Profit, Jobs, Oil, Iran and Geopolitics: Why America won't do much about Saudi murder of Kashoggi

Feature Article Jamal Kashoggi murdered by Saudi operatives
OCT 30, 2018 LISTEN
Jamal Kashoggi murdered by Saudi operatives

Hell would have broken loose if it emerged that Iran or Russia had murdered one of their prominent government critics inside a consular building in a foreign country. The United States, Britain, France, Germany, and Australia all would be lining up not only condemning Iran and Russia but would also be proposing tough sanctions at the UN Security Council against Iran and Russia. But it is Saudi Arabia, and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the darling of the West and so it is ok. On October 2, 2018, Jamal Kashoggi, a prominent journalist and critic of the regime of Crown Prince bin Salman was brutally and sadistically murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. His untimely death shocked many people but not those who are aware of the authoritarian politics of Saudi Arabia and importantly Crown Prince bin Salman who is increasingly backed by America, Britain and France.

This politically novice Crown Prince is causing a lot of troubles in the volatile region of Middle East with the blessing of America, Britain and France. Since assuming his current role as the Crown Prince, Mr. Salman had implemented a number of reckless policies that should have elicited greater scrutiny from the West. For example, he is responsible for the ongoing disastrous war in Yemen in which tens of thousands of civilians have been killed with bombs made in Britain and the United States. He is responsible for spearheading the less-successful air, land, and sea blockade against Qatar in 2017. In the name of fighting corruption in Saudi Arabia, he arrested and detained prominent Saudi businessmen and key members of the royal family in 2017. In his attempt to influence politics in Lebanon, he had the Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri lured to Saudi Arabia, had him arrested, beaten and forced to resign as Prime Minister. Under his watch, several Saudi women activists campaigning for the right and freedom to drive in the country have been arrested and locked up. In late August this year, Prince Salman launched a diplomatic war against Canada, when Ottawa criticised the detention of these women activists.

In all these, the West especially the US, Britain, France and Germany have continued to treat relations with Saudi Arabia as normal. Western governments continue to sell more arms to Crown Prince Salman to continue his reckless and repressive foreign and domestic policies such as the disastrous war in Yemen.

The key question is: Why have the West remained so mute and continue to tolerate Saudi Arabia and particularly Crown Prince Salman?

There are many reasons. One of them is PROFIT. Saudi Arabia is an incredibly rich country. They generate tens of billions of dollars annually from the sale of crude oil. Part of the money they earn is used to buy weapons from Western countries notably America, Britain, France and Germany who are in order of importance the largest weapons suppliers to Saudi Arabia. In 2017 for instance, Saudi Arabia bought $18 billion worth of arms from the United States. This represents about 20% of US total arms export and accounts for 60% of Saudi Arabia's total arms import. Between 2011 and 2015, 10% of US total arms export landed in Saudi Arabia. When President Donald Trump visited Riyadh in May 2017, he signed a number of defence and security agreements in which the US would supply ships, tanks, intelligence-gathering aircraft, helicopters, a missile-defence radar system, plus cybersecurity tools totalling $460 billion to the Saudis, ($110 billion to begin immediately plus another $350 billion to be supplied over a period of ten years). US companies are also to be contracted to build some of the weapons in Saudi Arabia. A statement released by the US government stated that "This package demonstrates, in the clearest terms possible, the United States’ commitment to our partnership with Saudi Arabia and our Gulf partners, while also expanding opportunities for American companies in the region, and supporting tens of thousands of new jobs in the US defense industrial base".

