When you think about skepticism, you usually think of people with epistemological humility, who are aware of the limits of their own knowledge and blind spots, and who will refrain from making sweeping, wrong-headed, asinine, and uneducated claims that reveal them as thoughtless clowns whose pronouncements are less valuable than the paper they are printed on. But in practice most skeptics are “edgy” bros who have memorized some science trivia, are myopically obsessed with some “secular” pet peeves, and whenever they venture out of their comfort zone to opine about international politics, they only serve to show their own childish lack of education and the corruption of their putrid minds. Such skeptics are barely critical thinkers and more loud extremists, and their very existence brings shame to anyone who wants to identify with the concept of skepticism.
One such example comes in the form of the latest declaration of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which commands the United States to “sever ties to Saudi Arabia”.
I will get to why this commandment is asinine and uneducated and ridiculous, but let me just begin by pointing out the insensitive and bigoted nature of the photo they have chosen for this shameful diatribe. The photo shows a map of Saudi Arabia and then a red line going through it, like the logo of ghostbusters. This image basically insults all citizens in Saudi Arabia, including all the dissidents and oppressed people. The map of a nation is the symbol of all its people, and the article could have easily put the red badge on the face of MBS or any other symbolism that didn’t symbolize the entire nation and people.
But this photo encapsulates the putridness of this pronouncement completely: it was definitely created by someone uneducated in diplomacy and international relations, and while this person most probably considers themselves free of hatred toward Arab populace, they created something that unbeknownst to the creator accidentally asks for genocide.
Let us take a look at the article itself. We are told that “The Freedom From Religion Foundation is calling on the United States to break off diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia”. Why so? Well, the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi is one impetus, but then there are the usual arguments: Saudi Arabia is a theocracy (here the writer links to Wikipedia, because of course they do), women rights are trampled, Saudi Arabia exports extremism to the world, and the other reasons why the Saudi regime is repressive and harmful.
I am really amazed that I have to debunk such an easy argument from a “reputable” skeptic organization. The basic argument is “Saudi Arabia is a repressive country with a destructive foreign policy, so break off all diplomatic relations”. The author doesn’t even attempt to justify this illogical and extreme remark, never bothers to argue why and whom would such a move help, how it would improve the situation, or what tangible benefits it would have. It’s mostly because they don’t care.
Indeed, it wouldn’t help anybody. It wouldn’t certainly help the oppressed women. While MBS has been very repressive, he has reformed women’s conditions somewhat. You know why? Because he’s eager to attract foreign investment. Yes, MBS does jail feminists, but at the same time he bows to their pressure, and that pressure relies on a relationship with the world. You care for Saudi dissidents and want them to be able to come to the US? Then don’t ask for closing down the embassy which would issue the VISA. An isolated Saudi Arabia has absolutely no motivation whatsoever to respect human rights or to implement any reforms. Severing diplomatic ties will only make the situation worse.
What about Saudi Arabia’s export of jihadism and terrorism? This too will become worse. As it is, there are sections of the Saudi regime that are indispensable in their help to fight terrorism: Saudi intelligence agencies have helped thwart terrorist attacks multiple times. But these rational sections will be completely silenced without the help of the US and then an isolated Saudi Arabia will panic and will begin to completely utilize the only tool it has left at its disposal to ensure its place in the region.
Therefore, in both cases, FFRF’s asinine “solution” only makes the situation worse. Of course, I doubt that the writer really cares for human rights and lives, as two seconds of thinking would reveal the uselessness of this solution. This was pure posturing, not a genuine policy proposal.
Also, this claim is just bizarre. Should the US cut ties with all repressive regimes, there would be not a single Middle Eastern and a great number of African nations which would have no ties with the US, mostly in war-torn regions. These areas need more diplomacy, not less. What would the US do if another Saudi citizen launched an attack on its soil? In the absence of diplomatic venues, would it just invade Saudi Arabia next? Would FFRF have the US to cut ties with China and usher in the worst economic disaster in human history? Would the US allow the wars to spread, for trade to be paralyzed? Should other democratic nations do the same? Should we just disband the UN and return to the era of no international cooperation — because those eras where characterized by human rights and democracy?
All of these concerns reveal that FFRF has spared not a minute of thought to the actual consequences of their proposals. It could have made other proposals. It could have asked for the US to pressure Saudi Arabia more. To reform its relationship with Saudi Arabia to give it less of a carte blanche. There are millions of options and they had to pick the ridiculous one. IF FFRF is asking to not be taken seriously, we’re happy to oblige.
So, to shift my tone to a friendly one, I recommend FFRF to stick to prayers in meetings and crosses on the road and not busy themselves with international politics, it’s beyond their weight.