For decades, the Saudi government has been abusing human rights, including discriminating against Americans; nevertheless, the media paid little attention and was not demanding changes in American policy towards Saudi Arabia. It was only after a Saudi American journalist was killed that the media took up a crusade to ostracize Saudi Arabia and call for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) to be punished for his alleged role in the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
President Joe Biden responded to the media and progressives for more than a year by shunning MBS and talking about recalibrating America’s relationship with the Saudis. This approach held up for a year until the Democratic Party and his presidency faced electoral disaster because of rising gas prices and their impact on the economy. Like his predecessors, Biden realized that kowtowing to the Saudis is politically expedient. Biden now plans to travel to Riyadh to grovel, begging MBS to increase oil production.
The same people hectoring the president are now doing the same to professional golfers who join a Saudi-funded golf tour (LIV Golf). They are hardly the first Americans to drink from the Saudi trough but, for some reason, have been singled out for opprobrium.
The Professional Golfers’ Association of America (PGA) has decided to expel members who join the LIV. Only a handful of top players have defied the PGA, caring less about human rights than the prize money they can earn. Of course, the PGA is no more virtuous, wanting only to maintain its near-monopoly over the game of golf. The PGA’s interest in human rights was most evident during the years it continued to promote the Masters tournament at Augusta National Golf Club, which didn’t admit its first black member until 1990 and its first woman until 2012.
The hypocrisy is evident in the fact that athletes routinely compete in countries that abuse human rights. Last year, it was the Olympics in China; later this year, it will be the World Cup in Qatar.
The Saudis, in many ways, are despicable, as I documented in The Arab Lobby; nevertheless, the United States maintains diplomatic relations with the kingdom. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken extolled the kingdom’s virtues after Biden announced his trip: “This has been a longstanding partner for the United States over decades, generations, a vital partner in dealing with extremism, in contending with the challenge posed by Iran. We have about 70,000 Americans in Saudi Arabia.”
Critics should ask themselves why golfers are the only people who should sacrifice wealth for morality. Do journalists and their employers making such a fuss refuse to go to the kingdom or other countries that are human-rights abusers?
What about the dozens of companies doing business with Saudi Arabia? Why aren’t they pressured to leave the kingdom like those in Russia have been?
Oh, and you know who else takes money from the Saudis?
Former U.S. presidents.
As I documented in The Arab Lobby, Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, founded the Carter Center at Emory University for the purpose of “advancing human rights and alleviating unnecessary human suffering.” One of its founding donors was the king of Saudi Arabia, who pledged $1 million.
The Saudis contributed $1.5 million to charities affiliated with George H. W. Bush, including his high school, Phillips Academy. They donated $1 million to his presidential library and another $1 million to George W. Bush’s library. King Fahd also kicked in $1 million for Barbara Bush’s campaign against illiteracy (he had earlier donated a similar amount to Nancy Reagan’s campaign against drugs).
Gov. Bill Clinton asked the Saudis to contribute to creating a Middle East studies program at the University of Arkansas. Clinton had been seeking funding from the Saudis since 1989 without success. After he was elected president, the university received $3 million as “a gesture of respect” for the Arkansas governor. Two weeks after his inauguration, the university received another $20 million. They were sufficiently happy with his presidency—or hopeful of winning favor if Hillary reached the White House—that Clinton’s presidential library received donations of approximately $10 million from the Saudi royal family. Clinton and George W. Bush also received hefty fees for speeches in Saudi Arabia.
The king gave Barack Obama and his family more than $1.3 million worth of gifts. Those had to be given to the U.S. government unless the Obamas wanted to pay the government market value to keep them. I have asked if Obama has gotten a contribution for his library but received no answer.
The Saudis are now being accused of “sportwashing,” trying to use the golf tour and other sporting events to improve their image. Maybe their gifts to former presidents should be called “polwashing.” The media and progressives don’t seem concerned that this is an even more insidious way for the Saudis to buy influence. By contributing to presidential libraries, they send the message to future presidents that there is a financial benefit down the line for maintaining good relations with the kingdom while they are in office.
Don’t be misled. Like every president starting with FDR, Biden has been convinced by Arabists that we need the Saudis more than they need us. As important as it may be to Biden to get Saudi cooperation on oil, it is America’s security umbrella that keeps their royal heads on their shoulders.
Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including “The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews” and “After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.”