Answering President Obama’s “Free Riders” Allegations

In yesterday’s Arab News and Alsharq Al-Awsat, HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal defended the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia against some of U.S. President Barack Obama’s disparaging comments quoted in the recent Atlantic article, “The Obama Doctrine.”

In the article, President Obama declared that “free riders” – that is, other countries, which by clear implication he included Saudi Arabia and an unspecified number of additional Arab allies – “aggravate me.” Obama stressed that he wants such countries to take action for themselves, rather than wait for the United States to lead.

As Prince Turki points out – but which the article overlooks, ignores, or downplays – this is exactly what Riyadh has done. In keeping with American intelligence and targeting assistance that the president himself authorized, Saudi Arabia has responded to the threat represented by Iran-backed insurgent rebels along the kingdom’s southern border. The kingdom has also been the sole country thus far to contribute to the New York-based United Nations Counter Terrorism Implementation Task Force – to the tune of $100 million.

In addition, the kingdom has initiated the formation of a multi-country coalition numbering nearly two dozen Arab and Islamic countries designed specifically to fight terrorism and terrorists wherever they appear, including within Saudi Arabia itself. Further, not mentioned are the steps Riyadh has recently taken alongside the armed forces representatives of more than two dozen other Arab and other Islamic allied countries. For the second year in succession, the representatives witnessed the kingdom’s mobilization and deployment of more than 130,000 of its armed services personnel. This demonstrates precisely the kinds of defense capabilities that Washington officialdom has long stated it wishes to see manifested by and within the kingdom and other GCC countries.

HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal speaking at the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference.

What Prince Turki did not point out but other prominent Saudi Arabians have is how Obama administration officials, in contrast to the president’s recent remarks, have repeatedly commended Saudi Arabia in ways other than those noted. They have done so in regard to the kingdom’s creative approach to doing what it can to end the scourge of extremist violence within and beyond its borders.

In addition, numerous other Obama administration officials have acknowledged the caliber and degree of the kingdom’s cooperation with its American counterparts in clamping down on money laundering and other illicit financial transactions that have found their way into the pockets of perpetrators of violence. Such cooperation, they have emphasized, exceeds the nature and level of that between the United States and any other countries, including America’s traditional Western allies.

Lest these not be sufficient reminders of how the kingdom should not be described by Obama or anyone else as a “free rider,” one could add how Washington has also expressed appreciation for Saudi Arabia’s working alongside American counterterrorism trainers in efforts to forge a credible alternative to the regime of Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad.

One could also note Saudi Arabia’s having provided asylum and sanctuary to hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians fleeing the violence in that war-torn country – a number fifty times the ten thousand for whom the United States, a nation a dozen times as populous as Saudi Arabia, has agreed to provide refuge over the course of 2016 (and possibly, perhaps, potentially larger numbers in 2017).

Prince Turki has taken this occasion to remind the American public, the American president, and indeed, the world, about, among other things, Saudi Arabia’s active role in helping the United States and the international community in general. It has done so, he notes, in the course of fighting alongside Americans against terrorism and extremist ideologies. He emphasizes that the kingdom has also filled this role in another way – through proactive policies that have demonstrated a nature and degree of determined self-reliance in matters pertaining to the kingdom’s defense. In the process, it has managed to do far more than the United States has done to enable displaced Syrians to find a means to survive outside their ravaged homeland.

“No, Mr. Obama. We are not ‘free riders,'” he writes.

♦ Dr. John Duke Anthony, Founding President & CEO, National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations

Mr. Obama, we are not ‘free riders’

By HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal

March 14, 2016

No, Mr. Obama. We are not “free riders.” We shared with you our intelligence that prevented deadly terrorist attacks on America.

We initiated the meetings that led to the coalition that is fighting Fahish (ISIL), and we train and fund the Syrian freedom fighters, who fight the biggest terrorist, Bashar Assad and the other terrorists, Al-Nusrah and Fahish (ISIL). We offered boots on the ground to make that coalition more effective in eliminating the terrorists.

We initiated the support — military, political and humanitarian — that is helping the Yemeni people reclaim their country from the murderous militia, the Houthis, who, with the support of the Iranian leadership, tried to occupy Yemen; without calling for American forces. We established a coalition of more than thirty Muslim countries to fight all shades of terrorism in the world.

We are the biggest contributors to the humanitarian relief efforts to help refugees from Syria, Yemen and Iraq. We combat extremist ideology that attempts to hijack our religion, on all levels. We are the sole funders of the United Nations Counter-terrorism Center, which pools intelligence, political, economic, and human resources, worldwide. We buy US treasury bonds, with small interest returns, that help your country’s economy.

We send thousands of our students to your universities, at enormous expense, to acquire knowledge and knowhow. We host over 30,000 American citizens and pay them top dollar in our businesses and industry for their skills. Your secretaries of state and defense have often publicly praised the level of cooperation between our two countries.

Your treasury department officials have publicly praised Saudi Arabia’s measures to curtail any financing that might reach terrorists. Our King Salman met with you, last September, and accepted your assurances that the nuclear deal you struck with the Iranian leadership will prevent their acquiring nuclear weapons for the duration of the deal. You noted “the Kingdom’s leadership role in the Arab and Islamic world.”

The two of you affirmed the “need, in particular, to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities.” Now, you throw us a curve ball. You accuse us of fomenting sectarian strife in Syria, Yemen and Iraq. You add insult to injury by telling us to share our world with Iran, a country that you describe as a supporter of terrorism and which you promised our king to counter its “destabilizing activities.”

Could it be that you are petulant about the Kingdom’s efforts to support the Egyptian people when they rose against the Muslim Brothers’ government and you supported it? Or is it the late King Abdullah’s (God rest his soul) bang on the table when he last met you and told you “No more red lines, Mr. President.”

Or is it because you have pivoted to Iran so much that you equate the Kingdom’s 80 years of constant friendship with America to an Iranian leadership that continues to describe America as the biggest enemy, that continues to arm, fund and support sectarian militias in the Arab and Muslim world, that continues to harbor and host Al-Qaeda leaders, that continues to prevent the election of a Lebanese president through Hezbollah, which is identified by your government as a terrorist organization, that continues to kill the Syrian Arab people in league with Bashar Assad?

No, Mr. Obama. We are not the “free riders” that to whom you refer. We lead from the front and we accept our mistakes and rectify them. We will continue to hold the American people as our ally and don’t forget that when the chips were down, and George Herbert Walker Bush sent American soldiers to repel with our troops Saddam’s aggression against Kuwait, soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder with soldiers. Mr. Obama, that is who we are.