Worried About Russian Foreign Interference? Take a Look Into Saudi Arabia.

For decades, the D.C. establishment has been on the payroll of a foreign terror state. But because it’s Saudi Arabia, you won’t hear a peep.

Branko Marcetic December 4, 2017

Since taking office, President Trump has changed his tune on Saudi Arabia, bigly. (Bandar Algaloud / Saudi Royal Council / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Imag­ine if Rus­sia — instead of doing what it has been accused of doing last year — had fund­ed and facil­i­tat­ed an attack on US soil that killed thou­sands of Amer­i­cans. Then imag­ine that US pol­i­cy­mak­ers, rather than pun­ish the Krem­lin by cut­ting diplo­mat­ic ties, impos­ing sanc­tions, seek­ing legal recourse, or all of the above, cov­ered up its involve­ment in the attack and con­tin­ued to treat it as a loy­al ally.

Over three decades, Saudi Arabia has successfully ingratiated itself at the highest levels of power in the United States.

Imag­ine if the pres­i­dent who presided over that attack had decades of inti­mate per­son­al and finan­cial ties to mem­bers of the Russ­ian elite and sub­se­quent­ly spir­it­ed dozens of Russ­ian nation­als out of the coun­try before law enforce­ment could inter­ro­gate them.

Imag­ine if, despite full knowl­edge of the Kremlin’s once and ongo­ing anti-Amer­i­can activ­i­ties, suc­ces­sive pres­i­dents heaped praise on Russia’s author­i­tar­i­an gov­ern­ment, sold it weapons, and made reg­u­lar pil­grim­ages to wine and dine with its leaders.

Imag­ine if an army of Russ­ian lob­by­ists oper­at­ed on Capi­tol Hill to ensure Washington’s pro-Krem­lin line, even­tu­al­ly pres­sur­ing Amer­i­can lead­er­ship into active­ly assist­ing it in car­ry­ing out one of this decade’s worst war crimes.

Imag­ine if, at the end of all this, Don­ald Trump ran for pres­i­dent on an explic­it­ly anti-Rus­sia line, only to shame­less­ly reverse him­self once elect­ed, embrace the Russ­ian lead­er­ship, and pur­sue poli­cies that ben­e­fit­ed them even more enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly than his pre­de­ces­sors had.

It’s a pret­ty scary thought.

Thank­ful­ly, in the real world, none of this applies to Rus­sia. It does, how­ev­er, per­fect­ly describe Sau­di Arabia.

A 911 Scale Event”

Politi­cians and pun­dits have clam­ored to label the alleged Russ­ian inter­fer­ence an act of war.” Sev­er­al have com­pared it to Pearl Har­bor, and Tom Fried­man declared it a 9÷11 scale event.”

Even more of a 911 scale event was the actu­al 911. Fifteen of the nine­teen hijack­ers were Sau­di nation­als, and the attack was planned by a scion of one of the country’s wealth­i­est and polit­i­cal­ly con­nect­edfam­i­lies. The hijack­ers, we now know thanks to the release of twen­ty-eight pre­vi­ous­ly clas­si­fied pages from the 911 commission’s report, had ties to mem­bers of the Sau­di gov­ern­ment, includ­ing the Sau­di ambas­sador to the Unit­ed States, who also belongs to the country’s roy­al family.

More recent­ly, new­ly unearthed FBI files describe a 1999 dry-run” for 911 car­ried out by Sau­di gov­ern­ment agents with tick­ets bought by the Sau­di embassy.

But even with­out the 2016 release of those twen­ty-eight pages, Sau­di involve­ment in anti-US ter­ror­ism has long been an open secret. John Lehman, Reagan’s navy sec­re­tary and one of the mem­bers of the 911 com­mis­sion, went on record, say­ing that it was well known in intel­li­gence cir­cles that the Islam­ic affairs office func­tioned as the Saud­is’ fifth col­umn’ in sup­port of Mus­lim extrem­ists.” Fur­ther, intel­li­gence ser­vices sus­pect var­i­ous Sau­di char­i­ties of fund­ing extrem­ists, includ­ing the Al Hara­main Islam­ic Foun­da­tion, a now-defunct, state-fund­ed Sau­di char­i­ty that export­ed a con­ser­v­a­tive, fun­da­men­tal­ist form of Islam and was known to sup­port terrorists.

