Is Saudi Arabia a 'Free Rider'? Obama And The Politics Of Keeping Sadi Busy

01 June 2016

By Tariq A. Al-Maeena

US President Barack Obama was quoted in The Atlantic magazine a couple of months ago as having described some US allies as ''free riders'' presumably benefiting from the largesse of the US Treasury. Understandably, such bold statements from the leader of the free world created ripples of unease in the corridors of power in the region.

Some Saudis were outraged by Obama's expansive generalization and took to the press to air their response. Unfortunately, many of their rejoinders were too emotional or trivial, making them appear silly. It would have been better if they had shut up instead. Others simply shrugged off the magazine piece and carried on with their lives.

One Westerner, whom I will call John, was also not amused by Obama's use of the term ''free riders''. In a rational response, he argues that ''from 1932 through 1973 in almost every year, the USA purchased Saudi oil at a price lower than the cost of production. For most of 41 years, Saudi Arabia massively subsidized the American economy by selling its oil for lower than the cost of production. I'd call that a very big debt.''

John also contends that during the Cold War, ''Saudi Arabia mounted more Cold War operations against the former Soviet Union than all other countries combined. Saudi Arabia's Cold War operations against the Soviets were second only to the United States and countless operations were joint US/Saudi operations. I'd call that a very large debt.

''During the massive Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, the CIA, Pakistan's ISI, and the Saudis combined forces to evict America's number one enemy the former Soviet Union from Afghanistan. The significant point here is that Saudi Arabia paid for the whole effort. Another big debt which the US has to Saudi Arabia.''

John continues with more assertions: ''Saudi Arabia has executed more terrorists than the US has ever captured. Yes, in Saudi Arabia, when they catch terrorists, they generally execute them with little fanfare. Good riddance! Saudi Arabia has passed onto United States intelligence agencies more information about terrorist individuals than any other country. Of course, US intelligence agencies and some law enforcement units are only too happy to take the credit for apprehending such terrorists, rendering them abroad, incarcerating them without trial, and then casting vague aspersions at Saudi Arabian culture for possibly creating them.

''Which works quite well, I must say. It has kept the Saudis busy trying to dig themselves out of a contrived hole a hole contrived by some Western intelligence agencies in order to keep the Saudis quiet about all the free riders Saudi Arabia has given the West since 1932. I'd call that a moderate debt to the Saudis.''

John points out that there was little ''Islamic terrorism prior to the Soviet/Afghan War. And what there had been was tiny bits of terrorism scattered around Asia and the Middle East. Usually it was a case of personal attacks one warlord against another. But there is a reason for the rise of Islamic terrorism and the West helped create it. Terrorism didn't suddenly just happen. We in the West helped to create it during the Soviet/Afghan War with CIA training, the ISI's training, and using Saudi money. When our allies, the brave Mujahideen sometimes called the West's freedom fighters, returned home to places like Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and other Middle Eastern nations, their particular indoctrination did not simply vanish.

''So instead of castigating people for being 'free riders'- trying to keep them down and on the defensive we should be meeting every country where it is and helping them to destroy terrorist networks and individual terrorists wherever they may be on the planet. That's the difference between managing a problem on the one hand and scoping out a much broader, more inclusive, and cooperative vision on the other hand one that has an infinitely better chance of success.

''We need a better vision one that is at least one order of magnitude better for dealing with what is probably going to become a widespread problem in this world, with many Western-educated young people joining such groups. Yes, thousands of Western non-Muslims are joining Daesh (the self-proclaimed IS) and other groups and in the future it's likely that other groups will arise with even more tantalizing ideologies. Every one of our young people who leaves to join such a group represents a massive failure on the part of our society. And we will only have ourselves to blame for what comes after.

''Therefore, let us put our efforts into providing real opportunities for our young people, and with some urgency, create employment opportunities in the Middle East where the youth unemployment rate is significantly higher than the acceptable norm.''

And in a fitting climax to his rhetoric, John cautions that ''young people from any country with a promising future ahead of them do not run away from their communities to join groups like Daesh. Providing the opportunity for a real future for young people is where we must put our best effort and we can't afford to waste a moment in support of that important goal.''

I had to admit that his piece was the most credible response I have read yet on why Saudi Arabia is NOT a ''free rider''.

The author can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena


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