Uneven exchange with Saudis

Since the discovery of oil in the Arabian PeninsulaSaudi Arabia has literally had us over a barrel. Though the Saudis need the United States more than we need them, they have succeeded in coercing every American administration to look the other way while they undermine our values, our interests and our security. Now, the Saudis are aiding President Obama's reelection in exchange for keeping silent about their repressive society.

The House of Saud cares about one thing, and one thing only, and that is to ensure the perpetuation of the monarchy. The Saudis concluded long ago that the United States was the only country that could guarantee that their royal heads stay on their royal shoulders. In exchange, the Saudis provide America with oil. It is not an even trade, however, because the Saudis act like drug pushers who want to keep us addicted to their oil. They keep the price of oil high enough to fill the royal coffers, but low enough to discourage significant investments in alternative sources of energy.

The Arab lobby, comprised of the Saudis, Arabists, oil companies and defense contractors, has succeeded in convincing presidents and members of Congress that this Faustian bargain is in the national interest. In truth, our continued appeasement of the Saudis threatens that interest.

How so?

First, the Saudis undermine our interest in peace and stability in the Middle East. They do everything in their power, for example, to prevent the Arab world from making peace with Israel. When Israel and Egypt were negotiating peace, Anwar Sadat told President Carter that Saudi support was essential to achieving a comprehensive peace. Carter assured Sadat the Saudis would back his efforts, but, instead, they did everything possible to sabotage the negotiations, ostracizing Egypt and discouraging others from joining the peace process.

Obama ran into the same obstructionism when he sought Saudi backing for his peace efforts in his first two years. He hoped the Saudis would make some gestures toward Israel to show that a broader peace would be possible if an agreement with the Palestinians was reached. Instead, the Saudis refused and increased their belligerence toward Israel.

Second, the Saudis undermine our values. This is a country that practices gender apartheid toward women, discriminates against Jews and Christians and is one of the world's worst human rights abusers. Just recently, the Saudis beheaded a woman for "witchcraft and sorcery."

Third, the Saudis threaten our security. Saudis have helped fund terrorists from the PLOHamas and al-Qaeda. Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey said, "If I could somehow snap my fingers and cut off the funding from one country, it would be Saudi Arabia."

In addition to directly sponsoring terrorists, the Saudis are educating the next generation of Muslims to become jihadists through the radical teachings they propagate through mosques and schools. The Washington Postreported a few years ago about a Saudi textbook "after the intolerance was removed," that had the following statements: "Every religion other than Islam is false," "The apes are Jews...while the swine are the Christians" and "jihad in the path of God...is the summit of Islam." Similar teachings appear in textbooks distributed around the world, and appeared also in a Saudi-funded school in Fairfax, Virginia.

Why is the Obama administration silent while the Saudis undermine our values and interests?

The answer can be found in the unspoken Faustian bargain. To satisfy the Saudis' insecurity, Obama agreed to sell the $30 billion worth of arms they don't need and can't use on the pretext that it will help them defend themselves against Iran. The sale is really about getting some of our oil money back and satisfying defense contractors and the Pentagon. The deal is made with a wink and a nod, knowing the Saudi's only defense against Iran is the U.S. military. Members of Congress, nevertheless, look the other way because the contracts mean jobs for their constituents.

Meanwhile, the Saudis have pumped more oil throughout the Arab turmoil to prevent the price from going so high that it will throw the U.S. economy into a more severe decline, which would imperil Obama's reelection. In exchange, all Obama has to do is sell them arms and continue to support the totalitarian theocrats in Riyadh.

Perhaps you've noticed that while Obama has been vigorously advocating freedom and democracy in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Iraq and Egypt, he has been silent when it comes to Saudi Arabia. Is there some reason why the people of Saudi Arabia are different? Are they unworthy of the rights we are championing for the protesters of Tahrir Square?

The Arab lobby argues that our oil supplies would be threatened if we were to stand up for our principles. It has always been a lie. The Saudis cannot drink the oil; they need to sell it to survive. The lobby also wants to scare officials into believing the alternative to the House of Saud could be worse, but it is hard to imagine a regime that does more to harm our values, interests and security than the one we have propped up for the last 70 years.

Mitchell Bard is a foreign policy analyst.