The Book of the Week is “Secrets of the Kingdom, The Inside Story of the Saudi-U.S. Connection” by Gerald Posner, published in 2005. There has been a two-faced relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia (also called the Kingdom) for forever. The author provided numerous examples (it got a bit tabloidy) of the greed and power-hunger of historical figures who have adversely affected countless people’s lives by controlling oil prices one way or another. The consequences of the power-brokers’ actions have run the gamut from inconvenience and economic hardship to ruined lives and needless deaths through the decades of the twentieth century into the twenty-first.
In 1973, Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal told Aramco (the oil company jointly owned by the United States and Saudi Arabia’s royal family) to refrain from shipping oil to America to create an artificial oil shortage to push prices up, leading to record profits for mostly the royal family and Aramco. Another excuse for having fun with oil-pricing was the Yom Kippur War.
By the mid-1970’s, Faisal and his family members were deriving inconceivable riches from oil. American businesspeople of all kinds (including executives of financial institutions) were overly eager to get the lucky Saudis (numbering in the thousands) to spend those riches on the trappings of modernity and luxury goods. The Kingdom imported foreigners to fill undesirable jobs, and contracting jobs.
The United States government became an accomplice to the culture of corruption (bribery and money laundering) that permeated the country. There was also a culture of anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic practices, called the “Arab boycott” (for more information, see this blog’s post, Bitter Scent). In March 1975, King Faisal was assassinated but not much changed.
June 1977 saw president Jimmy Carter of the United States sign an anti-Arab-boycott bill (which got an “A” for effort), but even his policies were handcuffed by the Saudis’ control over oil prices. Inter-agency rivalry raged between the National Security Council and the Justice Department over suppressing the latter’s investigations into Aramco’s (secret, highly lucrative and criminal- in American civil law) transactions.
In the late 1970’s, U.S. colleges such as USC, Duke and Georgetown got small endowments from the Saudis for creating Islamic or Arab studies departments. Even the Smithsonian jumped on the bandwagon.
To make the 1970’s an even more eventful decade for oil-pricing manipulation, there occurred the American president-Carter-brokered peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. The Iranian Revolution prompted the president to send American troops to the Kingdom to protect the oil there. But refused to sell it missiles. So it got missiles from China.
Yet more ugliness that affected geopolitical dynamics included a terrorist attack in Mecca in November 1979, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the following month; not to mention the Iran-Iraq War. Around this time, the United States became the globe’s biggest importer of oil from the Kingdom and a supplier of weaponry to it.
In June 1982, King Fahd became the new leader of Saudi Arabia. Radicals forced Islamic extremism on ordinary Saudis– telling them when to pray, how to dress, how to eat, how to live, and whom their enemies should be– non-Muslims, Israelis, Jews, women.
Greedy American dealmakers didn’t care. They secretly knuckled under on the Arab boycott, even though it was against American law. They hoped to make, or were making megabucks, in the Kingdom and other Arab nations. This included former president Carter, who needed money for his presidential library. He allowed weapons seller Adnan Khashoggi to hold a 1983 fund-raiser for him in New York.
Lest one forget that the Iran-Contra Affair revealed honor among thieves– even sworn enemies (!): In 1983, “Israel supplied the weapons [missiles to Iran] and the Saudis paid for them.”
In 1985, Saudi Arabia bought military planes from Great Britain instead of from the United States, as the Israel lobby in America did achieve small victories from time to time. Nevertheless, terrorist attacks continued through the 1990’s.
Fast forward some years. As is well known, 9/11 was a particularly thorny, game-changing event for everyone involved in Middle Eastern politics, as a significant number of Americans died. It led to many outrages, but initially, little punishment for the planners, aiders and abettors (mostly from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia– NOT Afghanistan and NOT Iraq) of the terror attacks.
The George W. Bush administration coddled almost three hundred outright terrorists, government officials and royal-family members who had special knowledge of and ties to the guilty, by allowing them all to leave the United States on seven private flights while all other flights were suspended, within a week of the attacks. Those special people were never questioned, though they would have been valuable witnesses in connection with the investigation into the attacks.
Read the book to learn about a wealth of other ethical conflicts American government and business leaders faced, and still face in trying to: keep oil prices low, minimize worldwide bloodshed, and make maximum profits (never mind ethics); and additional history on the Kingdom, including its relationship with Osama bin Laden, and a national security scheme it allegedly put in place that, if triggered, would deliberately (!) make it a cancer cluster like Chernobyl. Forever.