Let me pose a simple question: What was the last American war that did not involve Saudi Arabian interests?
In 1994, photographers captured this scene as a U.S. Marine took up a strategic kneeling combat stance in the early hours of Operation Restore Democracy in Haiti, perhaps the last U.S. foreign intervention that did not in some way tie back to the U.S.-Saudi “alliance.”
There have been other small actions abroad that arguably qualify but one can not escape the pattern: Virtually every shooting war involving the U.S. military in the last 30 years has involved the interests of Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia is a Sunni Muslim kingdom that leads one side of a Sunni-Shi’ite conflict that seems to have become the great international relations divide of the post-Soviet era. Questions regarding the U.S.-Saudi relationship come to mind again as the drums of another Middle East war seem to be urging America to attack Saudi Arabia’s enemy directly: Oil tankers attacked, an expensive U.S. drone shot down, rumors of an American cyber attack on Iranian missile systems.
As belligerents trade conflicting accounts of alleged acts of war, it’s helpful to remember this list of historical causes of conflict that remain in question as potential hoaxes designed to tempt our country into armed conflict. Would attacking Iran help America? Or would it follow an almost unbroken pattern of U.S. military might serving Saudi interests?
Consider this brief list of recent conflicts:
2015-present: The Yemeni Civil War. For reasons that remain unclear to me, the United States followed Saudi Arabia in intervening in Yemen. The war has resulted in shocking and gruesome suffering.
2015-present: Libya civil war. The United States continues to participate in that war for the benefit of a Saudi ally. The now dead former leader of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi, once accused Saudi Arabia of using its alliance with the United States against Libya.
2014-present: Syrian civil war. The United States has joined Saudi Arabia to intervene in the Syrian civil war. Syria is often viewed as an ally of Iran, Saudi Arabia’s chief rival, and a conduit for Iran to project power in the region.
1991-present: Iraq. The original military action against Iraq (the Gulf War) was intended to protect Saudi Arabia from a potential invasion from its neighbor to the north. Since then, the war has undergone several phases and resulted in a staggering financial commitment from the United States. The United States most recently participated in operations to counter ISIS in Iraq and remains to continue humanitarian operations. The current participation can be seen as a facet of the operations in Syria.
2001-present: Afghanistan/Pakistan. Intervention in both countries began as a response to the September 11 attacks against the United States by Saudi Arabian Osama bin Laden. Since 2001, the Saudis have been so involved in the wars that they are considered an indispensable player in the current peace talks. American presence in Pakistan and Afghanistan has strategic value for the Saudis because of the proximity to Iran’s Northern border.
1998-1999: Kosovo War. When the U.S. intervened in the Kosovo war in 1998, Saudi Arabia already had guerilla-style fighters on the ground fighting on the same side the United States would join. Since then, the Saudi’s have used Kosovo as a base of operations to radicalize fighters for use in the Syrian War. The New York Times credited these operations with producing “314 Kosovars—including two suicide bombers, 44 women and 28 children—who have gone abroad to join the Islamic State.”
Whatever Saudi Arabia’s importance to U.S. national interests, it’s hard to understand why virtually every war America has fought over the last three decades has involved Saudi interests. As I recently noted,
Saudi Arabia supports and exports Wahhabism—a strain of Islam that inspires a lot of terror. As noted by HuffPost, out of the 61 groups that are designated as terrorist organizations by the State Department, the ‘overwhelming majority are Wahhabi-inspired and Saudi-funded groups, with a focus on the West and Iran and their primary [enemies].’
Private Saudi citizens reportedly funded Iraqi rebels who attacked Americans in the early part of the Iraq war. According to The New York Times, Saudis continue to finance the Taliban in Afghanistan, which continues to fight the U.S.-supported government in Kabul. If we’re concerned about Russian interference in American politics, we might also be concerned that Saudi Arabia lavishly funded the Clinton Foundation while it had matters pending before the Clinton-led State Department.
The Washington Post attempted to describe and inventory the network of influence Saudi Arabia has cultivated in Washington, D.C.. In my view, the article fell far short of explaining why American foreign policy seems so beholden to Saudi interests.
In spite of electing one president and then another who promised to end American adventurism in the Middle East, and despite Congress repeatedly voting (here, here, and here) to curtail American support for Saudi Arabia’s wars, American voters appear to have less influence over our military than the Saudi foreign minister.
Somehow, we’ve entered an era in which the president can continue to fight endless wars by vetoing every attempt to stop them. That’s a violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of Article I of the Constitution, which grants Congress the exclusive power to declare war.
One benefit of the NeverTrump obsession has been a sudden skepticism of Saudi Arabia’s value to the United States after Donald Trump’s intervention on the Kingdom’s behalf. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. On this question, the NeverTrumpers have finally articulated a real Constitutional crisis.
We need to rationalize American-Saudi relationship to obtain greater benefit to the United States at less cost. The precious blood and treasure of the American military is not a toy and it should only be used when American interests are clearly at stake. I would not sacrifice a single hair on my son’s head to protect all the idle billionaires in Saudi Arabia. I’m sure every soldier in the U.S. military has a parent who feels the same way about their son or daughter.
Here’s an idea: How about telling Saudi Arabia to pursue peace with Iran or fight the next conflict with its own sons?
Photo Credit: Ahmad Al-Basha/AFP/Getty Images