From The Intercept:
In the 2002 speech against the Iraq War that helped propel him to the presidency, then-state Sen. Barack Obama denounced not just the looming invasion of Iraq, but also human rights abuses by our “so-called allies” in Saudi Arabia:
Let’s fight to make sure our so-called allies in the Middle East, the Saudis and the Egyptians, stop oppressing their own people, and suppressing dissent, and tolerating corruption and inequality, and mismanaging their economies so that their youth grow up without education, without prospects, without hope, the ready recruits of terrorist cells.
And he spoke out against the U.S.’ role as weapons supplier to the world:
Let’s fight to make sure … that the arms merchants in our own country stop feeding the countless wars that rage across the globe.
Thirteen years later, Obama is making his fourth trip to Riyadh, having presided over record-breaking U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia while offering only muted criticism of the kingdom’s human rights violations.
Presided over record-breaking U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia while offering only muted criticism of the kingdom’s human rights violations
And don’t expect the president to speak up while he’s there. Obama last traveled to Saudi Arabia in January 2015, cutting short his trip to India after the passing of the former Saudi king, Abdullah ibn-Abdulaziz al-Saud. During that visit, Obama was criticized for not speaking out against the flogging of prominent Saudi blogger and dissident Raif Badawi. In 2014, Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for “insulting Islam” and “going beyond the realm of obedience,” with the first flogging session taking place weeks before Obama arrived.
In January, after a record-setting year for Saudi beheadings, Saudi authorities set off protests by executing Shia cleric and regime critic Nimr al-Nimr. U.S. response was muted. The State Department merely said the execution “risks exacerbating sectarian tensions at a time when they urgently need to be reduced” — and then fell silent on the repression of the following protests.
Last year, amazingly enough, Saudi Arabia became the head of the 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council. When a State Department spokesperson was asked for his reaction, he responded: “Frankly, we would welcome it. We’re close allies.”
Obama administration officials have not offered on-the-record explanations for why Saudi human rights abuses don’t play a greater role in U.S. policy. But in the trove of documents released from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server, Clinton acknowledges that the U.S. government holds the Saudis to a different standard.