Why Obama Should Stand Up to the Saudis

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By Dana E. Abizaid

With much of the US press focused on the daily images of barbarity coming out the lands occupied by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the brutal practices of the real Islamic State, Saudi Arabia, receive scant attention. The reasons for this are as sickening as they are obvious: a major oil supplier to the West and a nation that casts itself as the mortal enemy of Shia Iran has been courted and coddled by the US since the end of WWII to keep domestic gas prices low.

The United States maintains a special relationship with the Saudi Dynasty that contradicts every ideal America stands for. Nobody should hold his breath waiting for the US media or government to finally and thoroughly expose the draconian policies of the desert kingdom, but President Obama does have the opportunity in one case to pressure the Saudis into granting amnesty to Ali-Mohammad al-Nimr and thereby earn a small part of his 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. In a recent interview with the Guardian, al-Nimr’s mother pleaded that Obama has the power to “interfere and rescue my son.”

The Saudi government convicted al-Nimr – 17 at the time – of possessing firearms while protesting for Shia rights in 2012. But it is clear that is not the only reason the young man is sentenced to be beheaded and crucified. His uncle is the prominent dissident Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr who has also been sentenced to death for criticizing the Saudi State.

If the United States is ever to devise and implement an effective Middle East policy a reevaluation of its relationship with Saudi Arabia will be essential. Standing up for al-Nimr is vital in this regard. By pressuring the Saudis to pardon al-Nimr, Obama can win three immediate victories important to this reevaluation. First, he could portray himself as a seeker of justice in the spirit of his Nobel. Second, he could win some goodwill amongst those Shia the Saudis have repressed for generations. Lastly, his actions could open a dialogue in the US media that might educate the American public to crimes that are committed with its tacit support.

Since the US media and government rarely reprimand the Saudis, the American people have little understanding of the grave human rights abuses that take place daily in the kingdom. According to Amnesty International, the Saudis executed 102 people in the first six months of 2015. Death by sword beheading – often public – is the preferred punishment for adultery, homosexuality, and witchcraft (basically, not having radical Sunni Wahhabi beliefs). Children and the mentally handicapped do not escape the sword.

Read more at CounterPunch

Dana E. Abizaid teaches European History at the Istanbul International Community School.

Canada election: Liberals sweep to power

Canada’s Liberal Party has decisively won parliamentary elections, ending nine years of Conservative rule, partial results show.

 Justin Trudeau is congratulated by his mother Margaret after the Liberal victory
Justin Trudeau is congratulated by his mother Margaret after the Liberal victory

The Liberals, led by Justin Trudeau, are leading in 185 electoral districts.

The son of late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau is now poised to form a majority government, Canada’s CBC and CTV networks predict.

Incumbent Conservative PM Stephen Harper – whose party is leading in 103 districts – accepted defeat.

Speaking after the polls closed, he said he had already congratulated Mr Trudeau, saying the Conservatives would accept the results “without hesitation”.

Read more at BBC.com

Why Saudi Arabia Gets Away With Murder

The kingdom is set to execute a young man for participating in the Arab Spring as a 17-year-old—and the Obama administration has admitted it’s not going to do a thing about it.

Ali Mohammed al-Nimr Image via Facebook
Ali Mohammed al-Nimr
Image via Facebook

By Jay Michaelson

An Islamic regime in the Middle East may soon behead a young man and hang his corpse up for display. ISIS? Iran? No—America’s ally Saudi Arabia. And because it’s the Saudis, the Obama administration’s silence has been deafening.

In 2012, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was a 17-year-old pro-democracy activist in the Arab Spring. After harsh government crackdowns, protests turned violent, particularly in Qatif, a majority-Shiite region in majority-Sunni Saudi Arabia. Al-Nimr was arrested, along with others, and charged, at first, with relatively low-level political crimes related to the protests, such as “going out to a number of marches, demonstrations, and gatherings against the state and repeating some chants against the state.”

But then al-Nimr’s uncle, a prominent Shiite cleric, began giving fiery sermons against the regime. He, too, was arrested, on more serious charges of inciting sectarian strife, aiding terrorists, and “insulting Gulf leaders and scholars.”

Suddenly, the younger al-Nimr’s charges were increased as well, to include the capital crimes of attacking police and sheltering criminals. According to al-Nimr’s father, the teen was tortured until he confessed, and he was subsequently sentenced to death.

Al-Nimr would, however, be the first solely political prisoner to be executed in Saudi Arabia in some time—and based on flimsy evidence, an allegedly coerced confession, and acts of political dissidence committed when he was 17. How could such a thing happen, without a peep of protest from the United States?

Because it’s Saudi Arabia.

As outrageous as killing a kid for political activism may be, al-Nimr is just the latest collateral damage in our long, troubling marriage of convenience with the House of Saud. We need the Saudis for the fight against ISIS, for oil, and for providing some semblance of stability in the most unstable region on the planet. As my colleague Michael Tomasky wrote in January, we’re stuck with Saudi Arabia, because as bad as the Saudis are, the alternatives are worse.

Adding insult to injury, Saudi Arabia was just named to a UN Human Rights panel—only a subsidiary committee, and part of a regionally based rotation, but outrageous nonetheless given the country’s appalling human rights record.

Read more at The Daily Beast

Bernie Sanders Is About as Radical as Harry Truman

"Bernie Sanders" by United States Congress - http://sanders.senate.gov/. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.Harry_S._Truman

By Robert Kuttner

The mainstream media continues to be shocked that Bernie Sanders keeps gaining traction against frontrunner Hillary Clinton. However, if you look at what Sanders actually stands for, it is well within the mainstream of what used to be the Democratic Party.

Ever since Jimmy Carter, it has been evident that much of the Democratic electorate, and for that matter much of the country, is more progressive in its core values than what Democratic presidents have been offering. As big money has crowded out grass-roots democracy, the policies that people crave are simply not on offer.

So there is a pent-up demand for a candidate who can articulate popular frustrations. The fact that a 74-year-old, self-described socialist transplant from Brooklyn to Burlington, Jewish no less, is the surging vessel of these demands only tells you how deeply felt they must be.

But Bernie is no more radical than, say, Harry Truman, FDR or LBJ (when he was thinking about domestic policies). My friend Peter Dreier, a few months ago, performed a real service when he compared key Sanders positions with public opinion generally.

As Dreier reported, overwhelming majorities of Americans support a higher minimum wage: 74 percent think corporations have too much influence; 73 percent favor tougher regulation of Wall Street; 58 percent support breaking up big banks; 79 percent think the wealthy don’t pay their fair share of taxes; 85 percent favor paid family leave; 80 percent of Democrats and half the public generally support single-payer Medicare for all; well over 70 percent of Americans support workers’ right to unionize; and on and on.

No wonder Sanders is gaining ground.

Republicans have been disparaging Democrats as socialists — even centrist ones like Barack Obama — ever since FDR. So if this be socialism, let’s make the most of it.

Read more at The Huffington Post