Citizen Action Monitor

Why was Foreign Affairs Minister Dion’s response to Saudi’s mass executions so lamentably lame?

Interviews with three experts by US alternative news source may provide some answers.

No 1557 Posted by fw, January 4, 2016

Here is a copy of yesterday’s news release on the Saudi executions from Foreign Affairs Minister Dion’s office

Canada decries mass executions in Saudi Arabia, January 3, 2016 – Ottawa, Ontario – Global Affairs Canada

The Honourable Stéphane Dion, Minister of Foreign Affairs, today issued the following statement regarding yesterday’s executions in Saudi Arabia:

“Canada opposes the death penalty and decries the execution of 47 individuals in Saudi Arabia on January 2, 2016.

“The Government of Canada raises concerns about human rights and due process with senior Saudi Arabian officials on a regular basis and will continue to do so. In the wake of these executions, we reiterate our call to the Government of Saudi Arabia to protect human rights, respect peaceful expressions of dissent and ensure fairness in judicial proceedings.

“Canada is particularly concerned that the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr could further inflame sectarian tensions in the region. We urge Saudi Arabian authorities and local and regional leaders, including those in Iran, to work with all communities to defuse these tensions and promote reconciliation.”

Are we to believe that Minister Dion’s above statement is part of PM Trudeau’s promise to Canadians for “real change”? Sounds more like “same old, same old.” At the bottom of this post, there are 4 examples of “real change” — things that Dion could still say and do to show moral and ethical leadership – to make Canadians proud.

MM Trudeau and Dion, do not miss this opportunity to stop humanity’s further slide into this Age of Endarkenment.


Below are excerpts from a 9-minute video interview with 3 Middle East experts, broadcast today on Democracy Now. To watch the original program and access the full transcript, click on the following linked title, Alternatively, below is a repost of an abridged transcript of selected excepted passages, added subheadings, followed by an embedded video of the full interview.


As Saudi Arabia Executes Sheikh al-Nimr, Will U.S. Respond by Cutting $50 Billion in Weapons Sales? by Democracy Now, January 4, 2016


William Hartung — senior adviser to the Security Assistance Monitor. He is also the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. Hartung’s latest book is called Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex. His recent article for CounterPunch is called Merchants of Menace: How US Arms Sales Are Fueling Middle East Wars.

Toby Jones — an associate professor of history and director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers University. He is the author of Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia.

Ali Al-Ahmed — founder and director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs.

[INTRODUCTION] — After Saudi Arabia executed Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday along with 46 others, protesters in the Iranian capital of Tehran responded by torching part of the Saudi Embassy. On Sunday, Saudi Arabia responded by severing ties with Iran. With Saudi Arabia and Iran backing opposing groups in Syria and Iraq, and on opposite sides of the conflict in Yemen, we examine how this will impact both regional tensions and the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia. Under the Obama administration, the United States has entered a record $50 billion in new arms sales agreements with the Saudis.



Saudi Arabia’s execution of a Shiite cleric distracts local attention from its economic crisis

I’m going to say two things about this, very broadly. One is that reading this through the lens of geopolitics and the regional sort of relationship, Saudi Arabia and Iran, is, of course, critical, and it’s important, especially as relations sour and things tend to fall out. But this was also about domestic politics in Saudi Arabia. Last week, Saudi Arabia announced a new budget, in which it forecast a significant budget shortfall as a result of declining oil revenues. When revenues start to fall like that in Saudi Arabia, there’s pressure on the social welfare state, and Saudi Arabia anticipates that there might be pushback and opposition from within society, as Ali al-Ahmed’s suggested earlier. Killing a Shiite cleric goes a long way in deflecting attention away from political, economic pressures. Sectarianism is at an all-time high, and has been over the last decade or so. And so the Saudis are seeking to capitalize, I believe, symbolically, on the killing of al-Nimr as a way to buy a little bit of time to figure out how to negotiate its way through an economic crisis. And, of course, there’s also the war in Yemen and justifying a continued failing project there. Using sectarianism as a way to achieve goals there is important, too.

US call for dialogue is a sham, knowing full well that Saudis aren’t interested in dialogue with Iran

With respect to the U.S. relationship and how all of this figures in—and I think the U.S. is probably caught a little bit off guard here. Al-Nimr has been on death row for quite a long time. I don’t think any of us really expected that the Saudis would carry through with this. It raises all kinds of questions about timing: Why now? Why kill al-Nimr alongside a bunch of al-Qaeda terrorists, as well as some of those other young Shiite men who were executed on Saturday, as well? So the U.S. is caught off guard. It’s called for calm. It’s called for dialogue. These are odd expressions and demands from the United States. I mean, the U.S. knows that the Saudis are not interested in dialogue with Iran.

Saudi’s escalation of tension is a way to game the US, to keep Americans locked in a “geostrategic position”

Saudi Arabia sees itself as in a tense and fraught relationship with its neighbors across the Gulf. And the U.S. also understands very well that it’s precisely crisis and its escalation of tension between Tehran and Riyadh that plays into Saudi Arabia’s ways that they talk about insecurity, their regional phobias and fears. They frame everything around escalating series of crises. The U.S. understands this very well. I mean, the Saudis are masters at manipulating that kind of language in order to keep the Americans in a certain geostrategic position. But, to be clear, it’s also a position that I think the United States is happy to play.

The US is stuck — cemented to assuring the flow of Saudi oil and to protecting its armaments industries

The U.S. is stuck. I mean, aside from questions of profit, the U.S. is also beholden—you know, and it’s partly the product of its own making. I mean, this is a generational commitment to Saudi Arabia, in which for over three decades we’ve committed ourselves. Now, whether this is true or not, we’ve committed ourselves to protecting the flow of energy out of the Persian Gulf. It’s the largest producer of oil on the planet in this one area. And the United States has tied its military fortunes, in many ways the pocketbooks of its gunmakers, as well as the Pentagon, to what comes in and goes out of the Persian Gulf. If you think about it critically, that’s what needs to change, but it’s also the hardest thing to re-engineer, this breaking away not only from oil dependency, but also from the massive financial and military investment that the U.S. has made in the region. But the bottom line is, it’s not stabilizing. It’s destabilizing.



If Obama really wanted to show displeasure with the execution, he would cut off arms supplies to the Saudis

Throughout the Obama administration, we’ve seen $50 billion in new arms sales agreements with the Saudis, which is a record for any kind of period like that. And so, they’re all in behind the Saudi military. They’re providing logistical support, bombs, refueling for the war in Yemen, U.S. companies training the Saudi National Guard, which is their internal security force. We’ve trained 10,000 Saudi military personnel in the last 10 years—five years, rather. So, you know, my belief is if the Obama administration wants to show displeasure with this execution, try to bring an end to the war in Yemen and so forth, there’s got to be a distancing from Saudi Arabia, beginning with cutting off some of these arms supplies.

There’s a huge US arms industry dependency on weapons sales gravy train to Saudi Arabia

The Saudi market is a huge boon to them [the arms industry]. They just announced a major combat ship sale, which will benefit Lockheed Martin. Boeing fighter planes are in the mix, Boeing helicopters. General Dynamics is keeping a whole tank line open through sales to Saudi Arabia. So there’s both a dependency on the U.S. arms industry on Saudi sales and also huge financial benefits keeping this—you know, this gravy train running for them.

US logistical and arms support is facilitating Saudi bombing in Yemen, resulting in a humanitarian catastrophe

There’s been a humanitarian catastrophe of the highest order there. They’ve been bombing markets, hospitals, refugee camps—more than 2,000 civilian casualties, most of them from the Saudi bombing. Basically, the Saudis, many believe, are engaging in war crimes in Yemen. And the U.S. logistical and arms support is facilitating that.


