Obama should take a firm stand against Saudi Arabia too


Jul 15, 2009

As the protests in Iran continue, President Obama is wisely toughening his stance against the Iranian government.  That he is gradually strengthening his rhetoric is a brilliant example of his ability to navigate politically turbulent situations.  If the President truly wants to be perceived as fair, then he should be ready and willing to take a similar approach towards “friends” like Saudi Arabia.

In regards to Iran, the president is in a truly difficult position, one which might not be noticeable at first glance.  There are two reasons for why the President finds himself in such a predicament.  First, President Obama’s power to get the Iranian government to stop violently oppressing its reformers is, in actuality, relatively limited.  In communicating with the Iranian government, the President has little choice but to rely on his own reputation and his political savvy in order to stop the violence.

Second, Iran is, under international law, a sovereign nation.  That being the case, Iran’s sovereignty needs to be recognized even though we may not agree with how they treat their citizens.  For President Obama to flagrantly disregard Iran’s jurisdiction, and to act accordingly, would be politically damaging for both himself and the country.  Though it could be argued that the President, and we as a nation, should disregard the opinion of the international community, such claims are inherently illogical.  Whether we like it or not, the United States is an important actor in the international community and we cannot simply bury our heads in the sand, and pretend as if our actions have no consequences at all.  It is our responsibility to help ensure that international law and customs are upheld.  We undermine our own credibility, and influence, when we demand that other nations recognize our sovereignty, but then refuse to return the sentiment.

There is, however, one thing that President Obama has some control over, and that is his reputation.  Though the Saudi ruling family has repeatedly claimed otherwise, it is simply not true that they do not support terrorist groups.  The New York Times recently published an article, “Documents Back Saudi Link to Extremists,” on June 23rd in which they discuss strong evidence that proves the al-Saud family supports Al-Qaeda.  The New York Times is not alone in its findings.  The Washington Times also published a similar report, “Obama Saudi suit stance irks 9/11 families,” in which they too discuss the link between the Saudis and terrorism.  On June 14th, a full week earlier, Reuters released an article, “Taliban must hide among Afghan civilians,” in which a top Taliban commander confessed to receiving aid from Saudi Arabia.  The Taliban commander stated that at least 60% of their terrorists come from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan combined!  The connection between the ruling Saudi family and terrorism is undeniable, especially since a supermajority of the September 11th terrorists were Saudi nationals.

These articles only further support reports released by the State Department.  In the latest human trafficking report, Saudi Arabia is listed as a Tier 3 country.  This means that women and children are illegally brought into the country for the purposes of involuntary servitude and commercial sexual exploitation.  Saudi Arabia is also on the “countries of particular concern” (CPC) list, as it is one of the most severe violators of human rights, particularly the denial of religious freedom.  Such violations are known to breed terrorism.

President Obama has stated on numerous occasions, including in his inaugural address, that he wishes to be held accountable for his actions, both domestically and abroad.  Given his desire, President Obama should begin to stand up to the Saudi government and let them know that America does not pardon its allies for attacking its citizens.  In his most recent press briefing, President Obama stated that “…those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history.”  President Obama should heed his own wisdom by not only denouncing Saudi Arabia’s attacks on Americans, but by supporting his fellow citizens in their suit against the Saudi Arabian government.  The question President Obama should ask himself is, “How can any country claim to be an ‘ally’ of the United States, when they actively promote terrorist attacks against us?”

Rachel Besonen is an associate at the Institute for Gulf Affairs.


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