By Abdel Bari Atwan
December 20, 2017
Donald Trump has been giving his Gulf Arab allies a hard time in recent days. His vetoing of the draft UN Security Council resolution that would have compelled him to rescind his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was an act of political thuggery that dealt them a serious blow. Then came his unveiling on Tuesday of his new National Security Strategy, which added insult to injury.
In demeaning and contemptuous tones, Trump reiterated – for the first time since he was running for election – that he would require wealthy allies of the US to pay it the full costs of the military protection it provides them.
This was partly addressed to members of NATO, but it applies more pertinently to Saudi Arabia and most of the other Gulf States. They now face a renewed round of extortion by the US, based on talking up the Iranian threat to ensure they spend billions on securing protection. Once they deplete their financial reserves they can borrow from US banks, or put their oil and gas reserves up for auction for decades to come if necessary. It would be a re-run of Egypt’s experience in the 19th century, when the debts run up by the Khedive Ismail to build the Suez Canal resulted in his country being brought under the complete tutelage of the Western debtors.
When Trump visited Riyadh in May he returned home with $460 billion worth of aid, investment and arms deals in his pocket (not to mention the $100 million donation to his daughter Ivanka’s charity). He obtained a further $50 billion from selling warplanes to the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain. But as a salesman and go-between he is hungry for more, given that his customers never say ‘no’ and are only too eager to produce their Cheque books and sign on the dotted line.
It is said that the late King Abdallah was subjected to similar extortion during the early years of his rule. Madeleine Albright, then the US secretary of state, brought him an offer of protection against the threats faced by Saudi Arabia from Iraq and Iran which would include deploying US Marines for the task.
After pausing for reflection on that moonlit spring night, Abdallah turned to his guest and told her an old folk 0tale about a Bedouin shepherd whose flock was constantly being attacked by a wolf. Every few day, the beast would take and devoured by a sheep. The shepherd was advised by an expert to acquire some ferocious guard dogs. They indeed managed to keep the wolf at bay, and he was never seen again. The problem was that the shepherd had to slaughter two or three sheep per day to keep the dogs fed. The flock quickly dwindled in number, and the shepherd became nostalgic for the good old days of the wolf.
Albright got the message, departed post-haste, and the US administration did not raise the matter again — until the advent of Trump.
Trump wants ‘protection money’ from his Arab allies in cash. There will be no free protection any longer. The expert is his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has become best buddies with Saudi Arabia’s current leaders and advises them on how to deal with the president’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his plans for resolving the Palestine Question by creating a state in Gaza. The supposed wolf, of course, is Iran.
There is also the matter of the JASTA law, under which Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states could be sued for hundreds of billions of dollars for the 9/11 attacks. Cases are slowly being put together and evidence is being gathered, with great confidence of success.
In the meantime, the flock is unlikely to remain docile while it is being gradually fed to the dogs. It is no exaggeration to predict that the kingdom will eventually look back nostalgically to the times of the wolf, and rue the day it took on the American guard dogs.