Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Vast Power of the Saudi Lobby

John R. MacArthur, Harper’s Magazine, April 17, 2007, (Originally from The Providence Journal, April 16, 2007) Given my dissident politics, I should be up in arms about the Israel lobby. Not only have I supported the civil rights of the Palestinians over the years, but two of my principal intellectual mentors were George W. Ball and Edward Said, both severe critics of Israel and its extra-special relationship with the United States.

Nowadays I ought to be even bolder in my critique, since the silent agreement suppressing candid discussions about Israeli-U.S. relations has recently been shaken by some decidedly mainstream figures. These critics of Israel and its American agents include John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, of the University of Chicago, and Harvard’s Kennedy School, respectively; Tony Judt, a historian at New York University; and former President Jimmy Carter.

Somehow, though, I can’t shake the idea that the Israel lobby, no matter how powerful, isn’t all it is cracked up to be, particularly where it concerns the Bush administrations past and present. Indeed, when I think of pernicious foreign lobbies with disproportionate sway over American politics, I can’t see past Saudi Arabia and its royal house, led by King Abdullah.

The long and corrupt history of American-Saudi relations centers around the kingdom’s vast reserves of easily extractable oil, of course. Ever since President Franklin D. Roosevelt met aboard ship in 1945 with King Ibn Saud, the special relationship with the desert kingdom has only grown stronger. The House of Saud is usually happy to sell us oil at a consistent and reasonable price and then increase production if unseemly market forces drive the world price of a barrel too high for U.S. consumers.

In exchange we arm the Saudis to the teeth and turn a blind eye to their medieval approach to crime and punishment.

Even during the Saudi-led oil embargo of 1973-74, an exceedingly hostile action against the United States supposedly justified by Washington’s support of Israel in the Yom Kippur War, the Nixon administration treaded very softly. Despite the illegality of the embargo it arguably violated international law as well as a bilateral commercial agreement between the United States and Saudi Arabia the White House and the State Department could hardly have been more diplomatic toward their Bedouin friends.

As the historian J.B. Kelly recounts, the U.S. ambassador to Riyahd, James Akins, did his best to placate King Faisal by urging the Saudi’s American-owned oil concessionaire ARAMCO to, in Akin’s words, “hammer home” to the White House that the embargo wouldn’t be lifted unless “the political struggle [between Israel and the Arabs] is settled in [a] manner satisfactory to [the] Arabs.”

In all, as Kelly wrote, “a most peculiar recourse for an ambassador to employ to influence the policy of his own government.”

But this was a blip on the screen of harmonious petrol politics. After Iran’s Islamic revolution overthrew the trusted shah, in 1979, the thoroughly anti-democratic Saudi oligarchy appeared an island of stability and thus of greater strategic value to Washington. Indeed, in a head-to-head match-up with the Israel lobby in 1981 over the proposed American sale of AWACS planes to the Saudis, the Saudi lobby won a close vote in the Senate. Leading the Arab charge on Capitol Hill was the debonair Prince Bandar, who demonstrated that charm mixed with a lot of money could beat the Israelis, even during the pro-Israel administration of Ronald Reagan.

“He oiled his way across the floor, oozing charm from every pore.”

Bandar was quickly promoted to Saudi ambassador to Washington, where, in 1990, he was assigned the task by Defense Secretary Dick Cheney of, in effect, doling out press passes to the U.S. media before the Gulf War this in spite of the fact that tens of thousands of U.S. troops were swarming into the kingdom to defend it against a perceived invasion threat from Saddam Hussein. When he wasn’t entertaining congressmen and spreading good cheer through his highly paid lobbyist, Fred Dutton, Bandar was busy making friends with, at first vice president, and then president, George H.W. Bush, and by extension with Bush’s son, the future president. This personal relationship with the Bush family has served Bandar and his family very well, as documented in Craig Unger’s book, House of Bush, House of Saud.

But the prince and his royal relatives evidently also impressed the Clinton administration. Before he died in the World Trade Center on 9/11, the former FBI counterterrorism chief John O’Neill complained to French investigator Jean-Charles Brisard that Saudi pressure on the State Department had prevented him from fully investigating possible al-Qaida involvement in the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996, which killed 19 U.S. servicemen, and of the destroyer Cole in 2000.

As with Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf, there’s always talk of the Saudis playing a double game with al-Qaida publicly denouncing it and privately paying it off but you don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to understand that the Saudis don’t have America’s best interests at heart.

So it gets worse. Now, according to Seymour Hersh, Bandar has virtually joined the Bush administration as a shadow cabinet member. Hersh’s New Yorker article last month described “the redirection” of U.S. foreign policy against Iran and Arab Shi’ite terrorists in collaboration with such Sunni-dominated countries as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt (this in spite of the fact that Sunni rebels, funded in part by Saudi “private citizens,” have killed the bulk of American soldiers who have died in Iraq).

The wise men in this new policy council reportedly include Vice President Cheney, deputy national security adviser Elliot Abrams (an Iran-Contra convict who is very pro-Israel), the nominee for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, and none other than Bandar, now the Saudi national-security adviser. Such is the cynicism of Bushian, Israeli and Saudi foreign policy that Abrams collaborates with Bandar, whose country does not recognize Israel and whose “charities” give money to the families of suicide bombers who blow themselves up inside the Jewish state.

Lately, King Abdullah has been making anti-American noises, calling the U.S. presence in Iraq an “illegitimate foreign occupation.” But like the Saudis’ paper-thin devotion to the Palestinian cause, this is just so much realpolitik. In March 1974, the oil embargo was lifted without any conditions concerning Palestinian rights. Today, as the Shi’ism scholar Amal Saad-Ghorayeb told Mohamad Bazzi, of Newsday, “the Saudis are being more autonomous, but it’s a very contrived sense of autonomy” designed “to give [them] more political cover so they can rally Arab support against [Shi’ite] Iran.”

If you’re naive enough to believe that the Saudi king’s rhetoric signifies a genuine break with the United States over Iraq, or anything else, then you might also believe that the Israel lobby is more powerful than the Saudi lobby. And if you think that Israeli security means more to George Bush than Saudi oil, then you might even believe that Bush saw 9/11 coming.

See also, Fitzgerald: Stop the Saudi Lobby

The Prince,
by Elsa Walsh, The New Yorker

[..] Ariel Sharon was elected in February of 2001, and, according to a Saudi source, Arafat later said that Sharon had sent his son to say that Barak’s deal was off the table; Sharon, however, could envision a process whereby the Palestinians might end up with forty-five per cent of the occupied territories, but not Jerusalem. Isn’t that a great starting point? Arafat reportedly said. Bandar, when he heard that, was incredulous.

Yet he continued to press Bush and Powell to do something, even if they didn’t trust Arafat. The issue was bigger than one man; it was roiling the Arab world. Bandar told Bush and Powell that in America he saw perhaps two minutes a day of network news about the region, “but when I go there I see five, six hours a day of it.”

It did not help Bush in the Arab world that he seemed to place all the blame on Arafat. In May, Crown Prince Abdullah publicly declined an invitation to the White House. “We want them to look at the reality and to consider their conscience,” he said to a reporter for the Financial Times. “Don’t they see what is happening to Palestinian children, women, the elderly-the humiliation, the hunger?”

Bandar attributed some of the problems to a lack of knowledge by Condoleezza Rice, who was, after all, a Russian expert. Powell, he believed, was on his side, as was Tenet. He also believed that Vice-President Cheney, who, as the Secretary of Defense, had dealt extensively with the Saudis during the Persian Gulf War, would be a big help. But, as the months passed, Bandar and his aides kept hearing that Cheney and some senior Pentagon officials were saying that the Saudis were not seriously upset at the Administration’s lack of involvement.

In August, the Crown Prince saw on television an Israeli soldier pushing an elderly Palestinian woman. When she fell, she grabbed the soldier’s leg and he stepped on her. The Crown Prince, in a rage, called Bandar. “This is it. Those bastards!” he yelled, according to an account that Bandar has given associates. “Even women-they’re stepping all over them.” He ordered Bandar, who was in Aspen, to return to Washington and to deliver a message: Starting today, you go your way and we will go our way. From then on, the Saudis would look out for their own national interests. The high-ranking Saudi military delegation that had just arrived in Washington for meetings at the Pentagon was ordered to return home immediately.

The message represented a fundamental shift in Saudi policy, and Bandar left for Washington deeply worried. On August 27th, he met with Rice at her White House office. “This is the hardest message I’ve had to deliver between our two countries since I started working in this country, in 1983,” Bandar began, according to official Saudi notes that were later confirmed by an Administration source. For the next several minutes, Bandar summarized relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia. “We were your friend when it was not fashionable to be your friend. We stood in the fifties and sixties with you in the region when nobody was.” He continued, “The biggest challenge, of course, to the two of us was Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.” The Crown Prince, he said, was deeply disturbed by the “continued Israeli actions, horrible actions, as if Jewish blood is not equal to Palestinian”-in particular, the practice of punishing the families of people suspected of committing terrorist acts. “We wonder how the American people would have accepted the President of the United States ordering all the McVeigh family houses to be destroyed or burning their farms,” he said, referring to the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.It seemed as if the United States had made a strategic decision to adopt Sharon’s policy as American policy. “In light of all that, the Crown Prince feels that he cannot continue dealing with the United States,” Bandar told Rice. “We feel that since you have taken such a decision, then we also are obliged to take our own decision.”

Rice told Bandar that she was shocked by the message and would take it immediately to the President. But she wanted Bandar to understand that the United States had not adopted a new strategic policy for the region.

Within thirty-six hours, Bandar was on his way to Riyadh with a conciliatory response from Bush. Nothing should ever break the relations between their two countries, Bush wrote to the Crown Prince in a two-page letter dated August 29th. “I am troubled and feel deeply the suffering of ordinary Palestinians in their day to day life and I want such tragedies and sufferings to end,” Bush wrote. “I firmly believe that the Palestinian people have a right to self-determination and to live peacefully and securely in their own state in their own homeland.” Not even Clinton had publicly supported a Palestinian state.

On September 7th, Bandar returned to Washington with a letter from Abdullah to Bush, and a meeting was hurriedly arranged in the family quarters at the White House. Bush was there, as were Cheney, Rice, and Powell. As Bandar was walking in, Powell cornered him.

“What the fuck are you doing?” witnesses recall Powell asking. “You’re putting the fear of God in everybody’s hearts here. We’ve all come rushing here to hear this revelation that you bring from Saudi Arabia. You scared the shit out of everybody.” Bandar replied, “I don’t give a damn what you feel. We are scared ourselves.”

And they would have us believe that the Israel lobby is all powerful. Its all part of the con.

The Arab Lobby Can’t Buy Support of Americans
By: Joseph Puder, The Bulletin, 09/17/2007

[..] What was strikingly absent from this seemingly “polite and cultured debate” was any mention of the Arab lobby in the U.S. While the pro-Israel lobby is transparent and open, the pro-Arab lobbyists are hidden and operate via proxies in the U.S., including some of the most prestigious firms in Washington staffed by former U.S. officials, oil company executives (from the seven sisters that made up ARAMCO) and other multi-national corporations (including Bechtel).

The Arab lobby consists of two types: domestic organizations, including the National Association of Arab Americans, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Middle East Research and Information Project, the Middle East Affairs Council, the American Palestine Committee, the Arab American Institute and Americans for Near East Refugee Aid, to name a few.

