Saudi Arabia’s King Salman is seen during U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Erga Palace in Riyadh, January 27. Jim Bourg / Reuters

Saudi Arabia as the Incredible Hulk: King Salman snubs Obama’s summit

By Juan Cole

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman is seen during U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Erga Palace in Riyadh, January 27. Jim Bourg / Reuters

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman is seen during U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Erga Palace in Riyadh, January 27. Jim Bourg / Reuters

Watching Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia nowadays, is like Kremlin-watching in the old days of the Cold War. It is not as if most Western journalists have a really good idea of the maneuverings inside the Saudi palace or know why exactly things happen.

Since King Salman succeeded the late Abdullah this winter, Saudi Arabia has become a different country with regard to foreign policy. Abdullah was known for being cautious and diplomatic. He appears to have attempted to head off the Iraq War at the Arab League meeting in 2002 by kissing Saddam Hussain on both cheeks as a sign to Washington that he wasn’t on board with an invasion. Even in the darkest days of tension with Iran under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he invited the quirky Iranian president to Riyadh. He wanted Bashar al-Assad of Syria gone after the latter started massacring that country’s Sunni rebel strongholds, including civilians in rebel zones, but he was uncomfortable with the rise of al-Qaeda-linked groups and Daesh (ISIL, ISIS) in Syria and threw support instead to a southern front of moderates in cooperation with Jordan and to Zahran Alloush’s Army of Islam (a component of the Islamic Front).

Since Salman came to power, it is as though Bruce Banner got angry and turned into the Incredible Hulk. Wahhabi Saudi Arabia has been palpably uncomfortable with the campaign against Daesh in Iraq, which has seen Iran-linked Shiite militias take the lead in conquering Sunni Arab centers like Tikrit. Saudi Arabia is afraid of Daesh too, but not nearly as afraid of it as it is of Iran and Iran’s Shiite allies in the region. Riyadh appears to have suddenly been willing to aid the new coalition of rebels in north Syria, the Army of Conquest, even though one of its major members is al-Qaeda in Syria (the Support Front or Jabhat al-Nusra). And then without telling the US it was going to do so until the last minute, the Saudi Air Force began a massive bombing campaign on Yemen in a bid to destroy the rebel Houthi movement of Zaidi Shiites that was taking over that country, Saudi Arabia believes, as a proxy of Iran.

I think we may conclude that something has changed. The hawks have taken over Saudi Arabia and it is newly militarily assertive and the long-standing paranoia about Iran has spun out of control.

Enter President Barack Obama, who wants to do a deal with Iran to allow it to enrich uranium for electricity generation but to forever forestall an Iranian nuclear weapon (which Iran in any case says it does not want and considers a tool of the devil). A nuclear settlement is not a threat in itself, as common sense should make clear, but it would entail an end to the severe sanctions that have somewhat constrained Iran’s economic growth and technological development.

Iran, if it came in from the cold and could freely do commerce and technological exchange with the West, could become the giant of the eastern reaches of the Middle East. Its population is nearly that of Germany, whereas Saudi Arabia’s citizen population is closer to that of Romania. And the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries are tiny principalities. The citizen population of Qatar is less than 300,000 and even the United Arab Emirates has a citizen population of only a couple of million – we are talking about Iceland and Slovenia here. Population is important in geopolitics because it determines the size of the army that can be fielded and it also usually has implications for size of gross domestic product. Here, however, Iran has about the same nominal GDP as the United Arab Emirates, because the former’s oil sales and financial transactions have been throttled, whereas the UAE freely sells its petroleum and also rivals Switzerland as a banking and investment center.

That is, Saudi Arabia and its GCC allies believe that we are in a moment like that of the 1860s, when the German principalities were coming together as modern Germany. The first big sign of the new kid on the block was the defeat of Napoleon III’s France at Sedan in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Since then, Germany has usually been dominant, either as a powerful enemy or as a senior partner in Europe after WW II. Saudi Arabia distinctly does not want to play France to a Bismarckian Iran.

One thing you could do as Lilliputians to constrain the Iranian Gulliver is tie it down with lots of small constraints and alliances. Hence, Obama’s summit with the Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman). They want, AP reports, a security deal with the US similar to the special relationship with Israel. Perhaps something less than a formal NATO treaty alliance, but much more than a vague commitment to be supportive and friendly. They want lots of American weapons and trainers and they want an iron clad security shield from Iran.

