Our complex relationship with Saudi Arabia


The U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia has always been complex. Founded on oil, the relationship flourished as America’s need for foreign energy resources grew and was fed by the Arab world’s seeming endless supply of oil. But the kingdom is dramatically different from Western democracy, and the alliance has made for very strange bedfellows.

Saudi Arabia is a rigid theocracy, where non-Muslims are not welcome, where women are forbidden to drive and where religious minorities face systematic discrimination. There is no freedom of peaceful protest. The country’s political system is owned and operated by the large Saudi royal family, and the nation is a major exporter of an extreme brand of Islam and a significant funder of violent Islamic terrorist groups.

The kingdom has long been hostile to Israel, with its opposition softening only in the last decade and a half, as the two countries focus on combatting common enemies, including Iran. President Barack Obama recently summed up America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia by saying, “It’s complicated.”

Included in the complexities of that relationship is the fact that 15 of the 19 terrorists who attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, were Saudis. The 2002 congressional report on the attack — the deadliest terrorist attack ever on U.S. soil — concluded that there was no evidence that Saudi Arabia supported al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden. At least, that is what was said in the public version of the report.

Now, there is a growing call for the government to declassify 28 pages of the report in which it is understood that the Saudi role is described in detail. “There’s no question that this is an important alliance that has accrued to the benefit of the United States in many ways,” Sen. Christopher S. Murphy (D-Conn.) said last week. “But as time goes on, it’s harder and harder to ignore the holes in the relationship.”

At the same time, a bipartisan bill is moving through the Senate that would allow families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia. “It’s very simple: If the Saudi government was complicit in terrorism, then they should pay the price,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of the bill’s sponsors. But leaders in both the Senate and the House say they oppose the legislation, and Obama is likely to veto it if it passes.

The public has the right to know what the 9/11 Commission concluded about Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the disastrous events of Sept. 11. Therefore, no matter how “complicated” our country’s relationship is with the kingdom, we encourage full disclosure of the extent of the Saudi role in the seminal terror event that turned this country on its head and led to two wars we are still fighting.

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