Someone who has read my columns about the Middle East asks: “Are they doing anything right over there?”
Well, it depends on who among the “they” you are talking about. The important “they” are the Gulf Arabs and, yes, they are doing many things right.
They sell us all the oil we want when we want it.
They help us kill bad guys.
They buy billions of dollars of American weapons that support tens of thousands of great jobs in the U.S.
And for all you Israel fans, they help preserve the state of Israel.
The Arab countries we care about most are Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait. They have the oil and they are ruled by kings who like being kings and want to remain kings.
They wisely crawled into bed with the West decades ago and we are still snuggling under the covers today because we have “mutual self-interests.”
We want oil and they want to sell it to us. They want fighter jets and we are eager to sell them. They want to kill the guys who want to overthrow them and they’re often the same guys who want to detonate bombs in Times Square.
So, if the Saudis won’t allow women to drive and they abuse their foreign workers, we simply have to frown. And if some of the rich royals occasionally donate millions to Al Qaeda or the Taliban, we simply have to wince.
Because when we want to impose sanctions on Iran so that an old radical cleric doesn’t have his finger on a nuclear trigger, the Gulf Arabs will pump more oil to offset the loss of Iranian production.
Like the Israelis, the Gulf Arabs obsess about Iran. The Saudis have repeatedly urged the U.S. to “cut off the head of the snake” by bombing the Iranian nuclear facilities. The Saudis reportedly have even offered to let Israel use Saudi air space if Israel decides to attack Iran.
Israel annoys the Gulf Arabs, but Iran terrifies them. Thwarting Iran makes Israel, the U.S. and the Gulf Arabs best buddies.
A similar threat is the Shiite extremists. The animosity between the Shiite and Sunni sects is like the hatred between the Catholics and Protestants in North Ireland before they agreed to stop killing each other in 1998.
Iran is a Shiite nation. It gives money to angry Shiites around the region who then frighten the Gulf Arab royal families. Some of these Shiites become “Islamic terrorists.” Some join Al Qaeda in Yemen and sit around dreaming up how to design explosive-laden underwear that can’t be detected by airport security.
Again, we have mutual self-interest. So, the Saudis infiltrate the terror operations with spies and then we use the information to send them to paradise with missiles from our drones.
Finally, expensive weapons. The most recent big-ticket sale was $30 billion (with a B) in fighter jets to Saudi Arabia. The U.S. agreed to the sale only after it promised Israel that the new toys for the Saudis would not be as sophisticated as the toys Israel has.
So, if you work in the weapons business, support Israel or just like a dependable supply of relatively cheap gasoline, smile the next time you see a Saudi and say “shukran.” That’s “thank you” in Arabic.
A former managing editor of The Palm Beach Post, Tom O'Hara is a senior editor with The National newspaper in Abu Dhabi and a Middle East columnist for Florida Voices.
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