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The Washington Post has a longish read on just how the Saudi Arabian monarchy maintains such warm relations with Washington despite all those things it keeps doing and let’s just cut to the chase on this one: It’s because money. Saudi Arabia is very rich, and lobbyists are very cheap.

The kingdom’s spending on U.S. lobbying and consulting, which had dropped from $14.3 million in 2015 to $7.7 million in 2016, surged to $27.3 million last year, according to public records. […]Between 2016 and 2017, the think tank received between $1.25 million and $4 million in funding from Saudi interests, according to its public disclosures. […]

Michael Petruzzello — who took on the kingdom as a client after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and whose communications firm Qorvis MSLGROUP reported $6.3 million in lobbying fees from the Saudis in 2016 and 2017 […]

This doesn’t count the defense spending, which is far more substantial, but is a good reminder of just how little money it takes to steer this nation’s policies in whatever direction you might want them steered. Twenty-seven million dollars is, for the world’s most wealthy individuals, pocket change. Twenty-seven million dollars is enough to build a decent mansion or a very nice boat or, if you are bored or insecure, dozens and dozens of people who will write nice things about you in the nation’s top editorial pages. It’s also a reminder that if you don’t have 27 million dollars, you don’t get to lobby Congress. Try showing up in a Senate office without 27 million dollars and Mitch McConnell will give a speech decrying the shoddy state of our national discourse these days.

I’m of course simplifying. The historic reason for our nation’s “close” relationship with the Saudi family dictatorship is because the nation’s relative if somewhat murder-contingent stability made it an ideal foothold in the Middle East back when the United States and the Soviet Union were playing proxy games throughout the world. It has oil, and gargantuan reserves of it, and America needs oil more than it needs children, farmland, or oxygen. Saudi Arabia is so vital to the oil markets, or once was, that they could and did tweak oil prices based on how needed they wanted to feel at any given point in time; caught murdering a journalist outside the confines of their country, they are now intoning similar threats about what fine oil markets we all have these days and how we wouldn’t want anything to happen to those.

But you really can’t overemphasize just how fabulously rich the nation is, due entirely to oil, and how effective they have been through recent decades at reminding the United States that if we want their money and their precious, vital ground-goo we’re going to have to silently tolerate “eccentricities” of the kingdom that include ritual murders, the civil oppression of a monarchy-styled autocracy, religious radicalism that has done far more concrete and measurable damage to the United States than that of any other nation in the world, and whichever of their own military quarrels and adventures they wish to hire influential American lobbyists and think-tank thinkers to defend during any given season.

Whether the government-sponsored murder of a journalist makes the slightest dent in this relationship remains to be seen, but we shouldn’t romanticize it into anything more noble than it is. Our two nations’ relationship is one of cynical self-interests, first and last. Those in America backpedaling most furiously away from the kingdom are the columnists and lobbyists with current contractual ties, but the moves seem more in self-defense than in genuine conviction; it is at least momentarily difficult to argue that you should be given column-space in the press when you are taking checks from a regime that murdered one of your own media colleagues. The Trump administration, to a person, does not give a damn; Congress is somewhere in the middle, infuriated and humiliated by the brazenness of the Saudi prince’s act but vague in the details of what ought to happen next.

We shall see. But there will now be a press by a great many individuals, a large portion of them purchased, heralding our deep ties to the bizarre, oppressive, radical and anti-democratic monarchy, and at the very least we should resist that sales pitch. No: The relationship is purely one of opportunism. It always has been. They have oil; we have a military capable of defending them regardless of enemy; everything else is in the footnotes.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.


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