Published: Fri, 09 Dec 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Last Build Date: Fri, 09 Dec 2016 12:25:29 -0500
Thu, 08 Dec 2016 15:00:00 -0500
(image) U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson identified regional political leaders who were "twisting and abusing different strains of the same religion in order to further their own political objectives" as one of the biggest problems in the Middle East, saying at a conference on Mediterrenean dialogue in Rome this week that it led to puppeteering and proxy wars by countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The comments came on the heels of a visit to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region by Prime Minister Theresa May, The Guardian reported, where she celebrated the century old alliance between the two countries. The government distanced itself from Johnson's remarks, with a spokesperson for 10 Downing Street saying they did not represent the official views of the British government.
Johnson's comments were characterized in the media as a "gaffe," although they were not incorrect. "Most observers of the Middle East would say this is a mostly fair analysis," the Washington Post noted. "But the problem is that Johnson, in his capacity as Britain's foreign secretary, stepped out of line in calling out Saudi Arabia, one of the biggest customers for British weapons." Yet refusals to acknowledge the reality of such situations makes advancing coherent foreign relations more difficult.
It would be important for the U.K., like the United States, to stop selling weapons around the world in order to have healthier international relations. The U.K. is in the top 10 arms exporters in the world—accounting for about 4 percent of international arms sales between 2010 and 2014. The U.S. was responsible for 31 percent. Russia is not far behind, at 27 percent, with China in third place at 5 percent.
While Johnson acknowledged Saudi Arabia's role in destabilizing the Middle East, when he had the chance he did not support a ban on U.K. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, just three months ago, insisting Saudi human rights violations in Yemen had not been proven. Iran has been accused of supporting the other side in the Yemen civil war. Saudi Arabia and western powers insist the government ejected from the capital by Houthi rebels remains the legitimate government in Yemen. Earlier this summer, meanwhile, Hezbollah admitted all of its financial support came from Iran.
Mon, 31 Oct 2016 14:33:00 -0400One of Hillary Clinton's top national security advisers, Michael Morell (who also happens to be the former acting director of the CIA), told the staunchly pro-Clinton think tank the Center for American Progress that the upcoming U.S. presidential election provides a "great opportunity for the next president of the United States to go to the Middle East and say 'We're back, we're going to lead again.'" And what might the leadership that the Hillary Clinton administration imposes on a region halfway around the world look like? Morell brought up the fact that Iran arms the Houthi rebels who have seized control of Yemen's capital city Sanaa, to the great displeasure of nominal U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, which has spent much of the past two years bombing both military and civilian targets with U.S. support in an all-out effort to defeat the rebels and return to power the Saudi-allied President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. Juxtaposing against what he must perceive as a lack of leadership from his former boss, President Barack Obama, Morell said: I would have no problem, from a policy perspective, of having U.S. Navy board those ships and if there's weapons on them for the Houthis, turn those ships around and send those ships back to Iran. I think that's the kind of action, tough action that would get the attention of the Iranians and will get the attention of our friends in the region to say the Americans are now serious about helping us deal with this problem. Make no mistake, what Morell just proposed is an act of war, which Bloomberg's Eli Lake aptly characterized as "something you might hear this month in an alternate reality, from the Rubio-Cheney campaign." And if Clinton supporters think war with Iran is necessary or an exercise in "smart power," that's their right, but they should at least be honest about it. As Reason's Nick Gillespie wrote, "a vote for Hillary Clinton is a vote for war." While some might still be in denial that Clinton is a staunch hawk even neoconservatives can adore, Morell's comments provide much-desired candor about Clinton's foreign policy ambitions. The Democratic nominee has been able to remain infuriatingly vague on military matters throughout the campaign thanks in part to her opponent's flailing incoherence and her general refusal to give press conferences. But if one of her most senior national security advisers is willing to openly engage in this kind of saber-rattling while smilingly declaring, "We're back," it's fair to expect more and grander military intervention under a President Clinton than we've experienced under President Obama.[...]
