the support — military, political and humanitarian — that is helping the Yemeni people reclaim their country from the murderous militia, the Houthis, who, with the support of the Iranian leadership, tried to occupy Yemen; without calling for American forces. We established a coalition of more than thirty Muslim countries to fight all shades of terrorism in the world.
We are the biggest contributors to the humanitarian relief efforts to help refugees from Syria, Yemen and Iraq. We combat extremist ideology that attempts to hijack our religion, on all levels. We are the sole funders of the United Nations Counter-terrorism Center, which pools intelligence, political, economic, and human resources, worldwide. We buy US treasury bonds, with small interest returns, that help your country’s economy.
We send thousands of our students to your universities, at enormous expense, to acquire knowledge and knowhow. We host over 30,000 American citizens and pay them top dollar in our businesses and industry for their skills. Your secretaries of state and defense have often publicly praised the level of cooperation between our two countries.
Your treasury department officials have publicly praised Saudi Arabia’s measures to curtail any financing that might reach terrorists. Our King Salman met with you, last September, and accepted your assurances that the nuclear deal you struck with the Iranian leadership will prevent their acquiring nuclear weapons for the duration of the deal. You noted “the Kingdom’s leadership role in the Arab and Islamic world.”
The two of you affirmed the “need, in particular, to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities.” Now, you throw us a curve ball. You accuse us of fomenting sectarian strife in Syria, Yemen and Iraq. You add insult to injury by telling us to share our world with Iran, a country that you describe as a supporter of terrorism and which you promised our king to counter its “destabilizing activities.”
Could it be that you are petulant about the Kingdom’s efforts to support the Egyptian people when they rose against the Muslim Brothers’ government and you supported it? Or is it the late King Abdullah’s (God rest his soul) bang on the table when he last met you and told you “No more red lines, Mr. President.”
Or is it because you have pivoted to Iran so much that you equate the Kingdom’s 80 years of constant friendship with America to an Iranian leadership that continues to describe America as the biggest enemy, that continues to arm, fund and support sectarian militias in the Arab and Muslim world, that continues to harbor and host Al-Qaeda leaders, that continues to prevent the election of a Lebanese president through Hezbollah, which is identified by your government as a terrorist organization, that continues to kill the Syrian Arab people in league with Bashar Assad?
No, Mr. Obama. We are not the “free riders” that to whom you refer. We lead from the front and we accept our mistakes and rectify them. We will continue to hold the American people as our ally and don’t forget that when the chips were down, and George Herbert Walker Bush sent American soldiers to repel with our troops Saddam’s aggression against Kuwait, soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder with soldiers. Mr. Obama, that is who we are.
Turki's letter is of course a great testament to the pathological obsession of the Saudi royal court with Syria's Bashar al-Assad, and particularly the Republican-Islamist Iran. Moreover, it's homage to Saudi Orwellianism – we're supposed to believe Riyadh is opposed to Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria and it's dreadful war in Yemen is a humanitarian mission.
However, Turki also raises valid complaints of what the Saudi court can't see as anything but an insult and proof Obama's duplicity:
We buy US treasury bonds, with small interest returns, that help your country’s economy.
In other words: You will crawl before us to finance your debt, then turn around and badmouth us in public to enhance your profile.
Your secretaries of state and defense have often publicly praised the level of cooperation between our two countries.
You noted “the Kingdom’s leadership role in the Arab and Islamic world.”
Translated: You will say one thing to our face, then turn around and say something else to our backs.
Prince Turki served three Saudi kings before him but has no official role under Salman who rose to the throne last year. That actually goes to emphasize just how irritated the Saudis have to be with the White House right now.
Turki had served in Washington and under past kings who were very close to the US. Salman and his men today, however, are as inclined to talk to the Chinese as they are to continue economic ties with Washington. If Obama has alienated even Turki who should be closest to the US then the Saudi top leadership which was less pro-US to begin with must zero respect for Obama left.
That is not necessarily a bad thing. The US and Saudi Arabia have been a joint force for chaos and war in the rest of the world. A break between the two might bring the planet some respite from that.
However, if Obama was going to sacrifice US-Saudi ties it should have been to check their export of Islamist fundamentalism, sponsorship of terrorism, or the horrible war in Yemen. This would have been the conduct of a statesman.
Instead he has continued to enable Saudi horrors in Yemen and to cooperate with its fundamentalist agenda in Syria – but is now risking Saudi goodwill in a interview to his hagiographer just to embellish his presidential "legacy" before he steps down next year.
Having already fed the people of Yemen and effective international anti-terrorism to Saudi-US relations and the petro-dollar gravy train, he now risks the latter out of a personal rather than national or world interest.