Leaked state depart­ment cables doc­u­ment Hillary Clinton’s con­cernsabout the Sau­di government’s reluc­tance to crack down on wealthy patrons of ter­ror­ism. Zacarias Mous­saoui, a for­mer al-Qae­da mem­ber, has tes­ti­fied that Sau­di roy­als made large dona­tions to the orga­ni­za­tion dur­ing the 1990s and that he dis­cussed car­ry­ing out a ter­ror­ist attack with a Sau­di embassy staff mem­ber. Mean­while, many have com­plained that Sau­di Ara­bia resists US efforts to crack down on ter­ror­ist financ­ing and even stonewalls investigations.

In oth­er words, if we’re talk­ing about nation­al secu­ri­ty threats, Rus­sia can’t com­pete with the chaos Sau­di Ara­bia has facil­i­tat­ed — and still does, giv­en the weapons it’s been send­ing to extrem­ists in Syr­ia. But you’re not like­ly to see any US offi­cials or cit­i­zens hauled before Con­gress to tes­ti­fy about their rela­tion­ship with Saud­is any­time soon. The nation­al secu­ri­ty estab­lish­ment has always pro­tect­ed Sau­di Ara­bia, as the lack of any account­abil­i­ty for their com­plic­i­ty in Sep­tem­ber 11 demonstrates.

Take Robert Mueller, the cur­rent #Resis­tance hero lead­ing an inves­ti­ga­tion into the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Rus­sia and the direc­tor of the FBI at the time the 911 com­mis­sion was under­tak­ing its inves­ti­ga­tion. Andrew Cock­burn learned that Mueller dis­cour­aged an inves­ti­ga­tor from review­ing the damn­ing FBI files in the bureau’s San Diego office and blocked inves­ti­ga­tors’ requests to inter­view an infor­mant who was close with two of the hijack­ers. For­mer sen­a­tor Bob Gra­ham, chair of the Sen­ate Intel­li­gence Com­mit­tee after 911, accused Mueller of being a facil­i­ta­tor of the inep­ti­tude of the Bureau,” cov­er­ing up the truth.

These efforts con­tin­ued long after the attack. The Bush admin­is­tra­tion had to be pres­sured into set­ting up an inquiry, and Bush orig­i­nal­ly nom­i­nat­ed Hen­ry Kissinger to head the com­mis­sion inves­ti­gat­ing the attack. Besides being one of the twen­ti­eth century’s great mon­sters, Kissinger had also declared in August 2002 that it was not accept­able to depict Sau­di Ara­bia as a ter­ror­ist state.” His firm report­ed­ly count­ed com­pa­nies that did busi­ness with mem­bers of the Sau­di roy­al fam­i­ly as clients, and he had once flirt­ed with going into busi­ness with BCCI, a Sau­di-owned bank that was real­ly a con­duit for the roy­al family’s geopo­lit­i­cal ambitions.

Kissinger was forced to resign from the 911 com­mis­sion when he refused to release his client list, which many believed includ­ed Sau­di clients. Jour­nal­ist Philip Shenon recount­ed how Kissinger, when asked in a pri­vate meet­ing with the vic­tims’ fam­i­lies if he had any clients who were Sau­di or named bin Laden, spilled his cof­fee and near­ly fell off the couch.

Once the commission’s report was final­ly released, Pres­i­dent George W. Bush famous­ly redact­ed the twen­ty-eight pages that impli­cat­ed Sau­di offi­cials. When Oba­ma took office, he per­son­al­ly promised the fam­i­lies of 911 vic­tims that he would release them but nev­er did so. He final­ly made them avail­able amid a crescen­do of pub­lic pres­sureand after more than a decade of per­sis­tence by a group of vic­tims’ rel­a­tives who were suing the Sau­di government.

Upon the doc­u­ments’ release, the polit­i­cal estab­lish­ment down­played their details as mere raw intel­li­gence” that hadn’t been proven. Com­pare this with the eager accep­tance of the wild, unver­i­fied claims in the Trump dossier, or the evi­dence-free asser­tions the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty has released about Russ­ian elec­toral inter­fer­ence. More­over, mul­ti­ple mem­bers of the 911 com­mis­sion have said they believe Sau­di offi­cials were involved in the attack.

