(This post is from our new blog: Unofficial Sources.)
A growing chorus of Republican politicians is demanding that President Barack Obama respect and follow the agenda of Saudi Arabia, a country known for its export of Sunni extremist beliefs, brutal executions of petty criminals and religious heretics, and suppression of women’s rights.
From negotiations with Iran, to the ongoing Saudi bombing of Yemen, to issues of regional Middle East security, Republicans are insisting that the Saudis should be trusted.
In a major speech on Monday, Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., ripped Obama for alienating Persian Gulf regimes, including Saudi Arabia. “Just last week we saw the embarrassment of almost all the Gulf leaders, including the Saudi king, pulling out of President Obama’s summit at Camp David,” he said. Christie, who is considering a presidential bid, added, “our allies want policies, not photo ops, and we’re not listening to them.”
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., has admonished the Obama administration for negotiating for a nuclear deal with Iran. “Now the Israelis are in a greater alliance with the Saudis, Jordanians and Egyptians than they are with the United States because those countries at least have the good sense to know you don’t trust the Iranians,” Huckabee said at a campaign speech in New Hampshire on April 18.
For some lawmakers, the Saudi agenda in the region is regarded as almost sacrosanct. “It would be hypocritical for us to criticize what the Saudis are doing because they’re right there in the region and probably have better intel than we do, anyways,” Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wisc., told C-SPAN’s Washington Journal on April 22.
Asked last Friday by radio host John Howell about the allies “we must back at all times,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., replied, “I would add United Arab Emirates, to an extent Bahrain, and while we have a lot of disagreements with Saudi Arabia, and there are a lot of things you know we don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye on, they’re almost an ally that’s too big to fail just because of their importance, having Mecca in Saudi Arabia, some of the religious sites.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., citing the concerns of “our Sunni allies, the Saudis,” questioned Secretary of State John Kerry regarding why Saudi Arabia has been kept “in the dark” about negotiations with Iran. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., made similar remarks, declaring that a deal with Iran would undermine “our friends in the Arab world in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.”
As Saudi Arabia began its incursion into Yemen to attack Houthi rebels, several U.S. senators demanded that the administration automatically back the Saudi-led coalition. Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., said the “Obama Administration should provide all appropriate and possible support for Saudi Arabia.” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., released a joint statement declaring, “Saudi Arabia and our Arab partners deserve our support as they seek to restore order in Yemen.”
In recent years, the Saudi embassy has stepped up its lobbying operation with particular focus on building relations with the Republican Party.
The Saudis have hired two Republican big data firms to help influence American policy; retained former Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., who leads a major Republican Super PAC, as a lobbyist; and coordinated the lobbying of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, a group that backs GOP demands for intervention in Syria against President Bashar al-Assad. In addition, agents of the Saudi government fund major Washington think tanks, trade associations, and employ a small army of public relation and law firms to exert influence.
The calls by Republicans to back Saudi Arabia are a dramatic shift from 2009, when conservatives reacted angrily when Obama merely bowed to King Abdullah.
Photo: Saudi Special Forces Hold Military Show In Mecca. (Abid Katib/Getty)