Thu, 13 Oct 2016 15:22:00 -0400The USS Mason destroyed three coastal radar sites held by the rebel government in Yemen, the Pentagon announced last night, after the USS Mason was twice within four days the target of missiles launched from rebel-held territory in Yemen. Those missiles all missed and the USS Mason was not damaged. The U.S. action is the first time it has bombed Houthi targets in Yemen since Houthi rebels ousted the U.S.-backed government in Sana'a, which retreated to Aden, in 2014, sparking a civil war in which Saudi Arabia has intervened in support of the exiled government. The Saudi and U.S.-backed president escaped to Saudi Arabia in 2015. "These limited self-defense strikes were conducted to protect our personnel, our ships, and our freedom of navigation in this important maritime passageway," Pentagon spokesperson Peter Cook said in a statement. "The United States will respond to any further threat to our ships and commercial traffic, as appropriate, and will continue to maintain our freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, the Bab al-Mandeb, and elsewhere around the world." The Houthi government denied responsibility for the failed missile strikes, saying it had "nothing to do with this act." Instead, Houthi officials suggested the accusation was an attempt to distract from the "heinous" airstrike on a funeral in Yemen over the weekend that killed more than 150 people. Saudi Arabia denied responsibility itself for the air strike on Yemen, and said it would "investigate." Human Rights Watch said remnants of U.S.-made munitions were found at the site. The U.S., for its part, insisted its support for Saudi Arabia did not amount to a "blank check" for Saudi actions in Yemen, with the White House claiming it would conduct an "immediate review" of what a National Security spokesperson described as "significantly reduced support to the Saudi-led Coalition." Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Chris Murphy (D-Ct.) tried last month to block a $1+ billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia but the effort failed in the Senate. Saudi Arabia has been the primary recipient of U.S.-made arms from 2011 to 2015, a period during which the U.S. was responsible for a third of arms exports across the world. While the Pentagon asserted that U.S. commanders "retain the right to defend their ships," it says the strikes on the radar sites in Yemen, which the U.S. insists were in remote coastal areas far from civilians, were authorized by President Obama upon the recommendation of Defense Secretary Ash Carter. Prior to the civil war, the U.S. conducted drone strikes in Yemen against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and other targets, sometimes fed to them by the government now in exile. Unsurprisingly, the airstrikes bred anger at the government and encouraged anti-Americanism. The power vacuums aggravated by Saudi intervention in the current civil war have helped Al-Qaeda resurge in Yemen, with the terrorist group even taking complete control of Mukalla, the third largest port city in the country. Yemen's exiled government has accused the Houthi rebels of being backed by Iran. No one appears to accuse the rebels of being backed by Al-Qaeda. The U.S. could not, then, twist the 2002 authorization for the use of military force against the perpetrators of 9/11 and their "associated forces" for a more direct and more sustained intervention in the Yemen conflict in the way it has used the AUMF to justify interventions in conflicts from West Africa to the Kush.[...]
Thu, 29 Sep 2016 12:20:00 -0400Saudi Arabia has long been a troublesome ally for the United States. Sure, the government has provided space for military bases, but those ended up being Osama bin Laden's top grievance with the United States. And sure, the Saudis have been helpful in cracking down on some violent radical Islamist groups, but they've sponsored and created just as many. And yes, they're a major trading partner in both oil and arms, but they've also been using our military support to indiscriminately kill civilians in Yemen. And of course, they're basically among the worst in the world when it comes to freedom of speech and religion, women's rights, LGBT rights, and human rights in general. But the special relationship between the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States may be forever transformed by Congress handing President Obama an overwhelming veto override yesterday—the first of his administration—on a bill that strips immunity of foreign governments and their officials from lawsuits regarding terrorism on U.S. soil. The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) enjoys its robust support in Congress due to its association with 9/11—and congresspeople don't want to be seen as voting against the interests of 9/11 victims' families in an election year, just weeks after the fifteenth anniversary of the attacks. The bill was spurred by allegations that certain Saudi government officials provided financial support to 9/11 hijackers, which were detailed in the recently-released "28 Pages" of a congressional inquiry into 9/11. But President Obama and the few dissenters of the bill in Congress have argued JASTA is too broadly written and not limited to 9/11 victims' families, and that it could also make U.S. military personnel and officials liable to legal retaliation in foreign courts. White House press secretary Josh Earnest called Congress' override of the president's veto "the single most embarrassing thing the United States Senate has done" in decades, and that by not fully considering the consequences of the bill to diplomatic relations and military servicepeople, "Ultimately these senators are going to have to answer their own conscience and their constituents as they account for their actions today." At least two senators who supported the bill and the veto override—Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.)—have suggested trying to "tighten up" the bill during the upcoming lame duck session of Congress by limiting the legislation only to 9/11. The Washington Post quotes Corker as saying the bill as written could end up "exporting...foreign policy to trial lawyers" and make U.S. personnel liable for lawsuits from anything to drones strikes to support for Israel's military actions. Congressional support for Saudi Arabia was once as good as a rubber stamp, but a number of congresspeople recently made a bipartisan push to restrict a more than $1 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia because of concerns over the Kingdom's bombardment of schools, hospitals, and civilians in Yemen. The resolution almost certainly will not have the support to stop the sale, but the pushback from Congress is new and noteworthy, regardless. There are legitimate concerns about the reciprocal nature of laws pertaining to the liability of foreign officials, but editor emeritus of World Policy Journal David A. Andelman made some pretty weak arguments against the bill in a CNN op-ed. One of his concerns is that the Saudis could clamp down on oil production and thereby contribute to a rise in fuel prices worldwide. A fair if potentially overstated economic concern, but it assumes the Saudis would be more concerned with lawsuits than they are with their ongoing proxy war against Iran, where keeping oil prices low is in the Saudi interest. An even worse argument Andelman makes is that American jobs could be lost if Saudi Arabia stops buying weapons from the U.S., even though the U.S. military-industrial com[...]
