The 1973 oil embargo was a major rough patch. For a year, the Saudis quit selling to the U.S. in retaliation for U.S. support of Israel in the Yom Kippur War. But the two countries made up, united in opposition to the Soviet Union. Even the 9/11 attacks couldn’t loosen the bond. Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 hijackers who flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were Saudi nationals, and U.S. public opinion turned strongly against the kingdom after Saudi citizens were allowed to leave the U.S. right after the attack — before the FBI could interview them. But President George W. Bush, whose family had long-standing Saudi business relationships, stood by the alliance, and in 2005, he was photographed holding hands with then–Crown Prince Abdullah. In the decade after 9/11, the Saudis spent more than $100 million on public relations in the U.S., trying to overcome the country’s image as an exporter of terrorism.
Is that image true?
Yes. Decades ago, the Saudi monarchy made a tacit bargain with radical Islamists in the country: It would fund the spread of Wahhabism, the Saudi form of ultraconservative Islam, and jihadism around the world, as long as the radicals didn’t blow up targets inside Saudi Arabia. Saudi money funded Islamist militants in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia, and the Russian province of Chechnya. After 9/11, Saudi officials claimed to have turned off the money spigot. But secret U.S. diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks in 2009 said Saudi Arabia “remains a critical financial support base” for al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, giving them “millions of dollars annually.”
What about human rights?
With its draconian form of sharia law, Saudi Arabia’s autocratic government is consistently rated among “the worst of the worst” human rights offenders. Its gender apartheid system treats women as second-class citizens — shrouded in abayas, dependent on male guardians, and mostly barred from going out alone and from any form of public life. There’s no freedom of religion, and the press is censored. Brutal, public floggings and stonings are the penalty for such crimes as adultery and apostasy. Those arrested are routinely tortured to extract confessions. Last year, Saudi Arabia put to death 146 people for crimes including murder and drug dealing; most of the executions were beheadings.
What’s in it for the U.S.?
For the average US citizen, we ‘benefit’ by being soft targets for Saudi-supported groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS. But our 1% benefits a lot from Saudi bribes.