The Saudi Obama Snub: A Positive Sign

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) stands next to Saudi Arabia's King Salman during the summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (
U.S. President Barack Obama (L) stands next to Saudi Arabia's King Salman during the summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 21, 2016. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser

Saudi Arabia's king declined to meet President Obama when he arrived at the airport in Riyadh, capital of the oil kingdom. That's good.

Saudi Arabia has been one of the most destructive forces in the Islamic world. It has financed violent jihad groups, radical preachers and inflammatory satellite TV shows all to promote its intolerant Wahhabi brand of Islam. Wahhabi adherents sanction the killing of infidels, Christians included, as well as persecuting Muslims who don't adhere to its intolerant Medieval ways. The Saudi monarchy, nurtured by British imperial policy and sustained by the obeisance of successive American presidents, has flown under the wing of six decades of U.S. Middle East domination to spread its influence.

As Obama has cozied up to Iran, the Saudis' regional rival, the kingdom's rulers have distanced themselves from Washington. In Riyadh, Obama eventually did meet with King Salman and the President's spin masters described it as a clearing-the-air session. Obama himself went out of his way to suggest that the old Saudi-U.S. "friendship and deep strategic partnership" was still intact."

Somehow, in his Riyadh press conference, Obama managed to never say the words Saudi Arabia, except for thanking his hosts for their hospitality. Off-stage, Saudi officials were talking about "recalibrating" the relationship.

U.S. officials should also recalibrate and are doing so. The U.S. is less dependent on Middle East oil than when Obama took office and the two countries are now competitors in oil production, not just customer and supplier. Neither Saudi assertion of its own interests by supporting violent Islamist groups nor its indirect support for al-Qaeda in Yemen through its bombing campaign coincides with US policy (though Obama tacitly tolerates the aerial campaign to show that the US is on the Saudi side). Saudi Arabian help in battling the Islamic State has been minimal. The kingdom's priority is to counter Iran, not crush jihadists.

The administration continues to appease the kingdom by shielding it from Washington's own 9/11 report, a portion of which allegedly implicates Saudi officials in the attacks. It's not clear how much longer the 28-page excerpt can be kept secret as there is a groundswell of U.S. public pressure for its release. The Saudis threaten to sell off hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. Treasury assets should Congress pass a law that makes it possible for Americans to sue the kingdom over 9/11. Obama opposes the measure.

Before flying to Riyadh, Obama said that the "process" of vetting the 28-pages might, maybe, "hopefully" be finished soon and so perhaps, possibly be released to the public. It's been 15 years since 9/11. Enough delay. Release it and really clear the air.