Last Friday, President Trump delivered on one of his most controversial campaign pledges by banning citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. He claims that the ban will protect America from terrorists. Yet, shockingly, the ban doesn’t include citizens of arguably the world’s largest exporter of “Islamic” terror—the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, home of 15 of the 9/11 hijackers and global financier of the extremist Wahhabi sect of Islam.
Why isn’t the Kingdom on the list? The reason is as simple as it is disturbing: Saudi leaders have helped the president and his friends make billions. Now, thanks to Trump, a Syrian widow and her children, running for their lives, will encounter a locked door in America — while a Saudi oil tycoon kicks back and relaxes at Trump Tower.
For decades, Saudis have spent billions to support schools, charities, mosques, and nonprofits that suppress pluralism and promote their corrupted, extremist form of Islam, which has done so much to defame the vast majority of peace-loving and tolerant Muslims, both here and around the world. In keeping with this mission, the Saudis have directly and indirectly financed the same Islamic terror organizations American troops have been fighting since the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. As a 2002 Pentagon briefing put it: “The Saudis are active at every level of the terror chain, from planners to financiers, from cadre to foot-soldier, from ideologist to cheerleader.”
Worst of all, Western governments have been caught up in the Saudi export of violence from the very beginning. The British helped install the Saud family as the monarchs of Arabia after World War I, and the royal family surely wouldn’t still be ruling today if not for American military and political support. Once the California Arabian Standard Oil Company (today known as Aramco) struck oil in 1938, the Saudi rulers became our key economic, political, and military partner in the Middle East.
To protect this partnership, the Kingdom has purposefully expanded its financial ties to the United States over the years. Riyadh has invested $750 billion in the U.S. economy, including many placements in bedrock Wall Street funds and U.S. securities. Saudi Arabia is now the world’s largest purchaser of U.S.-manufactured arms. And just last June the Kingdom made news by investing $3.5 billion in Uber, the largest investment ever made in a privately held company.
The list of Wall Street banks, private equity firms, and hedge funds with extensive fundraising operations in Saudi Arabia reads like a “Who’s Who” of American business, including major firms from Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to Blackstone and BlackRock. All these corporations are unwittingly helping to fund Saudi Arabia’s expansion of extremism.
Not surprisingly, Trump is continuing this awful partnership with the Saudis. But this time, it’s for an even more self-centered reason—they help keep him rich.
Take the Trump World Tower, a luxury skyscraper just across the street from the United Nations in Manhattan. In 2001, the Kingdom paid Trump $4.5 million to buy the building’s 45th floor. Since then, the Kingdom has paid Trump over $85,000 annually for building amenities. For years, Trump even had two Saudi princes living in his multi-million dollar condominiums.
During last year’s campaign, Trump opened eight new companies in Saudi Arabia—an almost unbelievable conflict of interest. “Saudi Arabia, I get along great with all of them. They buy apartments from me,” he told an Alabama crowd over the summer. “They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”
Why is Trump’s complex web of hidden connections and conflicts of interest so detrimental to our national interest? The Saudi connection is a perfect example.
First, this relationship proves that Trump’s bans are not only un-American and misguided, but hypocritical. Blocking refugees and immigrants from poor Muslim countries will not prevent terror, but excluding Saudi Arabia from the list makes the new policy little more than a self-enriching dog whistle.
Second, it reinforces the pattern of the Saudi relationship. When Americans support U.S. companies that do business with Saudi Arabia,that helps the Kingdom export its radical agenda and suppress pluralism. And when we elect politicians supported by the Saudis, we make it easier for them to avoid accountability for empowering organizations that spread terror around the world. Once again, we’re being sold out by our elites—and as much as Trump doesn’t want to publicly admit it, he’s now one of them.
For over a thousand years, Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived peacefully under Muslim rule in the Middle East. When Spain expelled hundreds of thousands of Jews in 1492, the Islamic Ottoman Sultan welcomed them with open arms and laughed at the Spanish King Ferdinand’s idiocy. How could anyone think Ferdinand was wise, he asked, when he “impoverished his own land and enriched ours?”
In the years ahead, we can learn much from the Sultan’s lesson. Saudi Arabia’s influence has poisoned peaceful coexistence and served to turn millions of innocents into refugees. Thanks to Trump, we’re now helping those who caused that suffering, while locking out the people — many of them our friends and allies — who need to rebuild.
Amed Khan is a former official of the State Department and USAID. He is an investor and philanthropist who founded Elpida Home, a public-private project in Thessaloniki, Greece that houses and serves thousands of Syrian refugees, which he is currently working to expand.
IMAGE: View shows the construction of the King Abdullah Financial District in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia