The Saudis did 9/11. Okay, probably not their government or their intelligence services directly – though there is some controversial, if circumstantial evidence that raises serious questions – but rather their citizens (15 out of 19 hijackers) and their ideology. The Saudi Wahhabi brand of fundamentalist Islam differs only ever so slightly from the faith of Al Qaeda and ISIS. Furthermore, the Saudis spent decades using their excess oil wealth to build madrassas, fund religious organizations, and otherwise spread their intolerant vision throughout the poorest communities in the Islamic world. In doing so, they helped found a generation’s worth of jihadi groups from the Taliban to Al Qaeda to ISIS.
All the while, the United States quietly acquiesced – even though the blowback from this cynical alliance helped kill Americans and damage Washington’s good name across the region. Uncle Sam long ignored the Saudis’ innumerable domestic human rights abuses and funding of terrorism and stood by Riyadh at every turn. Well, Saudi Arabia produced a lot of oil and bought a lot of American weapons. Besides if the Saudis were villains, at least they were (and are) our villains.
Ironically, over the same fifty year time span, the U.S. backed another Mideast player – Israel – that, on the surface, couldn’t be more different from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Israeli was ostensibly democratic (at least for Jews) and should have been anathema to a Saudi government that sought religious leadership of the Islamic world – especially as they were protectors and keepers of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Instead, though the Saudis sometimes ramped up the rhetoric of Palestinian suffering, Riyadh inched ever closer to a tacit alliance with the Jewish State, seeing Israel as a powerful partner in their obsessive rivalry with Shia Iran. Both partners had long viewed Iran as the greatest threat to the status quo of Saudi-Israeli regional hegemony.
Enter the horrific 9/11 attacks. Each and every hijacker was actually from Mideast countries that were friendly with Washington. That was part of their gripe: that the US backed oppressive regimes and dictatorships in the region, along with apartheid-Israel. In the upcoming "war" against terror, countries like Iraq and Iran should have been natural allies. Both hated Al Qaeda and Sunni-chauvinist jihadism. Anyone with the slightest understanding of the Mideast should have seen that clear as day. Instead, the George W. Bush administration – which was remarkably close to the House of Saud and the Israeli right – allowed those two "partners" to convince the US that Iraq and Iran were the real problem- even though they had nothing to do with 9/11 whatsoever.
The rest, as they say, is history. Bush included both Iran and Iraq in his "Axis of Evil," then toppled Saddam and isolated Tehran. Hundreds of thousands died, nearly $6 trillion was spent and the region has been utterly unstable ever since. Worldwide terror attacks exponentially increased in the decades following 9/11. Planet Earth, is, no doubt, more dangerous and full of suffering than at any time since the Second World War.
So why? Why did (and does) the US allow the Saudi-Israeli tail to wag the proverbial American dog? There are a litany of reasons, but let us focus on three. First, America is the largest arms dealer in the world and military-industrial complex powerhouse corporations like Boeing, Honeywell, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin exert unparalleled influence over Congress and the executive branch. Money veritably owns American politics. Second, the war hawk "deep state," so to speak, a right-wing nationalist cabal that had been waiting in the wings during the Clinton years – Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and John Bolton – took the wheel in the Bush years. This gang, along with neoconservatives like Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, was obsessed with Iraq and wanted to reshape the whole region with the US as the Mideast hegemon.
Finally, there’s a nefarious strain of right-wing Protestant evangelical millenarianism in the U.S. that unflinchingly backs Israel. These true believers seem to genuinely believe that Jesus can’t return to judge the living and the dead until the Jews are firmly ensconced in the Holy Land. But no mistake, this reflexive backing Israel is a rather one-sided affair and shockingly cynical. These same evangelicals, who make up a significant minority of the American electorate, believe that when Jesus does return those same Israeli Jews will be going to hell!
In the end, the results of this American kowtow to the Saudi-Israeli nexus have had unfathomably detrimental consequences. US soldiers – like several of my own – ended up fighting and dying against secular Sunnis and Shia militias that had nothing to do with 9/11 and should have been natural allies. The Trump administration – filled with a new generation of nationalist zealots – inches ever closer to what would be a tragic and costly regime change in Iran. America’s reputation in the Greater Middle East has been permanently sullied, uniting Sunni and Shia alike in a generational hatred of Washington that truly endangers US citizens. Indeed, in poll after credible global poll, the United States is voted the greatest threat to world peace. Furthermore, US actions continue to facilitate desperate humanitarian and refugee crises in Yemen and Gaza, among other hot spots. And, finally, US support empowers a reactionary right-wing Netanyahu government in Israel. It’s all such a vicious circle.
This author holds out little hope for a change to the current state of affairs. Still, sober strategy and human empathy demands an end to Saudi-Israeli hold on US foreign policy. The way forward would be long, but it is clear: end the mainstream media blackout of the tragedy in Gaza; end the recognition of Jerusalem as a Jewish capital city; step away from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and recognize Washington can never be a neutral arbiter; freeze weapons sales to both Israeli and the Kingdom; open negotiations with Iran to de-escalate the regional Cold War and win over their more U.S.-friendly youth; and, of course, demilitarize US policy across the entire region.
Were the US to live up to its long purported values, its citizens would have to choose policies and send the message that reflexive support of Israel and the Saudis, and the instinctive framing of all Muslims as "terrorists" harms our nation’s soul and strategy. Too bad there is no mainstream US political party ready to even consider a change.
Danny Sjursen is a US Army officer and regular contributor to Antiwar.com. He served combat tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at his alma mater, West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet.
[Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.]
Copyright 2018 Danny Sjursen