Other Western countries such as Britain and France also have extensive deals with Saudi Arabia. Between 2011 and 2016, Saudi Arabia was the main destination of U.K. arms exports. Since April 2015, the current U.K. government headed by Theresa May has sold more than £3.3 billion military weapons and other goods to the Kingdom. In the first quarter of 2017, British companies exported £1.1 billion worth of arms to the Kingdom. By selling the weapons the companies make tens of billions of dollars in profit each year, generating huge dividends for their shareholders while at the same time contributing to revenue generation efforts by their governments through taxation. Therefore, officials in US, Germany, France and Britain fear that if they criticise Saudi Arabia in general and Crown Prince Salman in particular, the Kingdom may stop buying Western-made weapons and instead turn to Russia and China.

Saudi Arabia is an influential member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) whose members also buy tens of billions of dollars of arms from elite weapons manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Airbus, BAE Systems. The presence of these companies in the region and the influence the Saudis exert in the GCC gives the West the opportunity to project their economic, diplomatic, security and political power in the Middle East. Put differently, the West do not want lose the lucrative arms market in the Middle East and particularly in Saudi Arabia to their strategic rivals such as China and Russia. They also do not want to lose the influence they exercise in the region through Saudi Arabia hence their incoherence response to the murder saga and even attempt by Donald Trump to protect the Kingdom from any harsh criticism or punishment.

Protecting jobs: Saudi Arabia produces more than 10 million barrels of crude oil each day. Many American and European companies such as as ExxonMobil, Texaco, Shell, Total and Eni are heavily involved in producing, shipping and marketing Saudi oil. At the same time, European and American oil servicing companies such as Halliburton are deeply involved in providing oil and gas related services to several companies operating in Saudi Arabia including Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia's national oil company. The tens of billions of dollars of arms sold to Saudi Arabia and other GCC members as well as the hundreds of millions of barrels of crude oil produced in the Kingdom by Western companies enable the companies involved to generate tens of thousands of good paying jobs to Western citizens and their dependants. Thus going too hard on the Saudis may put jobs and profits at risk in US, France and Britain. In fact, after signing the agreement with the Saudis in May, 2017, President Trump happily declared: "That was a tremendous day. Tremendous investments in the United States. Hundreds of billions of dollars of investments into the United States and jobs, jobs, jobs". Marillyn Hewson, the president of Lockheed Martin, one of leading supplier of arms the Saudis praised the deal, saying: "At Lockheed Martin, we are proud to be part of this historic announcement that will strengthen the relationship between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We are especially proud of how our broad portfolio of advanced global security products and technologies will enhance national security in Saudi Arabia, strengthen the cause of peace in the region, and provide the foundation for job creation and economic prosperity in the U.S. and in the Kingdom".

Western economies are addicted to Saudi oil. The economies in the West are heavily dependent on fossil energy resources of which Saudi Arabia has in abundance. It is estimated that the Kingdom is home to about 18% of global crude oil reserves or about 250 billion barrels of crude oil. Only Venezuela has more reserves than Saudi Arabia. As a result of its huge oil reserves, Saudi Arabia has become a key producer and supplier of petroleum energy to the West. Everyday, Riyadh produces more than 10 million barrels of crude oil. The millions of barrels of crude oil produced in Saudi Arabia find its way in the refineries in Europe and North America. In other words, the Western countries are dependent on Saudi Arabia for their energy needs. This dependency began in 1945. In 1945, then US President Roosevelt had a secrete agreement with King Saud of Saudi Arabia in which America promised to support the King’s stranglehold of the country come what may. In return Saudi Arabia pledged to supply ever more cheaper oil to America and its Western allies. The Western countries are so addicted to Saudi oil and petro-dollars so much so that they don’t have the courage to punish the Kingdom when it violates international law or commits heinous crimes even on Western soil. For example it has been heavily documented that 15 of the 19 hijackers who participated in the 9/11 terror attacks against America were Saudi citizens. However, the Bush Administration chose to invade Iraq while the Saudis were left untouched. In fact, the Saudis were even rewarded with more support from America and her Western compatriots. Trump’s attempt to whitewash the murder of Kashoggi is similar to the Bush administration's effort to protect the terrorists who attacked America in 2001.