In the absence of many public statements, I can only speculate. But I think Obama’s priority will be to convince the GCC that:

a) The Iran deal makes them safer, not more exposed, with regard to Iran

b) This Yemen scorched earth aerial bombing campaign cannot solve the Yemen crisis and needs to be replaced with a diplomatic and political negotiation process

c) The new Saudi (and Turkish) willingness to support coalitions in Syria that include al-Qaeda is unacceptable

d) Daesh has to be rolled back and defeated, even if that strengthens the Shiite, Iran-backed government in Baghdad of Haydar al-Abadi of the Islamic Call Party (Da’wa), which is generally fiercely anti-Wahhabi (Wahhabism is the Saudi state church, and it has a history of being fiercely anti-Shiite).

This list appears to have angered King Salman, so that he canceled his trip to Washington and sent his new crown prince, Muhammad bin Nayef, instead. Likewise, Bahrain’s king did not attend (his Sunni court has been repressing a political movement of the Shiite majority that he believes is stirred up by Shiite Iran). Other absences, the top leaders of the UAE and Oman, are probably health-related and not, as with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, intended to send a signal of displeasure with Obama’s complaisance toward Iran. In fact, Oman has been a mediator with Iran and its foreign office approves of Obama’s outreach to that country. Dubai in the UAE is also reportedly happy about the Iran rapprochement.

The NYT quotes a UAE professor who maintains that the GCC countries were upset when Obama said that they faced more internal problems than they did from Iran. The GCC states are mostly absolute monarchies, with the exception of Kuwait, and many do face popular discontent, as with Bahrain. Many also have enormous guest worker populations that dwarf the citizen population and who are trapped in sweat shops without rights. Obama is right that they need substantial reforms if they are to avoid potential severe unrest, but maybe it wasn’t the right time to say it.

In short, Obama’s GCC summit was not the high-powered equivalent of a G7 meeting, where the top leaders hobnob and make personal understandings. It was largely a summit of crown princes, the people typically sent to the state funeral of lesser world leaders. And that should tell us something about Gulf-US relations right now.

Editor’s note: This article originally ran on The author’s views are his own.


Conspiracy Theory

By Paul Craig Roberts

While we were not watching, conspiracy theory has undergone Orwellian redefinition.

A “conspiracy theory” no longer means an event explained by a conspiracy. Instead, it now means any explanation, or even a fact, that is out of step with the government’s explanation and that of its media pimps.

For example, online news broadcasts of RT have been equated with conspiracy theories by the New York Times simply because RT reports news and opinions that the New York Times does not report and the US government does not endorse.

In other words, as truth becomes uncomfortable for government and its Ministry of Propaganda, truth is redefined as conspiracy theory, by which is meant an absurd and laughable explanation that we should ignore.

When piles of carefully researched books, released government documents, and testimony of eye witnesses made it clear that Oswald was not President John F. Kennedy’s assassin, the voluminous research, government documents, and verified testimony was dismissed as “conspiracy theory.”

In other words, the truth of the event was unacceptable to the authorities and to the Ministry of Propaganda that represents the interests of authorities.

The purest example of how Americans are shielded from truth is the media’s (including many Internet sites’) response to the large number of professionals who find the official explanation of September 11, 2001, inconsistent with everything they, as experts, know about physics, chemistry, structural engineering, architecture, fires, structural damage, the piloting of airplanes, the security procedures of the United States, NORAD’s capabilities, air traffic control, airport security, and other matters. These experts, numbering in the thousands, have been shouted down by know-nothings in the media who brand the experts as “conspiracy theorists.”

This despite the fact that the official explanation endorsed by the official media is the most extravagant conspiracy theory in human history.

Let’s take a minute to re-acquaint ourselves with the official explanation, which is not regarded as a conspiracy theory despite the fact that it comprises an amazing conspiracy. The official truth is that a handful of young Muslim Arabs who could not fly airplanes, mainly Saudi Arabians who came neither from Iraq nor from Afghanistan, outwitted not only the CIA and the FBI, but also all 16 US intelligence agencies and all intelligence agencies of US allies including Israel’s Mossad, which is believed to have penetrated every terrorist organization and which carries out assassinations of those whom Mossad marks as terrorists.

In addition to outwitting every intelligence agency of the United States and its allies, the handful of young Saudi Arabians outwitted the National Security Council, the State Department, NORAD, airport security four times in the same hour on the same morning, air traffic control, caused the US Air Force to be unable to launch interceptor aircraft, and caused three well-built steel-structured buildings, including one not hit by an airplane, to fail suddenly in a few seconds as a result of limited structural damage and small, short-lived, low-temperature fires that burned on a few floors.

The Saudi terrorists were even able to confound the laws of physics and cause WTC building seven to collapse at free fall speed for several seconds, a physical impossibility in the absence of explosives used in controlled demolition.

The story that the government and the media have told us amounts to a gigantic conspiracy, really a script for a James Bond film. Yet, anyone who doubts this improbable conspiracy theory is defined into irrelevance by the obedient media.

