Saudi Arabia is not our ally. Sure, they may have played one on the reality TV show that is Trump’s presidency, but with the disappearance and alleged murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, we have been forcefully reminded that Saudi Arabia is not a country we can trust.
Jamal Khashoggi was last seen by his fiance walking into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The Saudis are adamant that he left the consulate of his own volition. His wife waited outside for him all day and into the night, and she says he never left. The Turkish government claims they have evidence that Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate. We may never know what actually happened, but we know enough to shake us from our delusion that under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Saudi Arabia can be our new, progressive friend in the Middle East.
To be fair, the image of Saudi Arabia as an emerging United States ally did not come about accidentally. It has been carefully crafted by the Saudi government with some help from the executive branch of the United States government. President Trump’s first official trip abroad was to Saudi Arabia. The President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been the greatest advocate on behalf of Saudi Arabia. Why is our government engaged in a public relations campaign with Saudi Arabia? Money. It’s that simple.
There are two major deals in the works with Saudi Arabia that are of critical interest to the Trump Administration and their billionaire allies. The first is a $110 billion arms sale to the Saudi military. The second, a civilian nuclear power deal.
Saudi Arabia is set to reap the benefits of $110 billion in arms sales from the United States. To be fair, the $110 billion price tag reflects both deals struck under President Obama as well as some deals that have yet to be formally agreed to. But in large part, the $110 billion agreement reflects the work of Jared Kushner, who personally called the CEO of Lockheed Martin to help negotiate the pricing of certain items. President Trump has already made it clear regardless of what happened to Khashoggi, it should not influence the outcome of these sales. He sees these deals as critical for American jobs. Similarly, arms manufacturers are also already making noise about their concerns over the potential loss of sales.
The potential for United States companies to make billions of dollars is not limited to arms sales. As of September, the United States made it to the shortlist of potential partners competing to build nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia plans to spend more than $80 billion to build 16 nuclear reactors over the next 25 years. Saudi Arabia’s pursuit of nuclear power is intriguing — they have the second largest oil reserves in the world. The Saudis have stated that their interest in nuclear power is in expanding its energy portfolio. If struck, a nuclear power deal could be a life saver for one of the American companies seeking to build the power plant — Westinghouse. Westinghouse has declared bankruptcy and demand for growing nuclear power is largely down in the United States and around the world. Securing a deal to build nuclear power plants for Saudi Arabia will be difficult, however, because the United States has laws governing international cooperation on nuclear energy endeavors that require strict nuclear nonproliferation agreements. For that reason, United States officials have been deeply involved in efforts to negotiate the deal. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry has made multiple trips to Saudi Arabia to attempt to help secure the contract for Westinghouse. But Saudi Arabia has yet to accept the kind of nonproliferation stipulations that would be necessary to assuage concerns that they may eventually aim to build nuclear weapons. In fact, they have openly threatened to pursue nuclear weapons if their adversaries in the region were to do so.
The Trump Administration sees Saudi Arabia as a potential business boon for the arms and nuclear industries. So far, the lure of dollars and jobs has caused the administration to turn a blind eye to the Saudi’s worst activities — including their ongoing bombing of civilians in Yemen. The horrors perpetrated by the Saudis in Yemen, including the bombing of a school bus with an american-made bomb, should have been enough to break through the well-orchestrated public image campaign bought by the Saudis and supported by the executive branch. Perhaps the fact that it did not helped assure the Saudis that they could be so bold as to murder a journalist without backlash. Maybe they thought that they had purchased enough good will for the United States to continue to look the other way. Alas, it seems they were a few billion shy of buying the United States’ complete oblivion, and instead they managed to remind the United States that despite a shiny new image — the Saudis are still not our ally.