The second Arab lobby type is foreign - Arab governments hiring American lobbyists. Billy Carter, brother of ex-president Jimmy Carter, was a paid foreign lobbyist for Libya. Former U.S. Sen. William Fulbright, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was a paid lobbyist for Saudi Arabia.

Fred Dutton, known as “Dutton of Arabia,” became the chief U.S. attorney for Saudi Arabia. A former special assistant to President John F. Kennedy and chief of staff to California Gov. Pat Brown, Dutton became a major lobbyist for the Saudis. During the debate on the sale of the AWAC spy-planes to Saudi Arabia, Dutton coined the catchphrase “Reagan v. Begin,” hoping to raise doubts as to the patriotism of American Jews.

Other prominent American figures who became lobbyists for the Arabs included Clark Clifford, President Johnson’s defense secretary; Richard Kleindienst, President Nixon’s attorney general; and William Rogers, Nixon’s secretary of state.

Another group includes ex-diplomats who used the “revolving door” and became Arab lobbyists after serving in Arab states: L. Dean Brown, ambassador to Jordan; Herman Eilts, ambassador to Syria and Egypt; and Parker T. Hart, ambassador to Saudi Arabia are among them.

A third group of Arab lobbyists are the oil companies. In 1973, King Faisal of Saudi Arabia demanded that ARAMCO Chairman Frank Jungers “create a sympathetic attitude in the U.S. towards the Arabs.” Money, of course would not be a problem. In June of that year, Mobil Oil ran a series of full-page, pro-Arab advertisements in the New York Times.

In July 1973, Standard Oil of California sent a letter to its 40,000 employees and 262,000 stockholders asking that they send letters “in support of the aspirations of the Arab people” to their legislators in Washington. In October of that same year, an ARAMCO memorandum opposing military aid to Israel was sent to the White House (while Israel was fighting a surprise attack coordinated by the Egyptians and Syrians on Yom Kippur, the most solemn day on the Jewish calendar). Texaco also called for a “reassessment of U.S. policy in the Middle East.”

The oil-rich Arab states have also purchased academic chairs at the some of the most prestigious American universities, establishing a virtual stranglehold on Middle East studies on American campuses, as detailed by Prof. Walid Phares in his book, Future Jihad.

Beginning in 1975, when President Ford hosted 12 top officials of the National Association of Arab Americans (NAAA) at the White House, American presidents have met with and regularly hosted Arab-American pressure groups. The Arab domestic lobby has grown in strength by copying the way AIPAC works. In fact, representatives of Arab organizations regularly attend AIPAC conferences in order to learn its operational methods.

In the final analysis, AIPAC’s success is founded on the good sense and good will of the American people and their elected representatives. Americans support Israel because it shares our values, and Americans admire the Jewish state for maintaining its democracy in the midst of a sea of hostile Arab dictatorships and Palestinian-Arab terrorism.

Former Secretary of State George Shultz concluded:

“The U.S. supports Israel not because of favoritism based on political pressure or influence but because the American people, and their leaders, say that supporting Israel is politically sound and morally just. … So, on every level, those who blame Israel and its Jewish supporters for U.S. policies they do not support are wrong. They are wrong because, to begin with, support for Israel is in our best interests. They are also wrong because Israel and its supporters have the right to try to influence U.S. policy. And they are wrong because the U.S. government is responsible for the policies it adopts, not any other state or any of the myriad lobbies and groups that battle daily - sometimes with lies - to win American support.”
Andrew Killgore’s propaganda mouthpiece and the pro-Arab lobby, with their unlimited resources, must face the uncomfortable reality that, in America, the Arab dictators and the Arab-American groups that work with them can try to lie their way into this open society, but they cannot buy the hearts, minds and souls of the majority of fair-minded Americans.

Israel Lobby’s Pull Pales Next to Evil Saudi Input
by Youssef Ibrahim, New York Sun, September 25, 2007


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