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How Barack Obama Turned His Back on Saudi Arabia and Its Sunni Allies
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Commentators have missed the significance of President Barack Obama’s acerbic criticism of Saudi Arabia and Sunni states long allied to the US for fomenting sectarian hatred and seeking to lure the US into fighting regional wars on their behalf. In a series of lengthy interviews with Jeffrey Goldberg published in The Atlantic magazine, Mr Obama explains why it is not in the US’s interests to continue the tradition of the US foreign policy establishment, whose views he privately disdains, by giving automatic support to the Saudis and their allies.

Mr Obama’s arguments are important because they are not off-the-cuff remarks, but are detailed, wide ranging, carefully considered and leading to new departures in US policy. The crucial turning point came on 30 August 2013 when Mr Obama refused to launch air strikes in Syria. This would, in effect, have started military action by the US to force regime change in Damascus, a course of action proposed by much of Mr Obama’s cabinet as well by US foreign policy specialists.

Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Gulf monarchies were briefly convinced that they would get their wish and the US was striking feature of Mr Obama’s foreign policy is that he learns from failures and mistakes. This is in sharp contrast to Britains going to do their work for them by overthrowing President Bashar al-Assad. They claimed this would be easy to do, though this would have happened only if there had been a full-scale American intervention and it would have produced a power vacuum that would have been filled by fundamentalist Islamic movements as in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Mr Goldberg says that by refusing to bomb Syria, Mr Obama “broke with what he calls, derisively, ‘the Washington Playbook’. This was his liberation day”.

The US has been notoriously averse since 9/11 to put any blame on Saudi Arabia for creating salafi-jihadism, at the core of which is Sunni sectarian hatred for the Shia and other variants of Islam in addition to repressive social mores, including the reduction of women to servile status.

Mr Obama is highly informed about the origins of al-Qa’ida and Isis, describing how Islam in Indonesia, where he spent part of his childhood, had become more intolerant and exclusive. Asked why this had occurred, Mr Obama is quoted as replying: “The Saudis and other Gulf Arabs have funnelled money, and large numbers of imams and teachers, into the country. In the 1990s, the Saudis heavily funded Wahhabist madrassas, seminaries that teach the fundamentalist version of Islam favoured by the Saudi ruling family.” The same shift towards the “Wahhabisation” of mainstream Sunni Islam is affecting the great majority of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world who are Sunnis.

Arab oil states spread their power by many means in addition to religious proselytism, including the simple purchase of people and institutions which they see as influential. Academic institutions of previously high reputation in Washington have shown themselves to be as shamelessly greedy for subsidies from the Gulf and elsewhere as are predatory warlords and corrupt party leaders in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and beyond.

Mr Goldberg, who has had extraordinary access to Mr Obama and his staff over an extended period, reports: “A widely held sentiment inside the White House is that many of the most prominent foreign-policy think tanks in Washington are doing the bidding of their Arab and pro-Israel funders. I’ve heard one administration official refer to Massachusetts Avenue, the home of many of these think tanks, as ‘Arab-occupied territory’.” Television and newspapers happily quote supposed experts from such think tanks as if they were non-partisan academics of unblemished objectivity.

It will be important to know after the US election if the new US president will continue to rebalance US foreign policy away from reliance on Sunni powers seeking to use American military and political “muscle” in their own interests. Past US leaders have closed their eyes to this with disastrous consequences in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. Mr Goldberg says that Mr Obama “questioned, often harshly, the role that America’s Sunni Arab allies play in fomenting anti-American terrorism. He is clearly irritated that foreign policy orthodoxy compels him to treat Saudi Arabia as an ally”.

What is truly strange about the new departures in US foreign policy is that they have taken so long to occur. Within days of 9/11, it was known that 15 out 19 of the hijackers were Saudi, as was Osama bin Laden and the donors who financed the operation. Moreover, the US went on treating Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan and the Gulf monarchies as if they were great powers, when all the evidence was that their real strength and loyalty to the West were limited.