Thus without the Saudi oil, the West would struggle to maintain their economic dominance in the world. As the largest crude oil producer among OPEC members, Saudi Arabia can cause real damage to the crude oil-dependent economies in the West if Crown Price Salman decides to cut production. Indeed, global oil prices can easily double or triple in a week and there will be pandemonium in the world's economy if Riyadh reduces production. The situation could even be more precarious given that other major oil producing countries are currently facing serious challenges. Iran for instance which supplies 5% to 10% of Europe's oil needs currently has limited ability to produce and sell crude oil to the international market due to sanctions. Venezuela, another major producer is currently unable to pump a lot of crude oil due to economic challenges while Libya which once sold almost all of its crude oil to Europe is currently struggling to produce oil because of the conflict in the country. In short the global economy may enter into another recession. Europe in particular may be forced to turn to Russia for crude oil supply something European leaders do not want to do because of Russia's history of using energy resources as weapon to influence European countries.

Saudi Arabia is a major player in America's effort to isolate Iran, fight global terrorism and contain the Muslim Brotherhood. Iran and America have been locked in diplomatic and proxy wars since the 1979 Iranian revolution brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power. In the heat of the revolution, some Iranian students (chanting 'death to America' for backing the monarchy of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and overthrowing the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953) stormed the American Embassy in Tehran and took several embassy staff hostage for more than a year. America subsequently imposed sanctions on Iran. Since the revolution, Iran has sought to become the Middle East's most dominant power. It has done so by attempting to export its revolution to Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain. It has supported militant groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine. The United States has tried to make sure the Iran does not succeed in its quest to become the regional hegemon. In the 1980s, the US used Saddam Hussein to balance the Iranian power in the region. America for example backed Saddam during the Iraq-Iran War of 1980-1988.

However, the US disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003, the elimination of Saddam, the disbanding of Iraq's military and the formation of Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad handed Iran a major strategic victory. Since Iraq's invasion, Iran's influence in the Middle East has increased tremendously. It is now seen as the patron power in Iraq. Iran is also regarded as the main power behind the Houthi rebels who now control Yemen's capital Sanaa and the port city of Hodeida. Its backing of the nearly-victorious Asad government in Syria has given Tehran not only influence in Syria but access to the strategically important Mediterranean Sea, something which greatly worries not only Saudi Arabia, but also Israel, Turkey and importantly the United States. America has been working hard to contain the Iranian influence in the Middle East. US has recruited a number of countries in the region including Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia to do this job.

When Shia Houthi rebels (led by their leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi) arrived in Yemen's capital Sanaa and removed the government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi from power in 2014, Saudi Arabia saw the Houthis' victory as a victory for Iran and a threat to its own ambition to become the Middle East's most important power. The Obama administration was unwilling to commit US troops to another war in the Middle East. So it allowed Saudi Arabia to take the lead to confront the rebels and to contain Iran, an opportunity the Saudis fully embraced. Thus for geopolitical reasons, Western governments are unlikely to severely punish Saudi Arabia for this heinous crime. In other words, the West may treat the Saudis with kids’ gloves with the notion that if they act too hard on Riyadh, it may drive Saudi Arabia to stop cooperating with the West to contain Iran. Saudi Arabia might even be driven into the hands of the West's geopolitical rivals particularly Russia and China. This explains why some members of the Foreign Policy community in the West have been urging their governments to be more considerate in their response so they do not lose Saudi Arabia (which is the West’s most important ally in the Arab and Islamic world). This is why Trump has been working hard to pour cold water on the whole Kashoggi murder issue.

In summary Saudi Arabia may have pulled the trigger that finished Jamal Kashoggi but it was America and her European allies—addicted to Saudi oil and arms-dollars—who are responsible for his murder. Without the backing of the West, Saudi Arabia would not have brazenly killed one of its own citizens in a foreign country. It is therefore important that Western governments put aside their national interests and allow international laws to work.

LA Adusei