Ban­dar Bush

Any­one por­ing over the tan­gled web of both real and hyper­bol­ic Russ­ian con­nec­tions to Trump offi­cials may find the Bush administration’s links to Saud­is far more alarm­ing. But these con­nec­tions have slipped lib­er­als’ minds now that they’re pin­ing for a third W. term.

For one, the Bush fam­i­ly has busi­ness ties to the bin Laden fam­i­ly: George W. start­ed his first busi­ness, Arbus­to Ener­gy, with financ­ing from the man who had been appoint­ed the Hous­ton rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Salem bin Laden, Osama’s half broth­er. Salem was no reli­gious extrem­ist, but he did help his broth­er buy sur­face-to-air mis­siles for mujahideen fight­ers in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

And that rela­tion­ship wasn’t as excep­tion­al as it sounds. It’s just one part of the Bush family’s decades of finan­cial and busi­ness ties to var­i­ous wealthy, well-con­nect­ed Saud­is, as detailed in Craig Unger’s House of Bush, House of Saud.

Par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing is Prince Ban­dar, mem­ber of the roy­al fam­i­ly, ambas­sador to the Unit­ed States from 1983 to 2005, and the for­mer head of Sau­di intel­li­gence. Any­one who read the twen­ty-eight pageswould rec­og­nize Ban­dar as the high-rank­ing Sau­di offi­cial who, along with his wife, gave mon­ey to the extrem­ist who bragged about help­ing two of the 911 hijack­ers. He also had phone num­bers that popped up in the con­tacts of an al-Qae­da asso­ciate cap­tured in Pakistan.

If you belonged to the Bush fam­i­ly, how­ev­er, you’d know him for some­thing else. Ban­dar enjoyed such an inti­mate rela­tion­ship with the Bush­es he was nick­named Ban­dar Bush.” Close friends with the elder Bush for more than twen­ty years, Ban­dar and George H. W. went hunt­ing and fish­ing togeth­er, and Ban­dar donat­ed $1 mil­lion to his pres­i­den­tial library. You’re my friend for life,” Ban­dar wrote to Bush Sr as the 1992 elec­tion slipped from the latter’s grasp. I feel like one of your fam­i­ly, you are like one of our own.”

When Bush Jr was con­sid­er­ing his own run for pres­i­dent, his father instruct­ed him to con­sult Ban­dar about world affairs, as Bob Wood­ward reported:

One, he’s our friend. Our means Amer­i­ca, not just the Bush fam­i­ly. Num­ber two, he knows every­one around the world who counts. And num­ber three, he will give you his view on what he sees hap­pen­ing in the world. Maybe he can set up meet­ings for you with peo­ple around the world.

The younger Bush main­tained the friend­ship while pres­i­dent. When it came out in 2002 that a vehe­ment­ly anti-Sau­di pri­vate ana­lyst had giv­en a pre­sen­ta­tion to a Pen­ta­gon advi­so­ry board, Bush invit­ed Ban­dar and his fam­i­ly to his ranch in Craw­ford, Texas, and assured him it didn’t reflect his views. Kissinger, also present, duly defend­ed the Saud­is, and then – sec­re­tary of state Col­in Pow­ell — who was Bandar’s old rac­quet­ball buddy and received1995 Jaguar as a gift from him — also dis­avowed the brief­ing to his Sau­di counterpart.

Ban­dar was one of the first peo­ple Bush told about his deci­sion to invade Iraq; he received briefings on the war plan­ning before the inva­sion; and he report­ed­ly attend­ed meet­ings at the White House even after he left the ambassadorship.

For skep­tics, this was sim­ply evi­dence that the Bush admin­is­tra­tion was remark­ably uncon­cerned with the appear­ance of impropriety.”

Most astound­ing­ly, in an inci­dent that’s nev­er been sat­is­fac­to­ri­ly explained, Bush met pri­vate­ly with Ban­dar on Sep­tem­ber 13, 2001, and the two smoked cig­ars on the Tru­man Bal­cony. Hours after their meet­ing, while flights were still lim­it­ed and planes car­ry­ing organ trans­plants were being ground­ed around the Unit­ed States, char­tered planes picked up 160 Sau­di nation­als (includ­ing Sau­di roy­als and mem­bers of the bin Laden fam­i­ly) and flew them out of the coun­try, escort­ed by FBI agents. Simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, fed­er­al agents were prepar­ing round-ups and indef­i­nite deten­tions of more than 1,200 inno­cent Muslims.

Although the 911 com­mis­sion deter­mined there was no impro­pri­ety, the White House con­sis­tent­ly refused to tell the com­mis­sion who autho­rized the flights, and an FBI spokesper­son denied the bureau was involved, even as Ban­dar told reporters it was. Richard Clarke, Bush’s coun­tert­er­ror­ism czar,” lat­er claimed he’d approved the flights due to the White House’s fears of retal­i­a­tion against the Sau­di nation­als, but he couldn’t recall who or even which agency had brought him the request. For three years, the White House insist­ed that one of the flights didn’t happen.

More impor­tant­ly, most of the pas­sen­gers weren’t inter­viewed by inves­ti­ga­tors. One of those spir­it­ed out of the coun­try was Prince Ahmed bin Salman, a media mogul and cham­pi­on race­horse own­er whose phone num­bers were pro­vid­ed years lat­er by ter­ror­ist Abu Zubay­dah to inter­roga­tors he believed to be Sau­di. Relieved to be in the hands of Saud­is, he instruct­ed the inter­roga­tors to call the prince. He would tell you what to do,” he said.

A year after the 911 com­mis­sion report­ed that the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty iden­ti­fied [Sau­di Ara­bia] as the pri­ma­ry source of mon­ey for al Qae­da both before and after the Sep­tem­ber 11 attacks” — and Bush read and sup­pressed the damn­ing twen­ty-eight pages — Bush invit­ed then – Sau­di crown prince Abdul­lah to Craw­ford, where they held hands and issued a state­ment affirm­ing our per­son­al friend­ship and that between our nations.”

The exact details of what the Sau­di gov­ern­ment did or didn’t do regard­ing Sep­tem­ber 11 remain uncon­firmed, but only because they were nev­er ful­ly inves­ti­gat­ed. For­mer Navy sec­re­tary John Lehman has said the inves­ti­ga­tion was ter­mi­nat­ed before all the rel­e­vant leads were able to be inves­ti­gat­ed.” For­mer sen­a­tor Bob Ker­rey claimed the com­mis­sion didn’t have the time and resources to pur­sue the entire line of enquiry into Sau­di Ara­bia” and has accusedthe gov­ern­ment of cov­er­ing up the Sau­di government’s role.

Much like Russia’s role in the Trump cam­paign, many things are still not clear about the Sau­di rul­ing class’s exact role in the Sep­tem­ber 11 attacks. And since 2003, when al-Qae­da car­ried out an attack in Sau­di Ara­bia, the coun­try has report­ed­ly been less obstruc­tion­ist and more will­ing to part­ner with the Unit­ed States in stop­ping indi­vid­ual terrorists.

Still, replace Sau­di Ara­bia” with Rus­sia” in this account, and it would quick­ly become the sub­ject of breath­less exposés, end­less tweet storms, and out­raged con­dem­na­tion. Yet the Bush admin­is­tra­tion has nev­er faced the same lev­el of scruti­ny or hys­te­ria for its ties to the Saud­is as Trump and his inner cir­cle are now under­go­ing for their Russ­ian con­nec­tions. It’s not hard to see why: this is par for the course in Washington.

A Bipar­ti­san Romance

It would be one thing if the favoritism offered to Sau­di Ara­bia was lim­it­ed to one admin­is­tra­tion, as Trump’s alleged Russ­ian ties are. But while Bush and his fam­i­ly stand out for the extent and sheer brazen­ness of their Sau­di con­nec­tions, feal­ty to Sau­di Ara­bia has always been a bipar­ti­san affair.

In what became his presidency’s trade­mark, Oba­ma said all the right things about Sau­di Ara­bia — call­ing them a so-called” ally in 2002, crit­i­ciz­ing their state repres­sion and misog­y­ny, and express­ingcon­cerns about their fund­ing of fun­da­men­tal­ist ide­ol­o­gy — but did pre­cise­ly the opposite.

He imme­di­ate­ly sought to improve rela­tions with the new Sau­di king and offered the coun­try more arms sales than any pre­vi­ous admin­is­tra­tion. He fought tooth and nail to pre­vent 911 vic­tims’ fam­i­lies from suing the Sau­di gov­ern­ment, veto­ing leg­is­la­tion that allowed them to do so. (Con­gress over­rode his veto.) And he backedthe Saud­is’ crim­i­nal war in Yemen, which has engi­neered the worst famine in recent his­to­ry.

Nonethe­less, pun­dits assured us, Oba­ma was irri­tat­ed” and frus­trat­ed” with the Saud­is, and ana­lysts promised his mild words were lead­ing to new depar­tures in US policy.”

Or look at the Clin­tons. This is the first time we’ve ever been attacked by a for­eign adver­sary, and then they suf­fer no real con­se­quences,” Hillary Clin­ton com­plained about the Russ­ian hack­ing on two sep­a­rate occa­sions this year. Clin­ton seemed to have for­got­ten about Sau­di Ara­bia, whose nation­als car­ried out a very real attack on the Unit­ed States and, far from suf­fer­ing no con­se­quences, had been reward­ed.

But it’s no sur­prise the Saud­is slipped Clinton’s mind, giv­en how gen­er­ous they’ve been to her fam­i­ly over the years. The roy­als were the most munif­i­cent for­eign donors to Bill’s pres­i­den­tial library, giv­ing around $10 mil­lion, report­ed­ly the same amount as they gave to the elder Bush’s. They also donat­ed between $10 and $25 mil­lion to the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion, after which they received a marked increasein arms sales from the Clin­ton-led state department.

Hillary her­self pri­vate­ly acknowl­edged the Saud­is’ role in financ­ing ter­ror­ism, years after her aides cel­e­brat­ed weapons sales to the régime. At the same time, Tony Podes­ta, broth­er of Clin­ton cam­paign man­ag­er and con­fi­dante John Podes­ta, was work­ing as a lob­by­ist for the Saudis.

Mean­while, the Clin­ton-aligned Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress and Clin­ton ally Mike Morell urged a renewed com­mit­ment to sup­port­ing Sau­di Ara­bia a few weeks before the elec­tion. No won­der the Saud­is were look­ing for­ward to her presidency.

Wash­ing­ton lob­by­ists — and not just the Podestas — line up to serve Sau­di inter­ests in return for the government’s largesse. The roy­al fam­i­ly has hired at least fif­teen firms to date, with at least six sign­ing on since the inau­gu­ra­tion. Many of these firms have con­nections to mem­bers of both the Demo­c­ra­t­ic and Repub­li­can establishments.

As the Sun­light Foundation’s Josh Stew­art told the Wash­ing­ton Post, Sau­di Ara­bia is con­sis­tent­ly one of the big­ger play­ers when it comes to for­eign influ­ence in Wash­ing­ton,” using its lob­by­ists to court politi­cians and secure favor­able media cov­er­age. Of course, unlike the Trump campaign’s alleged mis­deeds, this col­lu­sion is out in the open.

Decades of Access

Ulti­mate­ly, the Sau­di gov­ern­ment has been allowed to get away with these things because of its vast oil reserves. But for decades, the Saud­is have also con­scious­ly attempt­ed to cur­ry favor with US offi­cials, Demo­c­rat and Repub­li­can. From their sud­den deci­sion in 1992 to give mil­lions to an Arkansas aca­d­e­m­ic insti­tute just a month before then – Arkansas gov­er­nor Bill Clinton’s elec­tion vic­to­ry, to their 1980s dona­tions to ini­tia­tives led by Nan­cy Rea­gan and Bar­bara Bush, to their 1970s pur­chase of a Geor­gia bank that swift­ly result­ed in Jim­my Carter get­ting a per­son­al busi­ness loan restruc­tured, Sau­di cash has been a main­stay of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics for generations.

Ordi­nar­i­ly, this lev­el of long-term influ­ence-court­ing from anoth­er coun­try might inspire sus­pi­cion or scruti­ny, par­tic­u­lar­ly when the coun­try in ques­tion has been facil­i­tat­ing anti-Amer­i­can inter­ests for just as long. But the Saud­is’ image has long been pro­tect­ed by a pli­ant media, rein­forc­ing its glob­al PR efforts.