Though it was obvious that the US would be unable to defeat the Taliban so long as it was supported and given sanctuary by Pakistan, the Americans never confronted Pakistan on the issue. According to Mr Goldberg, Mr Obama “privately questions why Pakistan, which he believes is a disastrously dysfunctional country, should be considered an ally of the US at all”. As regards Turkey, the US President had hopes of its President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but has since come to see him as an authoritarian ruler whose policies have failed.

A striking feature of Mr Obama’s foreign policy is that he learns from failures and mistakes. This is in sharp contrast to Britain where David Cameron still claims he did the right thing by supporting the armed opposition that replaced Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, while George Osborne laments Parliament’s refusal to vote for the bombing of Syria in 2013.


Not surprisingly, Mr Obama sounds almost contemptuous of Mr Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president who played a leading role in demanding the Nato air campaign in Libya. The US went along with Mr Sarkozy’s bragging as the price of French support, though Mr Obama says that “we [the US] had wiped out all the air defences and essentially set up the entire infrastructure” for the intervention. Despite all the US efforts not to make the same mistakes it made in Iraq in 2003, Mr Obama concedes that “Libya is a mess” and privately calls it a “s*** show”, something that he blames on the passivity of US allies and Libyan tribal divisions.

Three years later, the collapse of Libya into anarchy and warlord rule served as warning to Mr Obama against military intervention in Syria where he rightly calculated that the Libya disaster would be repeated. The calamitous Libyan precedent has had no such impact on Mr Cameron or the Foreign Secretary, Phil Hammond, who continue to advocate armed action using arguments which Mr Obama has abandoned as discredited by events and as well as being a self-serving attempt by others to piggy-back on American power.

It will become clearer after the US presidential election how far Mr Obama’s realistic take on Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan and other US allies and scepticism about the US foreign policy establishment will be shared by the next administration. The omens are not very good since Hillary Clinton supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003, intervention in Libya in 2011 and bombing Syria in 2013. If she wins the White House, then the Saudis and US foreign policy establishment will breathe more easily.

Chaos and Caliphate: Jihadis and the West in the Struggle for the Middle East (OR Books) by Patrick Cockburn is published this month

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Saudi Arabia 
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  1. Priss Factor [AKA "Dominique Francon Society"] says: • Website

    “Mr Obama explains why it is not in the US’s interests to continue the tradition of the US foreign policy establishment, whose views he privately disdains, by giving automatic support to the Saudis and their allies.”

    This guy is a complete snake. He worked with Neocons to destroy Libya, worked with Saudis and Turks to mess up the Middle East, and did his share to mess up Ukraine.

    But NOW he’s acting he is a man of peace who won’t go along with the crazies.

    Total sleaze and snake.

    Never ever to be trusted.

    • Replies: @LondonBob
  2. Priss Factor [AKA "Dominique Francon Society"] says: • Website

    “Mr Obama is highly informed about the origins of al-Qa’ida and Isis, describing how Islam in Indonesia, where he spent part of his childhood, had become more intolerant and exclusive.”

    Well, this is true enough. Islam has gotten nutty, but is the West in any moral position to be judging the Muslim world?

    The West has its own fundamentalism in PC. We have feminists screaming about made-up fake rape, we have hate-hoaxers all over the place, we have insane Black Lives Matter thugs who blame all black problems on whites, we have Jewish Supremacists exporting war and mayhem all over the world, we have anti-race-ist censorship banning any discussion of racial differences that account for so many social problems, we have rap music & culture that promote thuggery, we have whore culture that encourages young girls to imitate whores from young age, we have worship of diversity that welcomes the racial and cultural destruction of the West, and we have homo/tranny lunacy that targets and destroys anyone who is critical of homo ‘sex’ and lifestyles.

    So-called Western ‘tolerance’ is anything but. It is an ideological coercion to make us celebrate and praise whatever the elites of Wall Street, Hollywood, Las Vegas, Harvard, and etc deem to be ‘sacred’. So, if the media say Bruce ‘Caitlyn’ Jenner is ‘woman of the year’, we must all agree… or face being fired and blacklisted.

    Yes, the Muslim world is backward and repressive, but the modern West is filthy and coercive. Germany even hunts down patriots who want to save Germany from foreign invasion.

