Neocons Flack for Unsavory Saudis

Exclusive: Since Israel decided that Iran was its big enemy “and made Saudi Arabia its quiet ally” American neocons have fallen in line, demanding that the U.S. government punish Iran and coddle the Saudis whatever their unsavory behavior, notes Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare

Bret Stephens, the deputy editorial page editor who writes The Wall Street Journal’s weekly “Global View” column, is not really a bad prose stylist, and his logic is not always unsound. But his unexamined assumptions lead him astray.

His latest installment is typical. Entitled “Why the U.S. Should Stand by the Saudis Against Iran,” it begins with not one premise, but two. The first, as the title suggest, is that the U.S. should stand by Riyadh in its time of woes. The second is that if the kingdom stumbles, only one person is to blame, President Obama.

King Salman of Saudi Arabia and his entourage arrive to greet President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 27, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

King Salman of Saudi Arabia and his entourage arrive to greet President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 27, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The article opens on a promising note: “There is so much to detest about Saudi Arabia,” Stephens writes. It bans women from driving, it shuts its doors to Syrian refugees, it promotes “a bigoted and brutal version of Sunni Islam,” and it has “increased tensions with Iran by executing a prominent radical Shiite cleric,i.e., Nimr al-Nimr.”

So why continue siding with a kingdom “that Israeli diplomat Dore Gold once called ‘Hatred’s Kingdom,'” Stephens asks, “especially when the administration is also trying to pursue further opening [sic] with Tehran?”

It’s a question that a lot of people are asking especially now that the collapse in oil prices means that the Saudis are less economically important than they once were. But Stephens says it would be wrong to abandon the kingdom “especially when it is under increasing economic strain from falling oil prices.”

Get that? It would be wrong to abandon the kingdom when oil is scarce and prices are high — because that’s when we need the Saudis the most — and it’s wrong to abandon the monarchy when oil is plentiful and prices are low when we need them the least. Oil, in other words, has nothing to do with it. It’s wrong because it’s wrong.

But Stephens thinks it’s wrong for another reason as well: because Saudi Arabia “feels acutely threatened by a resurgent Iran.” Why is Iran resurgent? Because the nuclear deal that it recently concluded with the U.S. has set it free from punishing economic sanctions.

He then goes on to list all the bad things Iran has done thanks to the power that the Obama administration has just handed it on a silver platter.”Despite fond White House hopes that the nuclear deal would moderate Iran’s behavior,” Stephens says, “Tehran hard-liners wasted no time this week disqualifying thousands of moderate candidates from running in next month’s parliamentary elections, and an Iranian-backed militia appears to be responsible for the recent kidnapping of three Americans in Iraq.”

Loaded Dice 

Scary, eh? Yes, until one considers how Stephens has loaded the dice. His statement about Iran’s hardliners is accurate as far as it goes. But he might have pointed out that while Iran’s theocratic rulers certainly hobble democracy, they at least allow some sort of parliamentary elections to take place whereas Saudi Arabia, the regime he is now leaping to defend, allows exactly none. (Sorry, but last month’s meaningless municipal-council elections don’t count.)

In the Saudi kingdom, political parties, protests, even seminars in which intellectuals get to sound off are all verboten. Since March 2014, Saudis have been expressly forbidden to do anything that might undermine the status quo, including advocating atheism, criticizing Islam, participating in any form of political protest, or even joining a political party.

Stephens’s statement about the three kidnapped Americans is equally misleading. While Iran does indeed back such militias, Reuters cited U.S. government sources saying that “Washington had no reason to believe Tehran was involved in the kidnapping and did not believe the trio were being held in Iran.”

Plus, to follow Stephens’s logic, if Iran is responsible for specific actions like these, then Saudi Arabia is responsible for specific actions of the Sunni Salafist forces that it funds in Syria, which include lopping off the heads of Shi’ites and committing many other such atrocities.

Stephens says that the U.S.-Iranian accord “guarantees Iran a $100 billion sanctions windfall,” a figure that the Council on Foreign Relations, no slouch when it comes to Iran bashing, describes as roughly double the true amount. He says Iran now enjoys “the protection of a major nuclear power” thanks to Russia’s intervention in Syria and agreement to supply Tehran with high-tech weaponry.

