Answering President Obama's "Free Riders" Allegations
By Dr. John Duke Anthony
March 15, 2016
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.
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 is the Founding President and CEO of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations