By Mason Carteri
The recent disappearance and suspected execution of Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian Consulate of Istanbul is simply one more tally on the desert nation’s long list of tyrannical abuses of power and violations of human rights. Reports from the Wall Street Journal indicate that the journalist was murdered by Saudi agents soon after entering the Consulate. Khashoggi served as an unofficial voice of the Saud dynasty for much of his media career before changing tune and moving to the US following the rise to power of the increasingly autocratic Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
By now the extrajudicial execution of a political dissident by the Saudi regime is almost no surprise at all when considered in the broader context of the desert kingdom’s abuses. According to Human Rights Watch, the Saudi government has consistently repressed and detained broad swaths of dissidents, religious minorities, and human rights activists, continues to allow capital punishment for homosexuality and adultery, and continues to permit flogging and other corporal punishments for crimes as described in the Sharia (Islamic Law). Women and girls are legally mandated to cover themselves in public and are still forced to seek the approval of male “guardians” to travel abroad, obtain a passport, marry, or be discharged from prison.
Saudi Arabia is a hereditary, theocratic dictatorship where human rights go almost completely unconsidered and the people have little to no influence in government. It is, perhaps, almost a perfect antithesis to the United States. Additionally, the Saudi government has been, and even remains, a sponsor of terrorist groups including the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, both of which have been significant enemies of the US in the last two decades. And yet, the autocratic regime has enjoyed the support of the United States for decades and through multiple presidencies. In the past decade, both presidents Obama and Trump have visited the Saudi capital and treated the murderous tyrants of their royal family with uncanny friendliness.
Politicians and pundits alike will argue that the US-Saudi alliance is important because of its rich economic and strategic benefits – Saudi Arabia is among the world’s largest oil producing nations and remains a staunch geopolitical foe of Iran, arguably one of the most significant thorns in America’s side today. America clearly reaps significant benefits from our uncouth alliance with the Saud family, but are those benefits really worth our continued support of one of the worst tyrannies of the modern world?
No, they are not. By supporting Saudi Arabia militarily, politically, and economically, America is supporting one of the worst enemies of freedom the modern world knows. It is because we support them with our unquestionable military might that the Saud family is able to conduct hostile foreign policy throughout the Middle East without serious fear of repercussion; and because we have set aside even the possibility of military or economic intervention, the Saudis know they can exercise their power in whatever twisted way they please on their population, and there will be no real blowback. By supporting our “ally” so vigorously, we are enabling some of the very same evils that our founders fought to escape, and then some more.
This is utterly immoral, and beneath who we should be as a nation. The United States is meant to be the “shining city on the hill” that leads the rest of the world towards the same enlightened freedoms we as Americans enjoy every day. By supporting the Saudi Arabian government, we are instead making it even harder for millions of Saudi citizens to climb up that hill from the lowly bog of tyranny.
Of course, before we can reach for such lofty goals as enlightening the world, we as a country must first look after our own people. After all, the purpose of the state is first and foremost to protect and serve its own citizenry. Some would, therefore, argue that allowing the Saudi government to continue its reign of evil is worth it, because it serves our people and our interests by providing us with valuable economic and military resources.
Economically, the US-Saudi alliance is at least somewhat beneficial for America at this time. The US imports roughly one million barrels of petroleum a day from Saudi Arabia, accounting for around 10% of total American petroleum imports according to the Energy Information Administration. Naturally, Saudi Arabian imports thus help keep petroleum and gasoline prices down in the US.
However, the actual value of Saudi Arabia’s million barrels a day is often overestimated. The United States produces around 9.3 million barrels of oil per day on our own, and imports around 9.2 million additional barrels a day from other countries. Additionally, many alternative forms of energy are quickly becoming available to Americans, from natural gas to solar harvesting, and while these may not eliminate our petroleum needs anytime soon, they will certainly decrease them. With this understood, it is clear that the US could get along just fine without Saudi oil.
Militarily, the US uses Saudi soil to host several large overseas bases, and of course the Saudis are considered the main regional opposition to Iran. However, the US retains many other military bases throughout the region, especially in Israel, and the fact remains that without American support, the Iran-Saudi conflict would likely continue regardless – the Sunni-Shia clash and the numerous political issues stemming from it will likely not fade away any time soon, and thus the Saudi Kingdom would likely remain a check against Iran regardless of American support. Furthermore, with or without the Saudis America remains strong enough on our own, or with our less objectionable allies, to ward off the Iranian threat.
So, it would seem that the Saudis need us a lot more than we need them. With or without them, the United States will be able to protect and maintain our national and economic interests. Therefore, the American government need not maintain this alliance for the good of our own people. In fact, it might even be against our own national interest to continue propping up the regime. They are, at best, a flakey ally at the moment, and they remain a nation whose core principles are completely opposed to our own. In the future, this radical islamist government could become an enemy, and the more we feed them and insulate them from foreign threats, the more dangerous of a foe they could grow to be.
The United States thus has both moral and political interests in severing our alliance with this murderous, oppressive, and truly evil regime. We must stop protecting and propping-up the Saud dynasty. With our enabling, they will continue to oppress and malign their own people unopposed, all while they continue to build up their own ability to threaten and terrorize the free world.