Mon, 26 Sep 2016 12:55:00 -0400
(image) The Senate blocked an effort by Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Chris Murphy (D-Ct.) to nix a $1.5 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, which is engaged in a war of choice in Yemen, where the U.S.- and Saudi-backed government was overthrown by Iranian-backed rebels in 2014. Al-Monitor described the vote (71-27 to dismiss the measure) as the Senate "in effect casting the first vote on US participation after 18 months of war in Yemen."
Even if Paul's measure had passed both houses of Congress, it's unlikely there would be enough support to override the president's veto. And the Obama administration has completed more than $100 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia so far.
In The Atlantic, Samuel Oakford and Peter Salisbury call Yemen the "graveyard of the Obama doctrine," noting U.S. involvement in the proxy war contradicted rhetoric the president deployed at the United Nations this month, where he bemoaned proxy wars as one of the factors preventing conflict resolution in the Middle East. "No external power is going to be able to force different religious communities or ethnic communities to co-exist for long," the president told a gathering of world leaders at the U.N. this month.
Yemen used to be one of Obama's vaunted success stories. Two short years ago the White House was pointing to it as a model of success in the war on terror. Who knew launching drone strikes based on information fed to the U.S. by a long-time dictator would help destabilize the country and encourage a rebellion that would ultimately be successful?
As Trevor Thrall and John Glaser argued here at Reason earlier this year, U.S. support of Saudi Arabia has enabled Saudi ruthlessness in Yemen. The proxy war, they argued, "compromises both U.S. interests and its moral standing" by expanding a power vacuum that benefits Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the initial impetus for U.S. bombing campaigns in Yemen and which opposes the Houthi rebels. A Dutch attempt to get a United Nations inquiry into human rights violations and other war crimes in Yemen was blocked at the European Union last week by the United Kingdom.
Fri, 15 Jul 2016 16:10:00 -0400
(image) With the country distracted by the terror attack in France, Donald Trump's choice of Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate, and the Republican National Convention starting in three days, Congress pulled a classic summer Friday afternoon news dump, finally releasing the long-classified "28 pages" of a joint congressional inquiry focused on possible Saudi Arabian government support for the 9/11 hijackers. You can read the whole heavily redacted and blurry-scanned document here.
The "28 pages" constitute a section of an over-800 page report, and are frustratingly filled with speculative clauses, lots of information attributed to "FBI sources," and unnamed persons with "ties to the Saudi Royal Family."
But the juiciest piece of verifiable information concerns former Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. (and close confidant of the Bush family) Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who reportedly provided thousands of dollars to Osama Bassnan, a neighbor of two of the hijackers in San Diego, who allegedly boasted to an "FBI asset that he did more...for the hijackers" than another Saudi-connected associate.
From page 427 of the report:
One at least one occasion Bassnan received a check directly from Prince Bandar's account. According to the FBI, on May 14, 1998, Bassnan cashed a check from Bandar in the amount of $15,000. Bassnan's wife also received at least one check directly from Bandar.
The report also states that the FBI considered Bassnan "an extremist and supporter of Usama Bin Ladin, and has been connected to the Eritrean Islamic Jihad and the Blind Shaykh [sic]." In addition, a CIA memo mentions "Bassnan reportedly received funding and possibly a fake passport from Saudi Government officials."
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Ca.), one of the two senior members of House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement, "I hope that the release of these pages, with appropriate redactions necessary to protect our nation's intelligence sources and methods, will diminish speculation that they contain proof of official Saudi Government or senior Saudi official involvement in the 9/11 attacks," according to USA Today. The committee's chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, (R-Ca.) said in a statement, "It's important to note that this section does not put forward vetted conclusions, but rather unverified leads that were later fully investigated by the Intelligence Community."
It may take a closer examination to come to the conclusion that there truly is "no there there," but Bandar's name included in the report is significant no matter what way Congress chooses to spin it. Still, it's no secret that the Saudi government has long supported Wahabbist extremism, has one of the world's worst human rights records, and continues to wage a devastating proxy war (with U.S. support) in Yemen. They remain a problematic ally, at best.
Tue, 05 Jul 2016 16:52:00 -0400
(image) More than 200 people were killed in a suicide bombing in a shopping mall in a Shia area of Baghdad for which the Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility. The prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, called for three days of mourning, while facing protesters at his house and of his convoy who blamed lapses by the government for allowing such large amounts of explosives into residential neighborhoods.
ISIS promised more terrorist attacks on the West during Ramadan, but most of the attacks connected to them in the last month have come in majority Muslim countries like Bangladesh and Turkey. The Orlando shooting, in which 49 people were killed and where the shooter called 911 to pledge allegiance to ISIS, is the only major terrorist attack in the West during Ramadan, while more than 500 people have been killed in terrorist attacks and attacks on military targets attributed to ISIS or its adherents, with hundreds more killed by terror groups affiliating with ISIS, like Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al-Shabaab in Somalia.
The end of Ramadan saw a suicide bomber detonating himself near the Saudi security office of the Prophet's Mosque in Medina, one of the holiest sites in Islam, after suicide bombers blew themselves up near a Shiite mosque in Qatif as well as near a U.S. consulate and a mosque in Jeddah. Analysts say the attacks represent a challenge by ISIS to Saudi Arabia's authority as guardian of Islam's holy cities of Mecca and Medina. There have been a number of ISIS attacks in the country in the last year.
Saudi authorities identified the Jeddah attacker as a Pakistani national who had been living in Saudi Arabia for 12 years. Pakistan said it would investigate the claim. A Saudi security spokesperson said the attackers intentions were "still unclear" since there was a mosque, local security forces, and a U.S. consulate in the vicinity of the bomber, whose vest only partially detonated.
Four security officers were killed in the attacks across Saudi Arabia. There were no claims of responsibility but authorities say the attacks bore the "hallmarks" of ISIS.
Mon, 13 Jun 2016 20:35:00 -0400Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump says that in the wake of the Orlando shooting, America "cannot afford to talk around the issue" of radical Islamist terrorism, re-iterating his call for a "temporary ban" on Muslim immigration, which he first proposed in December, and saying political correctness over the issue was crippling the country. "I called for a ban after San Bernardino, and was met with great scorn and anger but now, many are saying I was right to do so, and although the pause is temporary, we must find out what is going on," Trump said in a speech in New Hampshire, according to his prepared remarks. "The ban will be lifted when we as a nation are in a position to properly and perfectly screen those people coming into our country." While his official campaign website does not list the ban under any of his policy pages yet, and Trump has previously insisted the ban was "just a suggestion," today he appeared to lay out a proposal. He said that if elected he would "suspend immigration from areas of the world when there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies until we understand how to end these threats," pointing to U.S. immigration law, which grants the president that power. Trump said he wanted a "full, impartial" security assessment of the immigration process, after which, he said, his putative administration would "develop a responsible immigration policy that serves the interests and values of America." "With fifty people dead, and dozens more wounded, we cannot afford to talk around the issue anymore," Trump said. "We have to address it head on." Trump noted that while the Orlando shooter was a U.S.-born citizen, his family emigrated from Afghanistan to the U.S. (in the 1980s). "The bottom line is that the only reason the killer was in America in the first place was because we allowed his family to come here," Trump said. "That is a fact, and it's a fact we need to talk about." Trump said radical Islamist terrorism wasn't "just a national security issue" but also a "quality of life issue." "If we want to protect the quality of life for all Americans—women and children, gay and straight, Jews and Christians and all people—then we need to tell the truth about Radical Islam," Trump said, saying "Radical Islam" was also "coming to our shores." The FBI has not uncovered direct contacts between the Orlando shooter and operatives of the Islamic State (ISIS) abroad. Trump noted previous terrorist attacks, pointing out that the 9/11 hijackers came in on visas and, wrongly, claiming the Boston marathon bombers came in through political asylum. Instead the family came in on a tourist visa, which has less stringent requirements, and then applied for political asylum once here. He also mentioned the status of the San Bernardino shooter as the child of Pakistani immigrants, and that his wife, who also participated in the attack, came from Saudi Arabia on a visa. He noted a Pew Research poll that found 99 percent of Afghans support sharia law, or law based on the Koran, as the official law of their country. "We admit many more from other countries in the region who share these same oppressive views," he insisted. "If we want to remain a free and open society, then we have to control our borders." Trump then took credit for Hillary Clinton using the term "radical Islamism." Clinton said in an interview she would use the term instead of "radical jihad," which she said was the same. "Trump, as usual, is obsessed with name calling," she said. Trump characterized Clinton's "solution" to terrorism as banning guns. "They tried that in France, which has among the toughest gun laws in the world, and 130 were brutally murdered by Islamic terrorists in cold blood," he pointed out. "Her plan is to disarm law-abiding Americans, abolishing the 2nd amendment, and leaving only the bad guys and te[...]
Thu, 02 Jun 2016 15:56:00 -0400Uber just received an investment of $3.5 billion from Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund. A bunch of headlines have cropped up claiming this is bad news for women—an understandable, but utterly backward analysis. At Forbes, Contributor Rebecca Lindland writes: My very first thought upon hearing the news was, "This is just another reason/excuse/barrier to not let women drive." But she immediately undercuts her own argument: Not that the Kingdom needs another reason or excuse—it's an absolute monarchy after all. And she's right. Tyrants gonna tyrannize. The debate over whether Saudi women should be be allowed to obtain drivers licenses is utterly medieval and sophistical. It has almost no contact with the reality of protecting women's safety, promoting female virtue, or anything else that is actually happening in 2016. There's a tweet going around that suggests Austin (which recently banned Uber) is now "reactionary" and Saudi Arabia is "progressive." The Austin Uber ban is backward, but there's no universe in which Saudi Arabia is less reactionary than the hipster home of Texas weirdness. What's more: Uber is already operating in the Kingdom—80 percent of its current customers there are female, for obvious reasons—and there's no cause to think that this investment will do much to change that fact. (The money does come with a seat on Uber's board for Yasir Al Rumayyan, managing director of the fund and a Saudi bigwig, which muddies the water slightly. But that fact is likely to have little impact on the broader debate about letting women get behind the wheel.) More Saudi money to Uber isn't the same thing as more Ubers in Saudi. The Uber money is just another investment by an entity that already has holdings in many, many American companies, not to mention U.S. treasuries. And Uber CEO Travis Kalanick—not famous for his diplomatic skills—is rather spectacularly unsuited to move the needle on the debate about women's right to travel in the famously closed country. Instead, he can do what entrepreneurs do best when faced with a big stupid chunk of deadweight loss created by government intransigence: he can try to find a way to meet pent-up demand that the jerks in power didn't have the imagination to ban in advance. While some people were hollering about privatizing the post office, communication got freer and cheaper thanks to phone, fax, FedEx, email, and SMS. The same thing is happening in a more modest way with Uber in U.S. cities, where inefficient and occasionally discriminatory taxi cartels are falling apart thanks to competitive pressure. Those innovations didn't happen entirely outside of the sphere of government influence, but for the most part the technology simply outpaced the rulemakers, to the benefit of nearly everyone. It would be better if women were legally allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. Obviously. Obviously! Obviously. Sheesh. (Also, I'm still waiting for UberXX here in the U.S.) But if Kalanick (and Saudi state investors) think they can make money by providing more, better, cheaper ways for humans to move about more freely in any country, but especially in a country where it's quite difficult for women to travel, that's a net gain. Period. Asking Uber to reject the investment is a classic example of making the perfect the enemy of the good. Poor women will still be worse off than rich women. Women will still be worse off than men. Assaults, harassment, and rudeness will still occur inside and outside the confines of automobiles, public and private. But a well-funded fast-growing Uber will lessen those problems globally (and in Saudi Arabia), not exacerbate them. [...]
Wed, 18 May 2016 13:41:00 -0400
By a unanimous voice vote yesterday, the Senate passed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) which would remove the immunity enjoyed by foreign governments from lawsuits filed by the families of victims of terrorism on U.S. soil.
President Obama has promised to veto the bill — which will be taken up by the House at some point — though the overwhelming support in the Senate may indicate the president's veto could be overridden. The Saudi government has threatened to dump $750 billion in U.S. assets if the bill becomes law, and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir said earlier this month that removing foreign immunities "would turn the world for international law into the law of the jungle."
There is something to be said for this. Laws that apply to international relations are generally recipricoal — think the Visa Waiver program which we've covered extensively at Reason — and if the Saudis can be sued over mid-level operatives in their government allegedly supporting the 9/11 hijackers, what's to stop the victims of errant U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan or Yemen or anywhere from suing officials in the U.S. government?
In a New York Times op-ed last month, law professors Curtis Bradley and Jack Goldsmith speculated that JASTA could even make the U.S. liable for the actions of other governments:
It is easy to imagine the United States being sued abroad as a result of the military and other foreign aid it gives to many nations. A great deal of behavior traceable to American financial and material support — for example, aid to Israel that is said to result in displacements or killings in the West Bank, or to United States-backed rebels who are accused of attacking civilians in Syria — might result in a lawsuit abroad for aiding and abetting terrorism.
The debate over JASTA comes at a time when U.S.-Saudi relations are further complicated by increasingly prominent calls for the highly classified "28 pages" of a joint congressional inquiry into 9/11, which many current and former congresspeople claim implicates a number of Saudi government officials, to be made public.
Thu, 12 May 2016 12:31:00 -0400John Lehman, a former Reagan administration Secretary of the Navy and one of five Republican commissioners on the 11-member 9/11 Commission, has broken ranks by plainly asserting his belief that a number of Saudi government officials helped provide a support system for the 19 hijackers. Lehman told The Guardian that the secret "28 pages" of a joint congressional inquiry into 9/11 contain "an awful lot of participation by Saudi individuals in supporting the hijackers, and some of those people worked in the Saudi government." He added that the commission's chairman, former Gov. Tom Kean (R-N.J.), and vice-chairman, former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), had engaged in a "game of semantics" when they recently asserted that only one Saudi government worker had been "implicated" in the attacks. In Lehman's view, "There was an awful lot of circumstantial evidence" and he regretted that many, including the Saudi government, read the commission's final report as "an exoneration of Saudi Arabia." Senior Saudi government officials and the royal family were not implicated in the attacks, according to Lehman, but he said "at least five" Saudi officials were "strongly suspected" of supporting the 9/11 terrorists. One 9/11 commissioner who requested anonymity told The Guardian of heated arguments among commissioners and staffers over how the intelligence pertaining to any Saudi connection with the attacks appeared in the final report: In fact, there were repeated showdowns, especially over the Saudis, between the staff and the commission’s hard-charging executive director, University of Virginia historian Philip Zelikow, who joined the Bush administration as a senior adviser to secretary of state Condoleezza Rice after leaving the commission. The staff included experienced investigators from the FBI, the Department of Justice and the CIA, as well as the congressional staffer who was the principal author of the 28 pages. Zelikow fired a staffer, who had repeatedly protested over limitations on the Saudi investigation, after she obtained a copy of the 28 pages outside of official channels. Other staffers described an angry scene late one night, near the end of the investigation, when two investigators who focused on the Saudi allegations were forced to rush back to the commission’s offices after midnight after learning to their astonishment that some of the most compelling evidence about a Saudi tie to 9/11 was being edited out of the report or was being pushed to tiny, barely readable footnotes and endnotes. The staff protests were mostly overruled. Unsurprisingly, Zelikow remains staunchly opposed to releasing the "28 pages" now, having recently told NBC News that the classified pages "provide no further evidence" not already in the public domain and that their declassification would "only make the red herring grow redder." Former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fl.), who was part of the congressional inquiry which produced the "28 pages" and who has long advocated for their release, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed yesterday that the "the American people [have] all the authority and capability needed to review the 28 pages and determine the truth." There are increasing bipartisan efforts in Congress to "require declassification" of the pages within 60 days. President Obama has been non-committal about whether or not he would order the release of the pages, and he has threatened to veto a proposed bill which would strip foreign officials of immunity from lawsuits related to terrorism. According to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, President Obama hasn't even read the "28 pages." [...]
