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Paul Jay says the Saudi dictatorship only exists to enable US domination of the Middle East, and has been committing war crimes for decades with American approval – From a live recording on October 16th, 2018

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BEN NORTON: I want to talk a bit more about the shifting relations in the region. And maybe this is more of a comment than a question, but I do think it’s the most convincing argument, to me, seems like Mohammed bin Salman had been sold, for the past two years, as this savior who would simply follow U.S. interests. And it seems like he, as you mentioned, has gotten too big for his britches in the eyes of the U.S. empire. And another way this is true is not just in the brash killing of Khashoggi, which he appears to be behind, potentially. But also he has improved relations with other countries like Russia.

Paul, how do you think this reflects the overall strategy of the Trump administration, which says to King Salman very openly, you couldn’t last two weeks without us? Maybe we see a kind of moment where we’re not seeing a complete shift in U.S.-Saudi relations, but rather it was Mohammed Salman testing the limits that he could go to. And he now knows that he can operate within a certain confines. But if he goes beyond that boundary that then they’ll pull the leash back, and he could potentially be pushed out? I mean, Paul, what do you think about this shifting relationship?

PAUL JAY: There’s a lot of questions there. Let me just try to focus on two things. One, I don’t think we should completely rule out this could have been a rogue operation. What I mean by that is there’s a lot of princes and royals in Saudi Arabia that would like to bring MBS down. And who knows if this wasn’t some kind of scheme to do that. I just wouldn’t rule it out.

The second thing is why they cheerleaded for MBS. It’s because in terms of the narrative of the United States for justifying global hegemony, and supposedly wanting democracy and all this, it’s very hard to take anything the United States says about another country and its human rights record- for example, the attacks on Venezuela- and their support for Saudi Arabia. It’s just impossible to believe a word that the Americans say, as long as the Saudis are clearly the world’s leader in political repression and violating human rights, and such a close ally to the United States. So MBS gave them the beginning of some kind of cover for that.

BEN NORTON: What’s funny is- really quickly- Marco Rubio himself, in an interview recently in the past week, he said this explicitly. He said we can’t allow Saudi Arabia to continue acts this brazen and criminal, because if they do that as a close U.S. ally, we can’t criticize Venezuela and China.

PAUL JAY: Yeah. So this is really a step too far. If they’d been able to get Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia and done it to him, nobody wouldn’t have cared. But doing it in a way that becomes so globally publicized- and again, it looks like without permission, even though American intelligence apparently knew from intercepts that it was going to happen- I think it’s pretty clear the Saudis didn’t ask to do it. But by doing something that’s so egregious, has become so public, that it breaks- it kind of breaks this facade that MBS has that there was some kind of political reform going on here. And so that hurts the American narrative.

I do want to return to something else you asked earlier. I think this issue of regional hegemony- the pillars of regional hegemony coming out of World War II were primarily Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Iran. So the Iranian revolution took away one of those major pillars of U.S. strategy for the region. They want that pillar back. The Saudi-Israeli relationship, which has warmed up so much that the Saudis have virtually given up even- they barely talk about the rights of the Palestinian people anymore, and the whole issue of Israel. It’s a very important strategic alliance, again, because the Americans- this region exploded not so long ago. This Arab Spring was an explosion. And if it explodes once, it’s going to explode again. And so they need these pillars of control in place. And no doubt Israel’s a critical part of that.

But if we’re ending up- then I’m going to get redundant and just end up again- none of this is good for the American people. This is not something that protects people from terrorist attacks, far from it. It makes the likelihood of terrorist attacks in the United States more likely. The volatility is not good for the American economy. It’s going to make life more expensive and might trigger a recession. Massive arms sales, most importantly, and even though the $110 billion that Trump keeps talking about is probably a crock, because I think the actual dollars of signed deals is more like about $10 billion, not $110 [billion]. But whatever. There’s a lot of arms sales expected from the Saudis.

It’s the least efficient way to develop the American economy. And of course, let’s just add one more thing that nobody’s talking about in this whole thing. What is the real threat to national security, even according to the Pentagon? It’s the climate change crisis. So you know, the whole conversation about the Saudi relationship, it’s all based on continuing a fossil fuel global economy, which is the real existential threat. Not just to Americans, but to human society as we know it. And where is any of that on the corporate media?

BEN NORTON: Yeah, I don’t see any more comments or questions, so we’ll wrap it up in a moment here. You raised a really important point, and used specific language; ‘pillars.’ Before the Iranian revolution in 1979, the U.S. policy in the region was the Twin Pillars policy, and the two pillars were Saudi Arabia and Iran. Not only were they pillars in the political sense, but even geographically; Saudi Arabia being at the Western edge, Iran being at the Eastern edge.

