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Herb Rothschild Jr.: Silence toward the Saudis

Rarely will people change their conduct just because they’re made aware that it’s inconsistent — even grossly inconsistent. I did have one memorable success. I got the Houston Chronicle to stop its attacks on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Before Chavez was first elected president in 1998, Venezuela’s oil wealth enriched global oil companies and a minority of the population. Chavez changed all that. Big Oil was unhappy, and Houston is a hub of Big Oil. So the Chronicle kept running columns portraying Chavez as a dictator. In 2007, when local Venezuelan ex-pats loyal to Chavez demonstrated in front of the Chronicle building, I prepared a one-page flier I called “Two Major Oil Nations Compared.” In side-by-side columns I compared Venezuela to Saudi Arabia as to democracy, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, treatment of women, and the just use of their oil wealth. The flier said, “Guess which one the Chronicle always criticizes and the one it never mentions.” Staffers returning from lunch took copies into the building. Amazingly, the Chronicle stopped trashing Chavez.

But the paper never criticized Saudi Arabia. Its silence wasn’t just because the Bush family shared oil interests with the Saudis and George H.W. makes his home in Houston. Saudi Arabia has been off-limits to criticism, both by the mainstream media and all U.S. administrations. There’s been a brief flurry over the release of the 28 pages of the official 9/11 report concerning possible Saudi government aid to the attackers. Yet, nothing significant will come of their release or of Obama’s meeting this month with the new Saudi king.

That’s too bad, not just because the kingdom flunks any test for democracy or human rights. More important to us is that Saudi Arabia is the world’s main instigator of radical Islamic agitation. Not Iran, though I carry no brief for that government. Abroad as well as at home, through its religious schools (madrassas), Saudi Arabia promotes Wahhabism, an extreme and militant version of Islam. It supports Sunni terrorist organizations like al-Qaida that are committed to Wahhabism. Nor has it confined its battle against rival forms of Islam, especially Shi’ism, to using proxies. Since 2015 it has led a military intervention by other Gulf states in neighboring Yemen. Its air strikes have been responsible for most of the civilian casualties there.

U.S. law mandates a cutoff of military deliveries to any nation that uses our weaponry against another nation except in self-defense. In April Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduced a Senate resolution requiring the president to certify that certain conditions are being met before selling or transferring air-to-ground munitions to Saudi Arabia. That effort was doomed. The Saudis are our biggest customer — currently $97 billion of weapons purchases are in the works. That’s one reason the kingdom is off-limits to criticism. Another is that it has invested so many of its petrodollars, earned from its huge imbalance of trade with us, in our economy, including Treasury securities that fund our national debt. Big Military + Big Oil + Big Money = U.S. foreign policy.

Change begins with knowledge. On March 5-6, Progressive Democrats of America and United for Peace and Justice held a conference in D.C. about Saudi Arabia, the US-Saudi alliance, and the impact of this relationship on world peace. It’s worth viewing. Go to http://bit.ly/1OU3CjE.

Herb Rothschild's column appears in the Tidings every Saturday.