Why aren’t presidential candidates speaking out against executions? – Because the Saudi’s have paid for their silence and support

This is a complex relationship that really is led and dominated by the Saudi ability to buy silence and support. If you look at the reaction of presidential candidates, for example, you don’t see any of them speaking out against these executions. It’s odd that, for example, Mr. Ben Carson would say that the Saudi government is an ally of us and we should support it, at the same time that the Saudi monarchy prevents black people from becoming diplomats or judges because they view blacks as slaves.

“In America, politics works on money”

So, really, here you see a contradiction of the—what we know as American values, is that the Saudis have been able to buy their way by giving money to a lot of politicians, to their foundations, like the Clinton Foundation, the Carter foundation, and shaping their opinion. And, unfortunately, because in America politics works on money, the Saudi monarchy has really broken that code and understood how to use it.

The US has been spending over $200 billion a year to support these monarchies

The United States can do a few things, really, right now. They can first, for example, stop the U.S. taxpayers spending money on protecting the Saudi monarchy and Gulf monarchies. Professor Roger Stern of Princeton has a study that says that the United States has been spending over $200 billion a year in military expenditure in the Gulf. That is the largest military expenditure abroad. It is to—the effect is—the default effect is, it’s protecting these monarchies. The U.S. should not be spending that money. The monarchies can spend their own money defending themselves.

US government should intervene to ensure the Saudi monarchy returns the cleric’s body to his family

Secondly is, for example, I would urge the U.S. government to intervene to ensure that the Saudi monarchy will return the body of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr to his family, because they refused to do so after the execution. I think that would be a great example of how the U.S. can use its power to bring some healing to this process, because the Middle East might implode, Saudi Arabia itself might implode, because of this. So, I think they should take some, you know, serious steps.

The US State Department ignored a warning to prevent the executions

And I really met with the State Department over the past few weeks, and I told them—and I wrote an article about it—says, “You must take steps now. Don’t wait until the executions take place,” because we knew that these executions were happening. It’s important to prevent any ignition in the region before it happened. But unfortunately [they didn’t take my advice].


Returning to Minister Dion’s statement, informed by the above Democracy Now interviews, there’s so much more that the Minister could have said and done, words and deeds that would have reflected Trudeau’s promise for “real change.” For example –

1/ Send a strong message to the Saudis that Canada’s silence and complicity to barbaric executions are not for sale. Cancel the arms deal between Canada and Saudi Arabia (see PM Trudeau says Saudi arms deal stands; Minister Dion tip-toes around human rights concerns with Saudi peer posted December 19, 2015)

2/ If PM Trudeau sticks to his unexplained decision not to cancel the current arms deal, at the very least he could say that the Liberal Government will not enter into any more contracts with the Saudis until they clean up their human rights act. That would be a sign of “real change”.

3/ Re Dion’s “call to the Government of Saudi Arabia to protect human rights, respect peaceful expressions of dissent and ensure fairness in judicial proceedings.” And his urging of the Saudi’s “to work with all communities to defuse these tensions and promote reconciliation.” Informed Canadians know these are expressions of “diplomatic speak” that sends the Saudis exactly the wrong message – that they have Canada safely tucked away in their back pocket – along with the US — bought and paid for in full with the arms deal. As interviewee Ali al-Ahmed put it: “In America, politics works on money” He could just as easily have been speaking about Canada.

4/ There is still an opportunity for Minister Dion to use what little power Canada has in the Middle east. He could follow up on two fronts: First, he could act on Ali al-Ahmed’s suggestion to the US government to intervene to ensure that the Saudi monarchy will return the body of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr to his family, because they refused to do so after the execution. Second, he could seek fresh assurances from the Saudis that Sheikh Nimr’s nephew, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, who was just 17 when sentenced to be beheaded and crucified, will be reprieved. Those two acts alone could bring some healing to this process.


9:40-minute video of the Democracy Now interviews with William Hartung, Toby Jones, and Ali Al-Ahmed.

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