Anyone who believes an architect, structural engineer, or demolition expert who says that the videos show that the buildings are blowing up, not falling down, anyone who believes a Ph.D. physicist who says that the official explanation is inconsistent with known laws of physics, anyone who believes expert pilots who testify that non-pilots or poorly-qualified pilots cannot fly airplanes in such maneuvers, anyone who believes the 100 or more first responders who testify that they not only heard explosions in the towers but personally experienced explosions, anyone who believes University of Copenhagen nano-chemist Niels Harrit who reports finding unreacted nano-thermite in dust samples from the WTC towers, anyone who is convinced by experts instead of by propaganda is dismissed as a kook.

In America today, and increasingly throughout the Western world, actual facts and true explanations have been relegated to the realm of kookiness. Only people who believe lies are socially approved and accepted as patriotic citizens.

Indeed, a writer or newscaster is not even permitted to report the findings of 9/11 skeptics. In other words, simply to report Professor Harrit’s findings now means that you endorse them or agree with them.

Everyone in the US print and TV media knows that he/she will be instantly fired if they report Harrit’s findings, even with a laugh.

Thus, although Harrit has reported his findings on European television and has lectured widely on his findings in Canadian universities, the fact that he and the international scientific research team that he led found unreacted nano-thermite in the WTC dust and have offered samples to other scientists to examine has to my knowledge never been reported in the American media.

Even Internet sites on which I am among the readers’ favorites will not allow me to report on Harrit’s findings.

As I reported earlier, I myself had experience with a Huffington Post reporter who was keen to interview a Reagan presidential appointee who was in disagreement with the Republican wars in the Middle East. After he published the interview that I provided at his request, he was terrified to learn that I had reported findings of 9/11 investigators.

To protect his career, he quickly inserted on the online interview that my views on the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions could be dismissed as I had reported unacceptable findings about 9/11.

The unwillingness or inability to entertain any view of 9/11 different  from the official view dooms to impotence many Internet sites that are opposed to the wars and to the rise of the domestic US police state.

These sites, for whatever the reasons, accept the government’s explanation of 9/11; yet, they try to oppose the “war on terror” and the police state which are the consequences of accepting the government’s explanation. Trying to oppose the consequences of an event whose explanation you accept is an impossible task.

If you believe that America was attacked by Muslim terrorists and is susceptible to future attacks, then a “war on terror” and a domestic police state to root out terrorists become necessary to make Americans safe. The idea that a domestic police state and open-ended war might be more dangerous threats to Americans than terrorists is an impermissible thought.

A country whose population has been trained to accept the government’s word and to shun those who question it is a country without liberty in its future.

Foreign Policy Journal

Paul Craig Roberts served as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration.


Camel Burgers!

Saudi fast food restaurant serving camel burgers

By Nael Shyoukhi

Camel burger - Crown Plaza Hotel, Bahrain

RIYADH (Reuters Life!)-A fast food restaurant in Saudi Arabia is offering baby camel burgers as the latest way for the camel-crazed country to enjoy one of their favorite delicacies.

Specialities such as camel liver have long been on the menu of upmarket restaurants in the Gulf Arab state, but the experiment with baby camel burgers has met with enthusiasm in a country where the camel is a symbol of nomadic traditions.

“The idea…was to invent something new. It is about the love of Saudi people for camel meat,” said Saleh Quwaisi, one of the owners of the Local Hashi Meals restaurant in the capital Riyadh which plans to open a second branch soon and considers to expand further.

Walid Sanchez, managing director of, a popular Saudi online dining directory, sees a huge market for camel burgers as Saudis like to try out new menus and appreciate the quality of locally made meat.

Some experts also say camel meat is healthy because it is low in fat.

“People like camel meat but no one experimented with camel burgers before…I think it will be a popular thing, it will definitely take off,” said Sanchez.
Customers visiting the packed restaurant in Riyadh on a weekend night agreed.

“I’m frankly trying it for the first time and I really like it,” said Mohammad Naghi. “It doesn’t have much fat, it’s light and has a delicate taste,” he said as he chewed away.


Ahmad al-Okaili, ordering “Hashi” burgers — Arabic for baby camel — for him and his children, agreed: “I like their idea and enthusiasm, they’re the first to do this and they’ve become famous with it, which is well-deserved.”

While tremendous oil wealth has brought rapid modernisation to the desert state of Saudi Arabia, the camel remains celebrated due to its connection with the traditional nomadic lifestyle of Bedouin Arabs.

Throughout history, the camel has served multiple purposes as food, friend, transport and war machine.

The Arabic language famously has over 40 terms for different breeds, ages and genders of camel.

Riyadh, which is home to one of the biggest camel markets on the Arabian peninsula, regularly hosts camel races, and every year in various places across the kingdom there are pageants — where a winner could claim hundreds of thousands of dollars.