All eyes have been on Washington as the new president of the United States has been signing executive order after executive order in an attempt to curtail the actions of his predecessor.
One of his more controversial edicts enacts a temporary ban on all refugees, and it suspends the issuing of visas to those from numerous Muslim-majority countries that are deemed to have an elevated threat of terrorist activities, including Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Sudan, Syria, and Somalia.
Nonetheless, President Trump excluded Saudi Arabia from this list – a nation notorious for its links with terrorism and religious extremism. The Middle-Eastern hegemon has been closely tied with the September 11 attacks, in which 15 out of the 19 hijackers were citizens of Saudi Arabia.
A joint CIA-FBI investigation reached a conclusion that there was ‘no evidence that either the Saudi government or a member of the Saudi royal family knowingly provided support’ for the attacks. However, Wikileaks published recordings from US diplomatic cables which revealed that certain US-friendly individuals from the Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, were the primary source of funding for al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other infamous terror organisations.
If Saudi Arabia acts as a prominent figure in funnelling money to Sunni terror groups across the globe, why is the United States so supportive of them, and why has nothing been done to stop this?
The answer is simple: the Saudis are an excellent player of the diplomacy game.
By funding innumerable lobbyist groups, legislators, law agencies, and political parties, the government of Saudi Arabia can win the applause they need to sustain their seat at the table. If President Trump or any future president were to speak publicly against the Saudi regime – a regime which is more familiar with American political system than most Americans – they would receive incomprehensible backlash.
From a legal standpoint, there is nothing the United States can do. They have no reason to officially impose sanctions. The kingdom doesn’t directly fund terror organisations, however, it willingly promotes an ideology which incites terrorism. Wealthy individuals contributing to the budget of Al-Qaeda don’t go unnoticed, they are simply ignored because the terror groups assist in destroying the influence of Iran and the West.
Acts of terrorism result in the spread of Wahhabism, and therefore the influence of Saudi Arabia expands. As a strong enemy of Iran, the Saudis align with US foreign policy. Sanctions are a leverage on countries which refute American policies; the US has not acted against Saudi Arabia because it would be acting against its own self-interests.
Since the 1970s, when Nixon abandoned the gold standard, the US has thrived on the ‘petrodollar’ system. Nixon had created a new issue by turning the dollar into a fiat currency. The currency’s value was now dictated by supply and demand.
The Nixon Administration composed a plan that would allow the US to reap the benefits of money printing without suffering from hyperinflation. The then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger went to Saudi Arabia to strike a deal with King Faisal for a service Faisal gravely require.
The service in question was military protection. When you’re in possession of one of the world’s most highly sought commodity (in this case, oil) then you must also have a large military presence or an agreement with a nation which does.
In exchange for military protection, Saudi Arabia offered America an economic advantage which it continues to hold today. The oil giant priced all future oil sales in US dollars, refusing to price in any other currency. This way any government, company or individual looking to purchase oil from Saudi Arabia would have to first get their hands on US dollars. Therefore, there was forever a growing demand for the dollar. Eventually the rest of Organisation for the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) followed suit and so the ‘petrodollar’ was formed.
The United States cannot simply revoke its friendship with Saudi Arabia. The kingdom is one of the most influential members of OPEC, an organisation which controls 80% of the world’s oil reserves. Whilst oil production in the US is on the rise, the Energy Information Agency predicts it will slow down by 2020. With a reserve of 32 billion barrels, compared with Saudi Arabia’s 266 billion barrels, it makes geopolitical sense for America to want to sustain its partnership.