    And it was the West that instigated all the terrors and wars in the Middle East. More responsible than the Salafi Saudis are the Zio-West that is ideologically governed by Jewhadis who are willing to sacrifice any number of lives to increase and expand Jewish supremacism all over the world. Saudis are small potatoes compared to this power.

    Obama, the pusher of the homomania worship around the world, shouldn’t be lecturing to anyone about the extremes of Islam.
    He pushes the extreme ideology of homo agenda.
    Now, I got nothing against the West being tolerant of homos and encouraging other nations to leave homos alone.
    But the homo agenda has gone far beyond that. The West now promotes homosexuality and even tranny freakery as the New Normal, and if you find that stuff gross and idiotic, you will be targeted for destruction.

    • Replies: @Marcus
  3. Marcus says:
    @Priss Factor

    Obama has been the most neutral to Israel of any president in a long, long time (not that that’s saying much). As abominable as the rest of his agenda, his willingness to reconsider the “special relationship” with the Gulf Salafis and and Isrull is commendable.

  4. LondonBob says:
    @Priss Factor

    I think Obama has been too weak and allowed himself to be dragged along on some ‘adventures’. He does seem to have developed some sort of personal grudge against Putin though, even then lets face it he still hasn’t indulged some of the wilder voices. His failings have most been primarily of failure on his part to impose his own will, although he certainly hasn’t been the first in this regard.

  5. MEexpert says:

    Now that he is in the last year of his presidency, Obama has found religion. All of a sudden he considers Saudis as the source of Al-Qaeda and ISIS. To the rest of the world this has been a known all along. Obama okayed $65 Billions worth of arms sale to Saudi Arabia and similar sales to UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait. Obama has been bowing down to every Zionist command. For Nobel laureate for peace he has caused more mayhem in the middle east than any president in history. The slaughter of Palestinians, Iraqis, Syrians, Yemenis, and Pakistanis could have been stopped long time ago but he still continues to take part in this despite new found disdain for Saudis.

    What a hypocrite!

  6. Rehmat says:

    Cockburn, do you really want us to believe Jeffrey Goldberg, a former Israeli prison guard? That’s hilarious!

    If you believe Saudi Arabia is that bad – why don’t you ask Netanyahu why the ‘little s**t state’ accept $16 billion from Riyadh during 2013-14?

    Saudis did not play any significant part in 9/11. The terrorist attack has been blamed previously on Taliban, Iraq, and even Iran. It’s all part desperate attempt to whitewash the crimes of Israeli Mossad and Zionists within Bush administration.

    ISIS, like the phony al-Qaeda is creation of the US and Israel. Both Netanyahu and JINSA admitted that ISIS and the ‘Arab Spring’ were doing Israel’s dirty works in the region.

    In July 2012, Gabriel M. Scheinmann, a visiting Fellow at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), admitted that the Zionist entity is in fact the winner of the so-called “Arab Spring”.

    “The so-called “Arab Spring” has, paradoxically, made Israel stronger as Israel’s enemies have turned on each other. While Arab capitals burn, Jerusalem has calmly and carefully steeled itself against the possible immediate deleterious effects, building fences along its Egyptian and Jordanian borders and accelerating the deployment of its Iron Dome anti-missile system,” wrote Scheinmann. He then added: “Even as it rightly plans for the changes wrought by the “Arab Spring”, Israel should also recognize that as the Middle East convulses, it is more likely to be left alone. As Alawites battle Arab Sunnis and Kurds in Syria, as Kurds target Turks in Turkey, as the Imazighen fight Arabs in Libya, as the Army contends with Islamists in Egypt, and as Sunnis and Christians confront Shiites in Lebanon, people don’t have the time, energy, or resources to fight the Jews in Israel. The more the region tears itself apart, the more Israel floats to the top, unscathed economically, militarily, or diplomatically. While an Islamist ascent is undesirable, the intervening disorder only makes Israel stronger.”

    Karen DeYoung, in Gen. Colin Powell’s biography, ‘SOLDIER: The life of Colin Powell‘, has quoted Powell twice saying that “the Iraq war was the product of Donald Rumsfeld’s absorption in the “JINSA crowd“. BTW, Dick Cheney was on JINSA’s Board of Advisors before becoming vice president, where he was joined by Ledeen, Feith, Perle, James Woolsey, and John Bolton.

    Both AIPAC and JINSA are behind Washington’s regime change in Tehran.” So far the Israel lobby has failed to make its dream come true, as Vali Nasr, author of The Shia Revival, wrote: “The wars of 2001 and 2003 have fundamentally changed the Middle East to Iran’s advantage.”

    • Replies: @No Second Israel
  7. Hunsdon says:

    Man, people just want to throw stones. Maybe I’m damning with faint praise, or maybe I’m praising with faint damns, but the Obama presidency could have been a whole lot worse in terms of foreign policy, and at this stage of the American raspad, I’ll take what I can get.

  8. anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    The Gulf states, Israel, Turkey and Pakistan are the four legs of the chair the US rests upon in the overall region. If the US disaffiliated with any of them then who would take their place? They used to have the Shah but that’s been over with for some time now. They’re there and they’re willing in return for their own benefit. There’s few choices for the US to pick from. Besides, the Saudis spend a lot of their money with us so that’s also a major inducement. We’re pretty much locked in with our dance partners regardless of how objectionable they may be.

    • Replies: @Marcus
    , @OutWest
  9. @Rehmat

    What do you expect from a agent of the western intelligence services who spread their liar. He cannot be trusted. Goldberg is a Zionist liar who is behind Muslim bashing. Do you think he does know? He knows but since he is an agent, he has to spread lies to fool dumb people for “greater Israel” which goes down the tube. He must go somewhere else.

  10. Marcus says:

    All four of those (well maybe not Turkey, but Erdogan is indirectly doing so) actively undermine US citizens’ security, not to mention the Saudis oil price war has probably hit the US even harder than its intended targets (Iran and Russia).

  11. Gene Su says:

    I semi-agree with Mr. Cockburn on this one.
    I don’t like President Obama on many levels. Obamacare has been a disaster for the country. Having said that, I don’t think he is any worse than his predecessor. If anyone will get the title for being the worst US President in history, it will be Dubya.
    I think Ilana Mercer is wrong on this. Obama is not sympathetic to Muslim terrorists. He may be sympathetic to individual Muslims but he has done a far better job of prosecuting the War on Terror than Bush Jr did.

  12. Rehmat says:

    “The collapse of Libya into anarchy and warlord rule” – so were behind the collapse of Arica’s most rich and liberal country, Mr. Cockburn?

    Certainly it was not Qaddafi or Ahmadinejad.

    US president Barack Obama in a recent interview he gave to The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, former Israeli prison guard blamed British prime minister David Cameron (with Jewish family roots), former French president Nicolas Sarkozy (Jewish) and other European leaders for the current chaos in Libya, saying he had more faith in them being invested in the follow-up, given Libya’s proximity.

    Obama acknowledged the problems faced by Libya since the fall of Qaddafi in 2011, referring to the situation as a mess – and in private as a s**t show.

    “We actually executed this plan as well as I could have expected: We got a UN mandate, we built a coalition, it cost us $1 billion – which, when it comes to military operations, is very cheap. We averted large-scale civilian casualties, we prevented what almost surely would have been a prolonged and bloody civil conflict. And despite all that, Libya is a mess,” the lying-face Obama admitted.

    Obama’s former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton (her son-in-law is Jewish) played a major role in the regime change in Benghazi. Hillary’s assistant Victoria Nuland’s bloody Jewish hands were all over US-NATO war on Libya….

  13. OutWest says:

    Why are we in the region at all –at least in the geopolitical sense? What have we done that is constructive with a reasonably good outcome? Our friction with Iran harkens back to the Soviet threat –now long gone. It’s time to leave the workout to those there. It may not be pretty but at least it won’t be on us.

    Uncomfortable as it is I tend to agree with Obama sans the redline bravado.

  14. attonn says:

    So Obama knew all along about the USA being manipulated and used by genocidal maniacs of the Gulf for their purposes, but waited until his presidency is almost over to utter a word of discontent. What a traitorous scum.

  15. Talha says:

    Wow – a high-level official finally spilling the beans on the Saudi export of Wahhabism – that is pretty welcome. Hopefully this does open the door more for his successor to start off with a more sane policy.

    Been waiting for this for years…

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