Ban­dar reg­u­lar­ly received flat­ter­ing pro­files, like this one, from major news­pa­pers, paint­ing him as the Arab Gats­by.” Colum­nists like the Wash­ing­ton Posts David Ignatius have spent years writ­ing puff pieces that white­washed the Sau­di government’s appalling human rights record. Some of them have even end­ed up work­ing for the Sau­di government.

Most recent­ly, the New York Times faced much jus­ti­fied crit­i­cism for this col­umn, which paints the country’s cur­rent crown prince — in the midst of war crimes in Yemen and a polit­i­cal purge at home — as a far-sight­ed reformer. The author? Tom Fried­man, who is appar­ent­ly more out­raged at 9÷11 scale events” than he is at the actu­al 911.

As his­to­ri­an Abdul­lah Al-Ari­an‏ recent­ly doc­u­ment­ed, Friedman’s love let­ter is just the lat­est in a sev­en­ty-year-long series of Timesarti­cles that declare suc­ces­sive Sau­di rulers reform­ers” and mod­ern­iz­ers.” And while the Saud­is reg­u­lar­ly pay for favor­able cov­er­age, there’s no evi­dence they have ever sent the Gray Lady a sin­gle dime for these fawn­ing pieces.

Who Owns Trump?

The dis­par­i­ty between how Sau­di Ara­bia and Rus­sia appear in the pub­lic con­scious­ness is per­haps best illus­trat­ed by Don­ald Trump. Trump is wide­ly believed to be Vladimir Putin’s pup­pet, sub­vert­ing the Unit­ed States from with­in at the behest of his mas­ter in the Krem­lin. Accusers point to his friend­ly rhetoric toward Putin, his many busi­ness inter­ests in Rus­sia, and, of course, the country’s alleged col­lu­sion with the Trump campaign.

Per­haps this will all turn out to be true. But if Rus­sia owns Trump,” Putin has received remark­ably lit­tle return on his purchase.

Since Trump became pres­i­dent, his admin­is­tra­tion has widened sanc­tions against Rus­sia; main­tained its rhetor­i­cal and mate­r­i­al sup­port of Ukraine (and pub­licly mused about send­ing Ukraine weapons, a marked esca­la­tion from Obama’s pol­i­cy); bombed Russia’s ally, Syr­ia; shot down a Syr­i­an war­plane, which led to an esca­lating series of threats between the Unit­ed States and Rus­sia; and forcedstate-fund­ed Russ­ian news chan­nel RT to reg­is­ter as a for­eign agent, trig­ger­ing retal­i­a­tion from the Kremlin.

Trump’s spe­cial envoy tasked with end­ing the Ukrain­ian con­flict saysUS-Russ­ian rela­tions are still at rock bot­tom. Accord­ing to Dim­itri Sko­r­b­u­tov, a for­mer edi­tor at the state-run Rossiya news agency, who has crit­i­cized the Russ­ian state media’s pro-Trump cov­er­age: Russ­ian author­i­ties failed with their hopes that finan­cial and media sup­port will make Trump real­ly Russian.”

Now com­pare this to Trump’s rela­tion­ship with Sau­di Ara­bia. On the cam­paign trail, Trump was a stri­dent anti-Sau­di crit­ic. He com­plained about hav­ing to sup­port Sau­di Ara­bia mil­i­tar­i­ly, gripedabout (and fac­tu­al­ly man­gled) the sto­ry of the Sau­di nation­als who were flown out of the Unit­ed States after Sep­tem­ber 11, accused the Saud­is of big­otry and fund­ing hate,” and charged the dopey” Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal with seek­ing to con­trol our U.S. politi­cians with daddy’s mon­ey.” Can’t do it when I get elect­ed,” he wrote.

He even brought up Sau­di Arabia’s 911 con­nec­tions. Who blew up the World Trade Cen­ter? It wasn’t the Iraqis, it was Sau­di — take a look at Sau­di Ara­bia, open the doc­u­ments,” he told Fox and Friendslast Feb­ru­ary.