Wrapping up here, Paul, I’m wondering if you could just reflect on the overall politics of the region, and maybe let’s conclude talking about Iran. Because the Trump administration’s foreign policy, it seems, is largely geared around containing and essentially trying to create regime change, at least nonviolently for right now, in Iran. War could potentially be on the horizon, but at the moment the Trump administration withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, the JCPOA. It’s imposing brutal sanctions that go into effect next month, but are already, even before they’ve officially gone into effect, have already weakened the Iranian economy. So I do think that Saudi Arabia plays a key role in this, but of course it’s not just about Saudi Arabia. And in many ways Iran is, of course, a convenient scapegoat for Donald Trump, and the whole right-wing, this kind of Islamophobic wing of the Republican Party that wants to end Muslim immigration. The irony is that they are working with Saudi Arabia, which of course helped create al-Qaeda, elements of which supported ISIS, according to a leaked email from Hillary Clinton. And we also know that the Trump administration is trying to link Iran to ISIS and al-Qaeda in a way similar to the way that George Bush administration tried to link Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda.

So just wrapping up here, I don’t want you to try to predict the future, but I’m wondering what you think-

PAUL JAY: Let me get a dire potential warning about the future. You know, Gore Vidal used to have a joke that USA stood for United States of Amnesia. Well, let’s not forget 9/11. Senator Bob Graham, who was the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who co-chaired the congressional investigation into the events of the 9/11 attacks, said many times, and even specifically said on the Real News in several interviews- and you can look them up- that the 9/11 attacks were facilitated, financed, and supported by the Saudi government. He says- Graham says- he thinks right up and including the king. That the highest levels of the Saudi government participated in the 9/11- helped facilitate, I should say- and we know that almost, I think all of, the hijackers, the majority of them all came from Saudi Arabia.

BEN NORTON: 15 of the 19.

PAUL JAY: Graham also says in explicit words on The Real News that Cheney-Bush knew it was coming, and didn’t stop it. The potential- now, even Donald Trump, before he’s elected, he’s asked about 9/11. He says, oh, you want to know who’s behind 9/11? He says, the Saudis. There’s video of Trump saying this.

So how come nobody cares about that? Because the Saudis can play in dirty games that help and facilitate what sections of the American foreign policy elites, sections of the CIA, what they want. So let’s be wary and not forget what happened. Because if these guys really want to go after Iran, then the possibility of some other false flag attack, and the possibility of blaming this on the Iranians, and once again, you know, some involvement of the Saudis, because they’re the experts at this- let’s not forget how often the Saudis have threatened terror attacks. They threatened Tony Blair with a terror attack on London because they were doing a Parliamentary inquiry into bribery in an arms sale. Bandar, who was the Saudi ambassador to the United States, that according to Graham’s congressional investigation was involved in the 9/11 attacks, Bandar threatened Putin before the Olympics with a terrorist attack. And these are the guys who know how to do this.

BEN NORTON: Yeah, and most recently there was an almost unbelievable incident a few months ago on Twitter in response to Canada’s criticism of Saudi Arabia imprisoning human rights activists. On a [KSA] infographic account in Saudi Arabia, they posted an image of a plane flying toward buildings in, I believe it was Toronto, in Canada. And then they immediately took it down and apologized. But the message said something like ‘Don’t mess with Saudi Arabia.’ Almost unbelievable.

PAUL JAY: So this kind of idea that the Saudis are so horrible, and here you have these democratic Americans that would like to influence them for the better and all this, it’s completely hypocritical and deceptive. The Saudis are in power, as Trump said, because of the United States. They are these degenerate human rights violators, and they’re there because the United States allows it. And they become very useful for U.S. foreign policy, whether it’s Afghanistan or other acts of using al-Qaeda and terrorism, with sections of the American elites, and this section that’s in power now in Washington. You know, John Bolton’s been a thread for a lot of this, the worst of this stuff.

So let’s not forget this history. And people need to demand an end to this kind of foreign policy. If you want a final sentence, the American empire ain’t good for Americans.

BEN NORTON: Well, that’s a great note to end on. That was an excellent conversation. I’m Ben Norton here at the Real News Network. I was joined by Paul Jay, who is the founder and senior editor. We were talking about the so-called ‘special relationship’ between the United States and Saudi Arabia, in response to the recent horrific story of the potential killing of Jamal Khashoggi, who was a Saudi columnist at the Washington Post. We were reflecting on the many subtle details in the U.S.-Saudi special relationship, and looking at the potential dangers in the future. Thanks for joining us here at the Real News Network. I’m Ben Norton.

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Paul Jay was the founder, CEO and senior editor of The Real News Network, where he oversaw the production of over 7,000 news stories. Previously, he was executive producer of CBC Newsworld's independent flagship debate show CounterSpin for its 10 years on air. He is an award-winning documentary filmmaker with over 20 films under his belt, including Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows; Return to Kandahar; and Never-Endum-Referendum. He was the founding chair of Hot Docs!, the Canadian International Documentary Film Festival and now the largest such festival in North America.