On March 14, 2016 the English-language Saudi daily Arab News published an article by Prince Turki Al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's former intelligence chief and former ambassador to the U.S., titled "Mr. Obama, We Are Not 'Free Riders.'"
The article responds to statements made by U.S. President Barack Obama in a series of interviews with The Atlantic published on March 10, 2016. In the interviews, conducted Jeffrey Goldberg, Obama said that "free riders aggravate" him, referring to some of the U.S.'s allies in both Europe and the Arab world who, he said, expect America to lead the fight against terrorism (and action on other fronts) while refusing to take up the burden themselves. Obama also said that the Saudis must "share" the Middle East with their Iranian foes, adding that the rivalry between these two countries has "helped to feed proxy wars and chaos in Syria and Iraq and Yemen."
Answering these statements in his article, Turki Al-Faisal says that Saudi Arabia plays a pivotal role in combating terror and extremism in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere. He also states that Saudi Arabia helps America's economy by buying U.S. treasury bonds, by sending Saudis to study at American universities, and by employing Americans in its businesses and industries.
Wondering at Obama's harsh criticism of Saudi Arabia, the prince asks whether Obama is "petulant" because Saudi Arabia supported the Egyptian people in their uprising against the Muslim Brotherhood government, "which [Obama] supported." Alternatively, he says, perhaps Obama has inclined so far towards Iran that he equates "the [Saudi] Kingdom's 80 years of constant friendship" towards America with the behavior of Iran, which continues to sponsor terrorism across the Middle East and to regard the U.S. as its greatest enemy.
The following is the article, as published in Arab News.
Turki Al-Faisal (Image: Al-Sharq Al-Awsat)
´╗┐"No, Mr. Obama. We are not 'free riders.' We shared with you our intelligence that prevented deadly terrorist attacks on America. We initiated the meetings that led to the coalition that is fighting Fahish (ISIL), and we train and fund the Syrian freedom fighters, who fight the biggest terrorist, Bashar Assad and the other terrorists, Al-Nusrah and Fahish (ISIL). We offered [to put] boots on the ground to make that coalition more effective in eliminating the terrorists. We initiated the support ÔÇö military, political and humanitarian ÔÇö that is helping the Yemeni people reclaim their country from the murderous militia, the Houthis, who, with the support of the Iranian leadership, tried to occupy Yemen, [and we did this] without calling for American forces. We established a coalition of more than thirty Muslim countries to fight all shades of terrorism in the world. We are the biggest contributors to the humanitarian relief efforts to help refugees from Syria, Yemen and Iraq. We combat extremist ideology that attempts to hijack our religion, on all levels. We are the sole funders of the United Nations Counter-terrorism Center, which pools intelligence, political, economic, and human resources, worldwide.
"We [also] buy US treasury bonds, with small interest returns, that help your country's economy. We send thousands of our students to your universities, at enormous expense, to acquire knowledge and knowhow. We host over 30,000 American citizens and pay them top dollar in our businesses and industry for their skills. Your secretaries of state and defense have often publicly praised the level of cooperation between our two countries.
"Your treasury department officials have publicly praised Saudi Arabia's measures to curtail any financing that might reach terrorists. Our King Salman met with you last September, and accepted your assurances that the nuclear deal you struck with the Iranian leadership will prevent their acquiring nuclear weapons for the duration of the deal. You noted 'the Kingdom's leadership role in the Arab and Islamic world.'
"The two of you affirmed the 'need, in particular, to counter Iran's destabilizing activities.' Now, you throw us a curve ball. You accuse us of fomenting sectarian strife in Syria, Yemen and Iraq. You add insult to injury by telling us to share our world with Iran, a country that you describe as a supporter of terrorism and which you promised our king to counter its 'destabilizing activities.'
"Could it be that you are petulant about the Kingdom's efforts to support the Egyptian people when they rose [up] against the Muslim Brothers' government and you supported [this government]? Or is it the late King Abdullah's (God rest his soul) bang on the table when he last met you and told you 'No more red lines, Mr. President.'
"Or is it because you have pivoted [towards] Iran so much that you equate the Kingdom's 80 years of constant friendship with America [with the behavior of] an Iranian leadership that continues to describe America as the biggest enemy, that continues to arm, fund and support sectarian militias in the Arab and Muslim world, that continues to harbor and host Al-Qaeda leaders, that continues to prevent the election of a Lebanese president through Hezbollah, which is identified by your government as a terrorist organization, that continues to kill the Syrian Arab people in league with Bashar Assad?
"No, Mr. Obama. We are not the 'free riders' to whom you refer. We lead from the front and we accept our mistakes and rectify them. We will continue to [regard] the American people as our ally, and don't forget that when the chips were down and George Herbert Walker Bush sent American soldiers to repel, [along] with our troops, Saddam's aggression against Kuwait, [our] soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder with [your] soldiers. Mr. Obama, that is who we are."