Once pres­i­dent, how­ev­er, Trump per­formed a neat U‑turn. He chose the coun­try he’d recent­ly accused of car­ry­ing out the Sep­tem­ber 11 attacks to be the site of his first for­eign trip as pres­i­dent, break­ing from his five pre­de­ces­sors, who had all first trav­eled to either Cana­da or Mex­i­co. Once there, he hap­pi­ly took part in a sword dance, touched a glow­ing orb, and bowed his head to receive a medal from the king, some­thing he had mocked Oba­ma for doing years before. He then lav­ished the coun­try with praise in a major speech in Riyadh, vio­lat­ing his own insis­tence on using the term rad­i­cal Islam” lest he offend his hosts.

He duti­ful­ly (and ludi­crous­ly) kept Sau­di Ara­bia off his already ludi­crous trav­el ban, which is sup­pos­ed­ly an anti-ter­ror­ism pol­i­cy. When the Saud­is and their allies told him Qatar fund­ed ter­ror­ists, he eager­ly and pub­licly backed their attempt to iso­late the coun­try, forc­ing the state depart­ment to put out yet anoth­er fire. He’s ramped up Obama’s pol­i­cy of facil­i­tat­ing Sau­di war crimes in Yemen and shows every sign of con­tin­u­ing to sell them bil­lions of dol­lars worth of weapons. Most recent­ly, he cheered on the crown prince’s con­sol­i­da­tion of power.

And why should we be sur­prised? Trump has vast busi­ness inter­ests in Sau­di Ara­bia, includ­ing eight com­pa­nies tied to hotel inter­ests that he reg­is­tered right after he announced his cam­paign. Sau­di Ara­bia and the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates pledged a com­bined $100 mil­lion to his daughter’s fund for women entre­pre­neurs. The coun­try owns the forty-fifth floor of Trump World Tow­er, and one of Trump’s appointees is even a reg­is­tered agent for Sau­di Arabia.

In oth­er words, there is far more evi­dence that Trump is a Sau­di pup­pet than a Russ­ian one. But you won’t hear Democ­rats lev­el this accu­sa­tion. How can they, when they know any crit­i­cism of ties to Sau­di Ara­bia would be tan­ta­mount to crit­i­ciz­ing their own party’s for­eign pol­i­cy establishment?


Some­thing very fishy hap­pened between the Trump cam­paign and Rus­sia, and with any luck we’ll one day find out what exact­ly that some­thing was. But it remains dumb­found­ing that the alleged Russ­ian col­lu­sion is treat­ed as an apoc­a­lyp­tic event while sim­i­lar and far more insid­i­ous inter­fer­ence from Sau­di Ara­bia over the course of decades is met with a col­lec­tive shrug.

Over three decades, Sau­di Ara­bia has suc­cess­ful­ly ingra­ti­at­ed itself at the high­est lev­els of pow­er in the Unit­ed States. The Sau­di rul­ing class has pro­vid­ed favor after favor to Amer­i­can offi­cials, insin­u­at­ed itself into the good graces of both high-rank­ing offi­cials and reporters, and donat­ed a steady stream of many mil­lions of dol­lars to a bipar­ti­san group of pol­i­cy­mak­ers, includ­ing two of the country’s fore­most polit­i­cal dynas­ties, receiv­ing the back­ing of the Unit­ed States in return.

It’s done all this while open­ly spread­ing fun­da­men­tal­ist ide­ol­o­gy and assist­ing extrem­ists in car­ry­ing out attacks on Amer­i­cans, and in spite of the vot­ing public’s dis­taste for the régime. And that’s with­out even men­tion­ing its government’s and roy­al family’s involve­ment in Sep­tem­ber 11, or the Bush administration’s dubi­ous attempts to shield it from scruti­ny, nei­ther of which have been sub­ject to a full investigation.

What­ev­er tran­spired between Trump and Rus­sia will remain secret for now, but Sau­di Arabia’s med­dling has long been out in the open.

This piece first appeared at Jacobin.

In These Times is proud to fea­ture con­tent from Jacobin, a print quar­ter­ly that offers social­ist per­spec­tives on pol­i­tics and eco­nom­ics. Sup­port Jacobin and buy a four-issue sub­scrip­tion for just $19.95.

Branko Marcetic is a staff writer at Jacobin mag­a­zine and a 2019 – 2020 Leonard C. Good­man Insti­tute for Inves­tiga­tive Report­ing fel­low. He is work­ing on a forth­com­ing book about Joe Biden.
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