Quit Turning the Other Cheek with Saudi Arabia

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Almost every day we read another galling story in the press about our“allies” in Saudi Arabia. It’s time for the United States to take thediplomatic gloves off.

The Saudi government has resisted our requests to use their bases formilitary operations against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. They’ve draggedtheir heels when it came to freezing the assets of those Saudis bankrollingAl Qaeda. They’ve lectured New Yorkers through Crown Prince Abdullah abouthow it’s our fault that the attacks have come in the first place. And theyrefuse to fully share information about terrorist suspects. Then it comesout that the Saudi monarchy has been the principal financial backer of theTaliban since at least 1996 and that Saudi sources have channeled funds toHamas and other groups that blow away Israeli civilians day after day inacts of terrorism that are as chilling and morally repellent as those thatkilled Americans last September. That’s all on top of the Saudi monarchy’slong‐​standing policy of funding radical Islamic schools and “charities“throughout the world, fronts for incubators of Islamic revolution andanti‐​Western fanaticism.

The common wisdom is that we must turn the other cheek and stay on friendlyterms with the Saudi autocrats because we need their oil. Nonsense. Theyneed our money more than we need their oil. Repeat after us: “There is no’oil weapon.’ ”

First, let’s dispel the notion that we need to worry about an oil embargodirected at the United States. Once oil is in a tanker or refinery, thereis no controlling its destination. During the 1973 embargo on the UnitedStates and the Netherlands, for instance, oil that was exported to Europewas simply resold to the United States or ended up displacing non‐​OPEC oilthat was diverted to the U.S. market. Saudi oil minister Sheik Yamaniconceded afterwards that the 1973 embargo “did not imply that we couldreduce imports to the United States … the world is really just one mar​ket​.So the embargo was more symbolic than anything else.”

Second, the Saudis are hardly in a position to “punish” the industrializednations with a major production cutback. That’s because one of the maincauses of instability in the region is declining oil revenues. Saudis who’ve gotten used to living on the state’s generous oil dole are now findingthat the dole is running out and that jobs are scarce. If the Saudisstopped selling oil, they’d bankrupt their economy and almost certainlytrigger a revolution.

Third, if the last 30 years have taught us anything, it’s that oil producersmake decisions based on economic — not political — criteria. Never once in OPEC’s history has the cartel or any member in it left money on the table topursue some political objective. When the Ayatollah Khomeini displaced theShah in 1979, the oil kept flowing. When U.S. bombs rained down on Libya’sMoamar Quaddafi in 1986, the oil kept flowing. We had to impose an embargoon Iraq’s Sadaam Hussein to get him to stop selling oil to the world mar​ket​.In fact, there is not and has never been any correlation between OPEC “pricehawks” and “price doves” and how those OPEC members felt about America orthe industrialized West in general.

Of course, all that could change if bin Laden’s political agents seizecontrol of the OPEC oil kingdoms. After all, their brand of Islam leaves noroom for corrupting agents such as money or economic prosperity. So ifthere’s a case for turning the other cheek when it comes to the Saudis, it’sthat any regime replacing the House of Saud would probably be worse than theone we’re dealing with now.

But cozying up to dictators who don’t have the support of their own peopleis penny‐​wise and pound‐​foolish. Embracing shaky regimes doesn’t extendtheir political life spans — it only buys us hatred from those who will sooneror later come to power over the bodies of the dictators we’re cavortingwith. Propping‐​up “friendly autocrats” is what has earned us the enmity ofthe Shiite revolutionaries in Iran and is why, in the eyes of the Arabstreet, the United States is associated with autocracy, hypocrisy,corruption, oppression and economic stagnation.

Saudi Arabia is an oppressive regime that mocks everything this nationstands for. They helped to create and sustain the terror network that nowthreatens our existence. Saudi Arabia is not a reliable member of theinternational coalition against terrorism. In fact, when it comes toterrorism, the Saudi regime is part of the problem, not part of thesolution. American foreign policy should react accordingly and not spend asingle minute worrying about the “oil weapon” that never was.

Jerry Taylor and Ted Galen Carpenter

Jerry Taylor is director of natural resource studies at the Cato Institute. Ted Galen Carpenter is Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute.