News & Politics

Biggest Foreign Benefactors of Barack Obama? The Saudi 'Royals'

Surprise, surprise:

when the State Department published its annual accounting of gifts from foreign notables to American government officials on Wednesday, what stood out wasn’t so much the “What the heck is that?!?” as the “Wait, they gave how much?!?”

That’s because, throughout 2014, Saudi King Abdullah and top kingdom officials spent a fortune on gifts for Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and their daughters — roughly $1.35 million on the list. The accounting was made public the day before Thanksgiving, with Americans poised to dive into the gift-buying season.

Yes, yes. The Obamas aren’t legally allowed to keep these bribes gifts unless they personally shell out “fair-market value” for them.  Stop laughing:

The first thing to know is that these gifts aren’t bribes. If Obama wants to keep anything he gets from another world leader, he has to pay fair market value for it and take it with him when he leaves office. Otherwise, U.S. law stipulates that the president must turn over everything to the National Archives or other institutions for storage or display. A quick look through this year’s list suggests he did not opt to hold on to any presents.

Obama is wealthy — book sales and investments, on top of a $400,000 annual salary, have made the onetime college professor financially quite comfortable. But it’s hard to imagine him putting up the cash to keep the “gold and silver men’s wristwatch with leather band,” valued at $18,400, that he received from the Saudi king on Jan. 14, 2014. Or the $67,000 needed to own another timepiece, a “white gold men’s wristwatch with leather band,” that the monarch gave him on April 15, 2014 (no word on whether it was inscribed “happy tax day”). And then there was the “48-inch gold-plated brass replica of the Makkah Clock Tower on marble base,” presented March 28, 2014, and coming in at a cool $57,000, roughly what a median American family earns in a year.

Yeah, well, when it comes to a Democrat, who’s counting? Meanwhile:

Impressive? Not when compared to the gifts the Saudi king, who died in 2015, gave Michelle Obama. On Jan. 14, 2014, Barack Obama might have been admiring the watch he wasn’t going to keep, but the first lady got a “diamond and emerald jewelry set including necklace, earrings, ring and bracelet.” Value? $560,000. On April 15, 2014, she received an identically described set, but this one was worth $570,000.

Malia and Sasha weren’t left off the Saudi king’s list. On Jan. 14, 2014, they received “diamond and emerald jewelry set including earrings, necklace, ring, brooch, and wristwatch. Diamond and ruby jewelry set including earrings, necklace, ring, brooch, and wristwatch.” Price tag: $80,000.

It may seem odd to give away items that the recipient almost certainly won’t keep, but presents like these apparently play a small but not insignificant role in global diplomacy. In each case, under the heading “circumstances justifying acceptance,” the State Department says “nonacceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and U.S. government.”

The real question is, cui bono? Maybe the “gifts” will be left with the U.S. government (as opposed to the American people). Maybe the “fair-market value” will turn out to be — whoops! — much lower than the assessments above; it all depends on who’s doing the assessing. And maybe, just maybe, these “presents” are just a taste of things to come just over a year from now when Barack Hussein Obama is no longer bound by the rules of his office.

By the way: the Saudis who keep showering the Obamas with “gifts”? That would be these Saudis:

Saudi authorities appear set in the next few days to carry out a series of beheadings across the country of more than 50 men convicted of terrorism offences. Among those facing execution are three young men who were juveniles when they were arrested.

The publication earlier this week of an article in the newspaperOkaz, which has close links to the Saudi Ministry of the Interior, has convinced families of the accused and concerned human-rights organisations that the executions are imminent. Sources have said that the plan is to behead the men in several cities across the kingdom, most likely after Friday prayers.

Those Saudis.