As a result, “Iranian proxies are active in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen, and dominate much of southern Iraq. Restive Shiite populations in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province and neighboring Bahrain provide further openings for Iranian subversion on the Arabian peninsula.”

Possibly so, except that Stephens might have noted that Saudi proxies, up to an including Al Qaeda, are active in the same countries and that Shi’ites in Bahrain and the Eastern Province might be a little less restive if Saudi repression were a little less savage.

Obama’s Fault

Then Stephens gets to his main point, which is the nefarious role of Obama:

“Add to this an American president who is ambivalent about the House of Saud the way Jimmy Carter was about the Shah of Iran, and no wonder Riyadh is acting the way it is. If the administration is now unhappy about the Saudi war in Yemen or its execution of Shiite radicals, it has only itself to blame.

“All this means that the right U.S. policy toward the Saudis is to hold them close and demonstrate serious support, lest they be tempted to continue freelancing their foreign policy in ways we might not like. It won’t happen in this administration, but a serious commitment to overthrow the Assad regime would be the place to start.”

In other words, if the Saudi monarchy chops off the heads of dissident Shi’ites and sentences liberal blogger Raif Badawi to a thousand lashes, it’s because Obama doesn’t show enough love. Ditto Yemen. If Saudi air raids have killed some 2,800 civilians according to the latest UN estimates, including more than 500 children, it’s because Obama has allowed his affections to flag for the Saudi royals. If only he would hug the Saudi princes a little closer, they wouldn’t feel so lonely and bereft and would therefore respond more gently to their neighbors in the south. No blame should be cast on the Saudi leaders. Their behavior can’t be blamed on the contradictions between their playboy lifestyles and the ascetic extremes of Wahhabism or the baleful effects of raking in untold oil riches while doing no work in return. No, everything’s the fault of Obama and his yuppie ways.

What can one say about reasoning like this? Only that it makes Donald Trump and Ted Cruz seem like paragons of mental stability. But given that The Wall Street Journal has long filled its editorial pages with such swamp gas, why dwell on the feverish exhalations of just one right-wing columnist?

The answer is that Stephens speaks not just for himself, but for an entire neocon establishment that is beside itself over the mess in the Persian Gulf and desperate to avoid blame for the chaos (which is now spreading into Europe). So, talking points must be developed to shift responsibility.

The Lost Saudi Cause

But the Saudis may be beyond saving. With Iran preparing to put a million more barrels on the world oil market per day, prices, down better than 75 percent since mid-2014, can only go lower. The Saudis, hemorrhaging money at the rate of $100 billion a year, know that when the foreign currency runs out, their power runs out too. Hence, they fear winding up as yet another failed Middle Eastern state like Syria.

“Islamic State and other jihadist groups would flourish,” Stephens observes, this time correctly. “Iran would seek to extend its reach in the Arabian peninsula. The kingdom’s plentiful stores of advanced Western military equipment would also fall into dangerous hands.”

It’s not a pretty picture, which is why the neocons are pointing the fingers at others, Obama first and foremost. As Jim Lobe recently observed, all the usual suspects are pitching in in behalf of their Saudi friends, Elliott Abrams, Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, and so on. All are furious at what Obama administration has done to their beloved petro-sheiks.

As neocon theorist Max Book put it at the Commentary Magazine website: “The American policy should be clear: We should stand with the Saudis, and the Egyptians, and the Jordanians, and the Emiratis, and the Turks, and the Israels [sic], and all of our other allies, to stop the new Persian Empire. But the Obama administration, morally and strategically confused, is instead coddling Iran in the vain hope that it will somehow turn Tehran from enemy into friend.”

Something else is also at work, however, the I-word. As Lobe notes, neocons have done an about-face with regard to the Saudis. Where Richard Perle once called on the Bush administration to include Riyadh on his post-9/11 hit list, the neocons are now firmly on the Saudis’ side.

Why? The reason is Israel, which has decided since tangling with Hezbollah in the 2006 Lebanon War that the Shi’ites are its chief enemy and the Sunni petro-monarchies, comparatively speaking, its friend. Like Communists responding to the latest directive from Moscow, the neocons have turned on a dime as a consequence, churning out reams of propaganda in support of Arab countries they once loathed.

