As the “main-media besieged” President Donald Trump touches down in Riyadh on his first international trip, he is expected to receive a lavish and unprecedented reception by Saudi officials as he attends a busy, two-day summit with Saudis, GCC leaders and heads of state from the Islamic world (minus Iran); and we all know what the rewards for America will be, after 8 years of a lean-and-mean relationship with President Obama.
President Trump is expected to come back loaded with financial and business opportunities not seen in the history of the US-Saudi relations from a promise of $40-billion in badly needed infrastructure projects in the US to the more than $100 billion in arms deals, that is expected to increase over the next 10 years to $300 billion. This is in addition to unwavering support for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its ongoing geopolitical, if not ideological, conflicts with its neighboring Islamic Republic of Iran, where these two antagonists are locked in a deadly fight in Syria and in Yemen.
For a long time, the Saudi-American ” main address” was economic and commercial relations, especially in oil and infrastructure projects where the Saudis and the Americans entered into a long-term agreement with the Saudis investing their oil revenue surplus in US treasury bonds; and the US, under the J-Corps program, dispatched thousands of engineers and planners to help with and lead the Saudi boom in its infrastructure projects, from roads to power and desalination plants, airports, hospitals, and universities, contributing to the modernization of the Saudi physical infrastructure. All that changed with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Saddam Hussein war against the newly established Islamic Republic of Iran.
We all know of the billions invested by both the US and Saudis in support of the Mujahideen and the active recruitment of “Arab and Muslim Mujahideen”, who were dispatched to neighboring Pakistan for training and orientation and then on to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets.
Among the most notable, perhaps infamous of the recruits were Osama Bin Laden (Tim Osman), Ayman Zawahiri, Sheik Abdallah Azzam, and Sheik Omar Abdurrahman. With the routing of the invading Soviets, many of these “actively recruited Arab Mujahideen” returned back to their countries (where the governments had facilitated their recruitment in the first place), and became a Fifth Column that organized and engaged in terrorist activities, mainly in Egypt, Jordan, Algeria and Saudi Arabia after the Gulf War.
The support of the Mujahideen did not end well, as Afghanistan broke down and fell into factional fighting between the different warlords, culminating in the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban with the active support of Pakistan of then Prime Minister Bhutto, and subsequently leading to the 9/11 attack on the US and the birth of Al Qaeda as an active and deadly terrorist organization against the US, certainly against the Saudis.
On the “Western Front” and with the active support of the US, Britain, Germany, France, Chile (with cluster bombs) and the Arab Gulf States, Saddam felt reinvigorated after the downfall of the Shah and decided to invade Iran and wage an 8-year war against Iran, which was billed as an Arab Nationalist and Sunni war (Al-Qadysia).
Unable to win any ground in 8 years, Saddam sued for peace with Iran; and after wasting over $50 billion in cash reserves and accumulating over $150 billion in debt, Saddam demanded “reparations” from the Arab allies who funded his war. When that was refused, he decided to invade Kuwait, resulting in the arrival and since then continued presence of a large number of US troops and bases, one of the largest presence outside of the US.
However, the Gulf War did not end there. With the support of the UN, the US imposed economic sanctions against Saddam and created a “safe zone” for the Kurds in northern Iraq, which became a de facto partition of Iraq.
The US under the “evil spell” of “Zionist Neocons” deemed the Gulf War was not over until Saddam was out and Iraq was occupied and destroyed. Many of the Arab Gulf states contributed actively to the invasion of Iraq, and subsequently to the reckless and stupid management of Iraq by Paul Bremer, giving Iran the opportunity to take the driver’s seat in Iraq. Hence the rise of Sunni Daesh/ISIS.
In the same way, the Soviet invasion gave us Taliban and Al Qaeda, the Iraqi invasion gave us Daesh/ISIS.
The Iraq-Iran war created an ever-lasting enmity between Iran and its neighbors in the Gulf. If we are to add the direct and indirect costs of Saddam wars, the Gulf countries wasted over $2 trillion on wars and conflicts so far – a precious fund that could have built the entire Arab and Muslim world triple times over.
Well, let us hope President Trump and his meetings with Saudi officials will change all that and shift the American-Saudi-Muslim partnership away from wars or conflicts and towards peace, reconciliation, and development.
Now more than ever, the people of the Arab Middle East, even North Africa can not afford more wars and conflicts. The destruction of Syria, Yemen, and Libya are more than what the people can afford. The aborting of the Arab Spring, which began as a civil rights and civil protests against entrenched dictatorship, withered away to chaos, conflict and civil wars.
I think it will do President Trump and the Saudi leadership lots of good and engender goodwill if the result of this historic trip can give people hope for the future – a future of peace and a commitment to political and social reform, which is equally important to the goal of basic “theological” reform. Reform is needed to shift the narrative from “countering violent extremism” using only military means to transforming society and culture into one of peace and reconciliation. I don’t think this is too much to ask from both the Saudi leaders and President Trump. It will do all parties lots of good.
This trip is by a President whose rhetoric was shaped by some of the most vehemently anti-Muslim advisors, and should reveal if the visit will shape and reform President Trump and his inner critical of “Islamophobists” from an antagonistic attitude toward Muslims to one of a more promising partnership. Mr. Trump’s administration can follow up by supporting “signature” programs, such as AMIDEAST and Peace Corps; and yes, I do hope the administration will also give the Arab Peace Corps-Salam Nation, the Islamic Peace Institute a jump-start.