While Congress is scrambling to sweep the recently introduced Bipartisan bill that would allow US families to sue Saudi Arabia for Sept 11, Barack Obama has just landed in Saudi Arabia to reassure his close ally that all is under control.
President Obama with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef,
center, and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in May 2015
As the WSJ reports, Obama arrived today in the Saudi kingdom for a brief trip "meant to provide reassurances to Gulf allies and to bolster his own foreign-policy legacy."
With just nine months left in office, Mr. Obama is aiming to steady what have become rocky relationships in the region and to tackle issues ranging from the fight against Islamic State to addressing Iranian aggression, along with easing tensions between Tehran and Saudi Arabia. But in Riyadh, the president will find frustrated allies who already have begun to look ahead to the next administration.
Obama plans to spend about 28 hours in the Saudi capital, holding talks with King Salman Wednesday afternoon and attending a Thursday summit hosted by leaders of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council. This trip, perhaps the last to Riyadh during Mr. Obama’s presidency, serves as a bookend for an administration that once sought a “new beginning” for the U.S. and the Islamic world, but now is confronting the prospect of a tense conclusion to this chapter.
Of course, the main reason for the simmering Saudi tensions has been the thawing of US relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia's self-proclaimed biggest regional threat.
Meanwhile, from the NYT, here are some pointers on what Obama should not do during his visit: sell even more weapons to the belligerent kingdom in exchange for goodwill that only lasts as long as the status quo is not threatened.
When President Obama visits Saudi Arabia this week for a meeting with representatives from the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, he should avoid doing what he did at Camp David last May, the last time he met with them: promise more arms sales. Since Mr. Obama hosted that meeting, the United States has offered over $33 billion in weaponry to its Persian Gulf allies, with the bulk of it going to Saudi Arabia. The results have been deadly.
The Saudi-American arms deals are a continuation of a booming business that has developed between Washington and Riyadh during the Obama years. In the first six years of the Obama administration, the United States entered into agreements to transfer nearly $50 billion in weaponry to Saudi Arabia, with tens of billions of dollars of additional offers in the pipeline.
The Pentagon claims that these arms transfers to Saudi Arabia “improve the security of an important partner which has been and continues to be an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East.” Recent Saudi actions suggest otherwise.
The Obama administration says that it has urged restraint from the Saudis, but that doesn’t appear to have worked. Human Rights Watch has reported that two Saudi strikes on a market in the Yemeni village of Mastaba in mid-March killed at least 97 civilians, including 25 children. This was just one in a series of Saudi strikes on marketplaces, hospitals and other civilian targets, attacks that Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have said may constitute war crimes.
Alas, Obama is in a bind: threaten to expose Saudi involvement in Sept 11, or dare to suggest that the US military-industrial supply chain into Saudi Arabia is slowing, and the response is already clear: a threat to dump hundreds of billions in US securities. Which is why Obama has zero leverage and will fold to any Saudi demand presented during his meetings today.