A Saudi Makeover

In the neocon domain, Saudi Arabia has undergone a wondrous makeover, transformed from a bastion of reaction and anti-Semitism to a country that is somehow peace-loving and progressive. Formerly an enemy of Washington, or at best a distasteful gang of business associates supplying lots of oil and buying lots of guns, Saudi Arabia has been re-invented as America’s dearest friend in the Arab world.

People like Bret Stephens have done their bit in behalf of the cause, turning out article after article whose real purpose is hidden from view. Where neocons formerly scorned anyone who spoke well of the Saudis, they now denounce anyone who speaks ill.

The funny thing is that Obama is to blame for the disaster in the Middle East, not because he disregarded the latest diktat from the Washington neocon-dominated foreign-policy establishment, but because he has accepted its priorities all too dutifully. He stood by as Qatar steered hundreds of millions of dollars to Salafist jihadis in Libya and while the Saudis, Qataris, and other Gulf states did the same to Sunni fundamentalists in Syria.

Obama’s response to Saudi Arabia’s repression of Arab Spring protests in Bahrain was muted, he refused to condemn the beheading of al-Nimr — the best the State Department could come up with was a statement declaring that the execution risked “exacerbating sectarian tensions at a time when they urgently need to be reduced” –and Obama has even given military support to the kingdom’s air assault on Yemen.

Yet now the neocons blame him for not doing enough to keep the Saudis happy.

Daniel Lazare is the author of several books including The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace).


14 comments for “Neocons Flack for Unsavory Saudis

  1. Zachary Smith
    January 22, 2016 at 10:32 am

    ….his logic is not always unsound.

    “Logic” can be ‘not always unsound’, yet meaningless if the initial premises are flawed.

    A quick search turned up about all I need to know about this Bret Stephens character.

    Withdrawal is like salted peanuts. Once you experience it, it’s hard to know when to stop.
    Biblical prophecy predicting the return of the Jews to the Holy Land is an important argument against territorial concessions by Israel to a future Palestinian state.
    Jewish Americans must do everything they can to ensure Israel’s security.</blockquote

    No doubt the fellow is as glib as hell, but when he uses “Biblical prophecy” as a justification for modern lying, stealing, and mass murder, his conclusions aren’t worth a pewter ****.

    • January 22, 2016 at 1:44 pm

      There exists many more facets in which Israel is steering the US into oblivion. The big picture lies in plain sight, but nobody seems to accept it as a reality. The Zionist Neo-cons around the world are on a mission they claim is their responsibility to the Talmudic Laws they ascribe to.
      In the Post 9/11 era of un-investigated discoveries being exposed, the Saudi / Israeli / CIA & / White-House are madly scrambling to use their available powers while they still have them. Once all is conceded to the One World Zionist Government, they hope to quell all resistance.

      Watch this:


      Read their Plan Here:

      And Here:

    • Peter Loeb
      January 23, 2016 at 7:13 am

      “Thank God I was born a Jew because otherwise I’d be a raging
      anti-Semite”—Bret Stephens

      Jews are assumed to be suppersior, chosen, and of course, beyond
      question. After all, they have been chosen by divine mandate,
      (While I disagree with many Christian faiths, at least one has
      to CHOOSE.) And of course Jews—like all colonizers–are
      by nature superior,

      It makes no sense to criticize members of any group that has
      been chosen by divine manadate, which is thereby entitled
      to murder, dissposses, invade with impunity.

      Perhaps Bret Stephans mysteriously fails to comprehend why
      so many people do not understand this to begin with

      As the late Christian theologian Michael Prior CM pointed out
      Jews were not alone in these assumptions, shared in some
      form by all colonizers. (See Michael Prior, CM: THE BIBLE AND
      COLONIALISM: A MORAL CRITIQUE and Norman G. Finkelstein’s

      —Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  2. J'hon Doe II
    January 22, 2016 at 10:44 am

    Saudi-Iranian spat: Another skirmish in the oil war
    Pepe Escobar


    Somebody though is not doing the math right in Riyadh. The Saudi low oil price strategy has been punishing Russia – the number two global oil producer – badly. The Saudis cannot possibly expect that their beheading provocation will simultaneously scotch an OPEC-Russia deal on cutting production and also lead to higher oil prices, which would mostly benefit – guess what – Iran and Russia.