Mon, 02 May 2016 12:06:00 -0400To commemorate the fifth anniversary of former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's assassination, the CIA went on a public relations-offensive, including a sustained retroactive live-tweet session of the events which led to Navy SEAL Team Six taking out the world's most wanted terrorist, and handing the Obama administration its most prominent foreign policy victory. 3:30 pm EDT - @POTUS watches situation on ground in Abbottabad live in Situation Room#UBLRaid pic.twitter.com/59KPF7eUTr — CIA (@CIA) May 1, 2016 Ever since the CIA took its brand to the 140 characters-or-less social medium known for its acidic snark and self-promotion, it has tried to fit in with the cool Twitter kids by making jokes about Tupac Shakur conspiracy theories or cat pictures. But the decision to live-tweet the #UBLRaid, using only the sparest of details to further entrench the legend of Top Men and Women in Washington, DC making big decisions carried out by strong and fearless warriors on a creepy compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, struck many as a tone-deaf and unprofessional use of the platform. The football-spiking over killing bin Laden also appeared like a Zero Dark Thirty-eqsue attempt to distract from the fact that bin Laden's death did essentially nothing to win the "War on Terror," which rages well into its second decade as al-Qaeda's rival and progeny ISIS controls significant portions of several countries. These include Iraq, a country we "liberated" as a direct consequence of 9/11 and which we continue to send troops to despite the war being "over," and Libya, which we "helped" to liberate in 2011 and has since descended into a failed state that is flypaper for jihadists. It's always worth noting that the US intervention in Libya has been variously described as "smart power" by Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the "worst mistake" of his presidency by President Obama. The CIA may also not be appreciating the fact that 9/11's re-emergence into the news cycle — via the recent attention given to the "28 pages" of a congressional inquiry which several sitting and former congresspeople claim contains evidence that the 9/11 hijackers received significant support from officials in the Saudi government— draws attention to the agency's many intelligence failures leading up to the atrocities which killed over 2,800 people. On Meet the Press yesterday, CIA Director John Brennan told host Chuck Todd that he was "puzzled" by people like Fmr. Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fl.)'s characterization of the "28 pages." Brennan added that the pages contain both accurate and inaccurate information, much of it uncorroborated, and some deemed too "sensitive" by the 9/11 Commission to include in its official report. Brennan also said he was "worried" that the release of the pages could damage the US' "very strong relationship" with Saudi Arabia. At the start of the interview, Brennan recalled standing outside the White House on the night of bin Laden's killing in 2011, and hearing not only chants of "USA! USA!" but "CIA! CIA!", a claim which Todd left unchallenged.[...]
Fri, 22 Apr 2016 12:00:00 -0400It began, as these things usually do, with a carrot. After President Obama assailed Saudi Arabia for being a "free rider" in an interview with The Atlantic, Prince Turki al Faisal published a rejoinder at Arab News where he trumpeted Saudi-American cooperation. The message was clear: Lay off the criticism and we'll stand by you. The stick came a month later. Stung by the introduction of a bill in Congress that would open their government to lawsuits from 9/11 victims, the Saudis threatened to divest in $750 billion of U.S. government assets. You expose us and we'll damage your economy. It was a superfluous move—Obama has already vowed to fight the legislation—and, for the typically reserved Saudis, an unusually brusque one. You might even call it geopolitical blackmail, which several of the 9/11 families did. The Saudi-American friendship has hit a breaking point. That's partially because of the nuclear deal with Iran, which Saudi Arabia views with suspicion. But it's also because American policymakers are waking up to an uncomfortable reality: the conflict with terrorist groups like al Qaeda is, in many ways, a conflict with a network of terror enablers deep inside Saudi Arabia. The Saudi state was born from a synthesis between the ruling House of Saud and fearsome Wahhabi warriors. The resulting government was predicated on Wahhabism, a puritanical form of Islam with a Spartan interpretation of Sharia that became codified in Saudi law. After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the Saudis brandished Wahhabism as a weapon to counter Iran's newly mobilized Shiite fundamentalism. Better to export their extremism to other countries than lose control of it at home. The Saudis claim they're fighting terrorism, and to an extent they are, executing al Qaeda militants within their borders and sharing intelligence with the United States. But at best, that's like Dr. Frankenstein in bleak pursuit of his monster after it's already gone on a rampage. For decades, Saudi donors fomented Sunni extremism in places like Pakistan, where hundreds of Shias have died in attacks, and Afghanistan, where funding went to Deobandi seminaries that would later influence the Taliban. There's a reason some Shias and other Muslim world minorities use the terms "Wahhabi" and "Sunni extremist" interchangeably. From their perspective, all IED-infested roads lead to Riyadh. For America, the problem finally exploded on September 11, 2001, when the Twin Towers and Pentagon were attacked by a group of Islamic radicals, more than three quarters of whom were Saudi. The United States collaborated with Iran to defeat the Wahhabi-influenced Taliban in Afghanistan, and the subsequent 9/11 commission report was released with 28 blacked-out pages that its principal author now claims contain information about a major Saudi role. It seemed like the perfect time to confront Saudi Arabia and work to stem one of the world's worst terrorism generators. Instead, we overthrew Saddam Hussein, who had only the most tenuous connection to al Qaeda, and ripped open a vacuum that would ultimately give birth to the Islamic State. Many of the Sunni extremists who poured across Iraq's borders were, of course, from Saudi Arabia, as well as other Arab powers like Jordan. Of the top five countries currently providing ISIS with recruits, three—Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Turkey—are American allies. Even in Yemen, where the Saudis claim to be fighting terrorism by leading an alliance of mostly Sunni countries against the Houthi rebels, there's something bigger afoot. Why did the Houthis rebel in the first place? In part, because Wahhabis from Saudi Arabia invaded Yemen during its 1994 civil war to aid the government, and since then have been blamed for discriminat[...]
