Behind a smokescreen of pro-American posturing, the Saudi Royal family has been quietly and powerfully muscling its way into U.S. foreign policy, while domestically, pro-Palestinian Arabs remain largely disenfranchised, author and foreign policy analyst Mitchell Bard said during a book tour Thursday at Stanford Hillel.
“Most people don’t realize that [an Arab lobby] exists,” Bard said while promoting his book, Oil, Religion and Politics in the Middle East and US. “They think there’s only a Jewish lobby.”
Bard described the Arab lobby as “much less transparent than the pro-Israel lobby,” one that is less homogeneous, because it’s composed of two distinct groups. They are the oil lobby led by the Saudis and the domestic lobby of Arab-American anti-Zionists.
The domestic lobby is interested in promoting the rights of Palestinians but they have not been very influential. There are only 3 million Arab-Americans in the United States, and many of them are Christians who don’t sympathize with Muslims, because they fled from Lebanon and other states in the Middle East which are dominated by Muslims.
Bard called their agenda “negative, focusing on condemnation of Israel rather than pro-Palestinian.” This doesn’t play well with most Americans and Congress, he said.
The oil lobby has been much more influential, especially since 9/11, having spent over $100 million for public relations. Prince Bandar, who served as the Saudi ambassador the U.S. from 1983-85, is said to have promised U. S government officials they will be well rewarded by the Saudi government when they leave office. Funding presidential libraries has also been a frequent form of Saudi investment.
Over the past 70 years the Saudis have sought American support for their regime by invoking threats that their oil exports could be jeopardized by various “bogeymen” such as the Hashemites, Egypt under Nasser, the Soviet Union and, most recently, Iran.
Bard believes that the Saudis actually undermine U.S. interests in the Middle East.
The Saudis boast that they have oil reserves for the next 80 years. Their ability to manipulate the supply and, consequently, the price of oil, often lulls us into false security and discourages us from actively seeking energy alternatives and conservation.
Furthermore, according to Bard, the Saudis continually undermine the peace process in the Middle East. After President Obama advocated that Israel impose a freeze on building settlements in the West Bank and gave a conciliatory speech in Cairo, he traveled to Riyadh and asked King Abdullah to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The king refused.
The peace initiative the Saudis announced in 2001 was little more than a public relations ploy to deflect criticism for their involvement in 9/11, Bard said. It was full of unacceptable demands. Yet when the Israelis offered to negotiate King Abdullah refused to have Israelis visit Riyadh or to come to Jerusalem. His terms were “take it or leave it.”
Bard called the Saudis “serial abusers of women’s rights.” He believes that given their persecution of Christians and restrictions on women the Saudis, rather than Israelis, should see their nation branded as an “apartheid state.” He pointed out that only one American president, John F. Kennedy, was successful in chastising the Saudi regime. He convinced them to abolish slavery.
According to Wikileaks, Saudi Arabia is a leading sponsor of terrorism. Schools in the U.K. supported by Saudi Arabia are teaching radical Islam. Saudi Arabia has invested more than $130 million in American schools and colleges.
Bard said, “Saudis care about keeping their heads on their shoulders; they really don’t care about Israel.” Although we sold the Saudis billions of dollars of arms before 1991, they couldn’t really defend themselves, he said, and we had to send in 500,000 troops to protect them from Saddam Hussein.
Bard said he thinks we should apply the Sullivan Principles to Saudi Arabia as we did starting in 1977 in South Africa to protest apartheid. Bard suggested that Starbucks, for example, be called upon to end the discriminatory practices that they follow in Saudi Arabia.
Asked about his thoughts on the uprisings and regime changes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, Bard said that “promoting democracy is a paradox.” Palestinians elected Hamas in Gaza, and that resulted in 10,000 rockets launched against Israel. On the other hand, dictators Anwar Sadat of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan made peace with Israel.
Bard said nobody knows what will happen in Egypt. He does believe that though Israelis and Palestinians are reluctant to negotiate at this uncertain time, there eventually will be a breakthrough, and peace will finally be achieved.