    Six months to destroy Russia
    A case can be made that the House of Saud’s low oil price strategy has been a slow motion Wahhabi hara-kiri from the start (which, by the way, is hardly a bad thing.)

    The House of Saud budget has collapsed. Riyadh is financing an unwinnable, mightily expensive war on Yemen, financing and weaponizing all manner of Salafi-jihadists in Syria, and is spending fortunes to prop up al-Sisi in Egypt against any possible Daesh (Islamic State) and/or Muslim Brotherhood offensive. As if this were not enough, internally the succession is a royal mess, with King Salman’s 30-year-old warrior-in-chief, Mohammad bin Salman, stamping his toxic mix of arrogance and incompetence on a daily basis.

    Predictably, Riyadh once again is following Washington’s orders.

    The United States government is frantically trying to hold the oil price down to destroy the Russian economy, using their proxy Persian Gulf producers who are pumping all out. That amounts to no less than seven million barrels a day over the OPEC quota, according to Persian Gulf traders. The US government believes it can destroy the Russian economy – again – as if the clock had been turned back to 1985, when the global glut was 20 percent of the oil supply and the Soviet Union was bogged down in Afghanistan and internally bleeding to death.

    Oil went down to $7.00 a barrel in 1985, and that low figure is where the US government is now trying to drive the price down. Yet today the global glut is less than three percent of the oil supply, not 20 percent as in 1985.

    The surplus today is only 2.2 million barrels a day, according to Petroleum Intelligence Weekly. Iran will bring on initially around 600,000 barrels a day of new oil in 2016. That means later this year we will have a 2.8-million potential surplus.

    The problem is, according to Persian Gulf traders, an annual oil depletion of seven million barrels a day, and that cannot be replaced with the collapse in drilling. What this means is that all surplus oil could be wiped out in the first or second quarters of 2016. By mid-2016, oil prices should start surging dramatically, even with additional oil from Iran.

    So the US government strategy has now metastasized into trying to destroy the Russian economy before the oil price inevitably recovers. That would give the US government a window of opportunity spanning only the next six months.

    How this could have been pulled off so far is a testament, once again, to the irresistible force of Wall Street manipulators using cash settlement; they are able to create a crash where there is hardly any surplus oil at all. Yet even as the Empire of Chaos frantically manipulates the oil price down, it may not go down fast enough to destroy the Russian economy.

    Even Reuters was forced to admit briefly the oil surplus was less than two million barrels a day, and may even be alarmingly less than a million barrels a day before returning to the usual oil-at-an-all-time-low story. This information on the real oil surplus so far had been completely censored. It confronts head on the hegemonic US narrative of surpluses lasting forever and the imminent collapse of the Russian economy.

    As for Saudi Arabia, it’s just a mere pawn in a much nastier game. Common sense now rules that it’s essentially a matter of Black Daesh (the fake “Caliphate”) and White Daesh (the House of Saud). After all, the ideological matrix is the same, beheadings included. It’s the next stage of the oil war that may well decide which Daesh will be the first to fall.

  3. Abbybwood
    January 22, 2016 at 11:04 am

    “Add to this an American president who is ambivalent about the House of Saud the way Jimmy Carter was about the Shah of Iran, and no wonder Riyadh is acting the way it is. If the administration is now unhappy about the Saudi war in Yemen or its execution of Shiite radicals, it has only itself to blame.”

    I don’t see how the United States is “unhappy about the Saudi war in Yemen” when the United States military is aiding in the effort:

  4. dahoit
    January 22, 2016 at 12:33 pm

    The Zionist protection of the Saudis has been ironclad since 9-11.
    Partners in crime always protect each other,until the day one can make hay out of their allies foibles.Watch out Saudis,they’ll turn on you,fools.

  5. Abe
    January 22, 2016 at 1:13 pm

    Neocons flack for the unsavory Israelis. Period.