Thu, 21 Apr 2016 09:20:00 -0400
The Fifth Column, your very favorite new podcast that features Kmele Foster, Michael C. Moynihan and myself, has just dropped Episode Four, featuring the special baritone and New York/Mideast knowledge of beloved Reasoner Anthony L. Fisher. Listen right here:
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Among the many personalities and institutions that get insulted: The New York Daily News, the House of Saud, Stuart Varney, the NPR/Nation gentrification podcast, the entire Northeast, people who wear "I Voted!" stickers, the United Nations, journalistic hoax-spreaders, and many many more. Over at the podcast website there are now buttons you can push to listen to the thing on iTunes, Stitcher, and Google Play, and especially to subscribe!
Tue, 19 Apr 2016 10:17:00 -0400This past Sunday, 60 Minutes ran a report on 28 highly classified pages of a 838-page bipartisan joint congressional inquiry into intelligence failures surrounding the terror attacks of 9/11/01. The piece's primary interview subject, Fmr. Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fl.), was a co-chair of that inquiry and he repeated his long-held assertion that the pages — which are kept under lock and key in the Capitol — contain evidence that the Saudi Arabian government provided significant support to the 19 hijackers of four jet airliners who killed more than 2,800 people that fateful day in 2001. Graham told 60 Minutes, "I remain deeply disturbed by the amount of material that has been censored from this report," and added: I think it is implausible to believe that 19 people — most of whom didn't speak English, most of whom had never been in the United States before, many of whom didn't have a high school education — could've carried out such a complicated task without some support from within the United States. Lawmakers from both parties, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have introduced legislation that would require the declassification of the 28 pages, and Congress is considering a bill that would allow terror victims' families to sue the Saudi government for "contribut(ing) material support or resources" to "acts of terrorism." The bill essentially removes the immunity currently enjoyed by officials of foreign governments from being held liable in US courts. The Saudi government has threatened to divest itself of up to $750 billion in American assets if the bill passes, and the Obama administration is currently lobbying Congress to not pass the bill, citing economic and diplomatic concerns as well as potential reciprocity against US officials and citizens. President Obama is scheduled to make a state visit to Riyadh this Wednesday. The New York Times writes of the trip: Policy makers across the kingdom have long said that they feel Mr. Obama does not share the country’s regional interests. And after he criticized the Saudis as “free riders” last month, those suspicions have hardened into fears that he may be actively undermining them. Mr. Obama may try to use his visit to mend relations, but it remains unclear how badly the ties that have long bound the United States and the Saudi monarchy have weakened, and whether the damage can be repaired. The "special relationship" between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia has always been complicated and fraught with unintended consequences. The kingdom allowed the U.S.-led coalition to station troops and bases on its soil during the 1990-91 Gulf War, which was cited by Osama bin Laden as one of his primary grievances against both countries and a motivating factor in the attacks of 9/11. It is not insignificant that 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudis. The militant strain of Sunni Islam which ISIS imposes on its beleaguered subjects, Wahabbism, has no greater benefactor than the House of Saud, which finances the maddrassas teaching medieval theology and guerilla warfare to young boys throughout the Middle East and South Asia. Kevin Drum of Mother Jones wrote this past January that by executing a Shiite sheikh in a deliberate provocation to their regional adversary, Iran, the Saudis "hoped that it might scuttle the Syrian peace talks, maybe the Iranian nuclear deal too, and at the very least, create some chaos that they could take advantage of." Drum adds: Ladies and gentlemen, this is our great and good ally. They flog apostates. They export Sunni extremism. They treat women as chattel. They flog and imprison gays. They import slave labor from ab[...]