By Bonnie Kristian
After 13 years, the feds finally released the missing 28 pages of the 9/11 commission report, a document withheld from public view so long it has achieved near-mythic proportions. The final product is significantly redacted and doesn’t contain the single ‘smoking gun’ many expected to find. As White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest quoted from the document itself, it “does not change the assessment of the U.S. government that there’s no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded Al Qaeda.”
That is not to suggest, however, that the pages’ content is unimportant or should leave intact, as the Saudi embassy in Washington hoped, the Mideast autocracy’s “long-term friendship with the United States.” On the contrary, the 28 pages simply pile on further evidence of what has been clear for quite a while: that our Saudi Arabian alliance is more trouble than it’s worth.
Within the pages themselves, there are enough curious links and coincidences to suggest that the hands of Saudi leadership, if not quite red with blood, have at least a light pinkish hue. Most centrally, we have confirmation that while "in the United States, some of the September 11 hijackers were in contact with, and received support or assistance from, individuals who may be connected to the Saudi Government.”
More specifically, there’s the mention of a CIA memo documenting “alleged financial connections between the September 11 hijackers, Saudi Government officials, and members of the Saudi Royal Family.” Also noteworthy is the investigatory pass Saudi nationals were apparently given by American intelligence agencies before 9/11 “due to Saudi Arabia's status as an American ‘ally,’” not to mention the Saudis’ unaccommodating behavior in anti-al Qaeda efforts during those same years.
Yet, “Although the disclosure of the 28 pages is embarrassing for the Saudis,” as Daniel DePetris comments at Rare, it is at this point “merely a historical document.” In the 15 years since 9/11, Saudi Arabia has experienced plenty of al Qaeda attacks of its own and has a partner in the U.S. war on terror. “If anything,” DePetris writes, “9/11 shocked the U.S.-Saudi relationship to such an extent that officials in Riyadh began to realize that more cooperation on terrorism was vital if they wanted to keep labeling Washington a strategic ally.”
And it is exactly that label which shouldn’t be preserved, 28 pages or no. Though few Americans realize it, our entanglement with Saudi Arabia is already counterproductive for the United States. In a word, as the Cato Institute’s Emma Ashford puts it at War on the Rocks, the relationship is “toxic.”
Indeed, as Ashford notes, “Saudi Arabia may not be a direct sponsor of terror, but its citizens and policies indirectly provide the fuel for terrorist groups.” And that’s a pattern the Saudi government these days fails to counterbalance with significant military contributions to the campaign against the Islamic State. Instead, Riyadh’s attention is turned toward Yemen, where Washington is quietly sending the Saudis advice, information, and arms. U.S. tanker planes are refueling Saudi jets while our drones make dubious strikes and our navy patrols the coast at Saudi behest.
This war by proxy has received remarkably little media attention—particularly considering its negative consequences. Not only has U.S.-backed Saudi intervention produced a nightmare humanitarian scenario that foments anti-American sentiment in Yemen, but it has allowed al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) (widely considered the group’s deadliest franchise) to flourish.
“It is now clear that AQAP has been a significant beneficiary of the chaos unleashed by the Houthi takeover,” explained one American counterterrorism official. “While the Saudi-led coalition has started to push back the Houthis, they are not able to simultaneously fight AQAP. The net result is that AQAP continues to make inroads and exploit the situation.” That exploitation is especially problematic because unlike ISIS, which still remains primarily focused on accumulating territory for its “caliphate,” AQAP is explicitly centered on hitting targets on the U.S. mainland—in other words, on conducting 9/11-style attacks.
All this means that regardless of what we believe about the 28 pages’ information regarding intentional Saudi complicity in 9/11 more than a decade ago, we can be certain that U.S.-supported Saudi war in Yemen is making us more susceptible right now to a repetition of that tragic history.
We didn’t need a ‘smoking gun’ from the 28 pages to prove Saudi Arabia is a bad friend to America. That gun—made in America and supplied to one of the Middle East’s least democratic regimes—is already smoking in Yemen.
Bonnie Kristian is a fellow at Defense Priorities. She is weekend editor at The Week and a columnist at Rare, and her writing has also appeared at Time, Relevant, and The American Conservative, among other outlets.
This piece was originally published by The Huffington Post on July 18, 2016. Read more HERE.