    Never forget, it was the neocons who made sure America didn’t attack Saudi Arabia in 2001.

    The wheels are coming off the Project for a New Middle Eastâ„¢.

    That’s why all the usual suspects are bitching.

  6. Abe
    January 22, 2016 at 1:46 pm

    Obama definitely did not just “stand by” while Qatar and Saudi Arabia inflicted mercenary terrorist horror on Libya and Syria.

    In both instances, Obama provided diplomatic support at the UN Security Council, approved weapons transfers, and ultimately provided direct air support for mercenary terror. Indeed, the diktats from the Washington pro-Israel-neocon-dominated foreign-policy establishment were very specific on these matters.

  7. Buffalo Bill
    January 22, 2016 at 2:22 pm

    The US has become a terrorist nation!

  8. Chet Roman
    January 22, 2016 at 4:39 pm

    Bret Stephens, the former editor in chief of the Jerusalem Post, is just one small example of the zionist fifth column that is active in the U.S. promoting Israeli interests.

    Martin Indyk, an Australian/Israeli citizen emigrated to the U.S. because he felt it was the best place to protect Israel; he was eventually made Ambassador to Israel. Other agents have served in the Israeli army (Goldberg, Emanuel, etc.) rather than the nation they live in.

    Now that Israel and Saudi Arabia are stealth allies the Saudis must be protected regardless of the chaos they foment in the ME and the damage they do to the global economy. The government is infested with these zionists, whose loyalty is to the zionist state.

    The Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, the position that implements the sanctions against states that won’t bend to the will of neocon/zionist policies, is headed by Adam Szubin who replaced David Cohen (who moved on to the second highest position in the CIA, Mossad is celebrating) who replaced Stuart Levey.

    Stephen’s comments are not surprising considering his Israeli agenda. Israel is now supporting al Qaeda in Syria (one wonders how long have they had this relationship, “911”?) and senior Israeli government officials have said they prefer an ISIS victory over an independent Syrian government headed by Assad. This is the direction that the neocons/zionist are taking the U.S.

  9. blu
    January 25, 2016 at 9:15 pm

    Israel*, ISIS, and Saudi Arabia – The current axis of evil in the Middle East

    I call it Saudi Israelia, it’s one animal with ISIS teeth

    ISIS is just the 2nd Great Act of Israel and Saudi Arabia – the first was 911

    Israel and Saudi Arabia have been cooperating for years – and their fate is one now. The House of Saud is GOING DOWN as Obama topples the Netanyahu government, which is in motion as we speak

    Saudi nationals with Israeli/Mossad protection and monitoring of the US to make sure they pulled it off. And then Mossad filmed it

    ISIS and 911 – brought to you by Israel and Saudi Arabia

    Please support President Barack Obama as AIPAC/Saban’s girl Hillary, the Israeli Lobby/Jewish Lobby (including Saban, Adelson, Schumer, McCain, Graham, etc) and Israelis themselves (Bibi, Dermer, etc) are removed from power on the American political landscape

    What about Apartheid Israel? – as we topple Bibi as we speak, Diskin and the CIS Commanders for Israeli Security will be used along with Chaper 7 UN authorization to clear the Hilltop IDF/Settler IDF. The Zionist experience ends with a whimper, instead of the 1000 year war with Iran or ISIS set loose on Europe (the Israeli-Saudi desperate backup plan, along with an Israeli-Saudi war on Iran)

    It’s the 2nd American Revolution folks, America free of the Israeli Lobby/Jewish Lobby

    Vote the 2nd American Revolution party – coming soon to the 2016 elections near you and YES we have a presidential candidate

    GO GO GO GO GO GO GO GO GO Courage is contagious! GO GO GO GO GO GO GO GO GO GO

    * including the Israeli Lobby/Jewish Lobby in the US.

  10. eugen raduca
    January 26, 2016 at 12:19 am

    all that valors and principles ……..traitors like in us of a …nowhere….from pearl harbor to lavon affair , uss liberty ‘s Israeli massacre to Israeli cia 9 11 demolition America keeps murdering its people with Israeli help to play the ….victim’s card…..and that because , we are the good guys…….. eugen raduca

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