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
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 email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena