It's about time that the leading democracies, including this one, re-examine their relationship with regimes that not only do not share their values, but are actively opposed.

Beginning with the administration of President Roosevelt, whose wartime need for oil provided a rationale, America has been allied with Saudi Arabia, effectively guaranteeing the continued existence of its royal family rulers, and turning a blind eye to the repressive human rights violations that are its practices.

Now some of that "see no evil" is becoming impossible to maintain as the world reacts to the murder — reportedly on the orders of the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed Bin Salman — of one man, Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist, legally resident in the United States.
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Bin Salman's intractable war on the so-called Houthi rebels in Yemen, which some pundits ascribe to the 33-year-old prince's wish for a quick military victory to solidify his own power, has produced massive civilian casualties.

An estimated 50,000 children were killed in 2017 alone, according to non-government organisation Save The Children, from starvation and from bombs, some with American markings.

Soviet dictator Josef Stalin told US ambassador Harriman: "One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic."

The world, including Donald Trump, is being forced to confront the tragedy of Khashoggi's death, but we need to keep the "statistics" in mind.

The installation by the British of the Saudi family on the throne of the Arabian peninsula was simply intended as reward for their help in the Arab revolt against the Ottoman rulers. The oil they were sitting on made them rich.

For a time the Saudi royal family, with its hundreds of princes, was content to co-operate with the West, send their oil, enjoy their wealth, live it up in London and Paris and come back home to a more contained but still opulent lifestyle.

Two things changed.

In response to America's withdrawal from the Bretton Woods agreement — so detaching the US dollar from gold — in 1973, and US support of Israel in the Yom Kippur War with Egypt and Syria, Saudi Arabia and other oil producing states (under the umbrella of OPEC) created a punitive oil boycott, promoting inflation.


While the boycott was ultimately unsuccessful, it did generate a renewed sense of power for the oil-producing states.

The overthrow of Iran's ruling monarch, the Shah, in 1979, saw Iran become a Shiite theocracy posing a threat to Sunni Arabia.

This threat was made even greater when an extremist Islamist insurgent group seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca and called for the overthrow of the Saudi monarchy.

Jay Kuten
Jay Kuten

While the insurgents were finally captured and killed, the event caused the Saudis to strike a bargain with Salafist Islamists who wish to return Islam to a strict form that brooks no opposition to the principles of Shariah law.

The Saudis became the sponsors of the most orthodox, intolerant form of Sunni Islamic teachings, called Wahhabism. To survive as a monarchy at home, they've provided the funds for exporting Wahhabism abroad.

Ultimately, this puritanical form of Islam undergirds the extremists who eventually became Al Qaeda and also Isis. It's important to remember that 15 of the 19 hijackers in the 9-11 attacks on the United States were Saudis.

There is both a moral reason and an economic one for the US and other Western nations to reconsider their attachment to the Saudi royal family.

The first is the human rights issue — the Saudi Arabian government annually cuts off more heads than Isis has done in all the years of its existence.

More importantly, for the sake of the planet and our existence as a species, we need to move from an economy based upon oil to one based upon alternative energy sources.

Let the Saudis and the rest keep their geologic sludge in the ground. The sun, the wind and the waves are potentially a greater more sustainable source of vitality, one without the murderous darkness that surround the fossil fuels.

Jay Kuten is an American-trained forensic psychiatrist who emigrated to New Zealand for the fly fishing. He spent 40 years comforting the afflicted and intends to spend the rest afflicting the comfortable.