The PGA’s decision to partner with Saudi Arabia’s LIV Golf landed on Capitol Hill this week. Why this fight may be about much more than golf.

Photo by wuz on Unsplash.

Recently, the decision by the U.S. Professional Golf Association (PGA) to partner with Saudi Arabia’s oft-decried upstart LIV Golf stunned the sports world and beyond.

Before the abrupt policy change, the PGA had been vociferously opposing LIV Golf, even castigating and suspending U.S. pro-golf players who chose to partner with the growing pro-golf concern.

The announcement was met with an outcry of great consternation. After weeks of simmering, this controversy boiled over yesterday during a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill.

PGA Tour execs testify on LIV Golf deal, including Saudis’ expected financial investment,” wrote Tom Schad for USA TODAY this morning.

The upshot, of course, is money. The Saudi Royal Family’s fund for investing in such ventures is many times the valuation of the PGA. As lawmakers on Capitol Hill rightly noted, this isn’t likely the last time U.S. legislators, sports organizations, and fans will run into this problem.

As some noted during the hearing, there is nothing to stop such entities as the Saudi government from investing in any private U.S. sports enterprise they want.

There were plenty of objectors.

Testimonials from 9/11 families — those who lost loved ones during the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001 — were entered into the record at several points.

As is so often the case, nuance has been sacrificed to the narrative, like a plea for prevailing winds. A better understanding of the complexities of the U.S./Saudi partnership may be in order.

Suspicions of the involvement of Saudi Arabia in the 9/11 attacks persist even after two decades. However, not every intelligence agency and foreign policy expert believes the hypothesis that the Saudi Royal Family was behind, financed, or was ultimately responsible for, the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

In 2001, the Saudi Arabian government was hardly a homogenous and cohesive bloc in ideological lockstep. Saudi Arabia is a huge, powerful, populous regional powerhouse in the Middle East. There, as anywhere, governing is complex, there is always political opposition, and no one ever agrees about anything. The same is true today and in more places than in Saudi Arabia.

Just like the U.S., the Saudi government in 2001, as now, was and is full of dissenters, dissidents, schemers, idealists vying for some noble cause, and the nefarious fighting — as always — for themselves.

In 2001, the Saudi government’s cooperation with the United States wasn’t universally acknowledged within the kingdom as a good thing. Plenty of factions, both within and without the government, sought to end Saudi Arabia’s growing partnership with the United States. A few of them were violent and carried out terror attacks in the Middle East.

The terrorists from Saudi Arabia who were responsible for the attack on 9/11 were just as interested in hurting their own government as they were in hurting America — perhaps more so. Putting a stop to the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi government was a key part of their deadly plan.

The U.S., it was thought, would recover; the U.S./Saudi partnership wasn’t supposed to.

For their part, Saudi dissidents within the Saudi government who opposed the growing economic and ideological commonality between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia had plenty of reasons to be skeptical that such a relationship would be ultimately good for the country.

In dire comparison, Saudi opponents of a closer trade and diplomatic partnership with the U.S. in 2001 had a close historical parallel.


Ordinary, average, working-class Iranians in 1978 had no idea what their country would soon become. It was inconceivable to most the kinds of radical, drastic changes a powerful ideologue would soon decree after deposing the previous government.

In many ways, the Islamic Revolution in was an undoing, rather than a doing.

The previous government, under the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, had grown too close, too fast with Western powers. The new Euro-centric, economic/evangelical movement took Iran’s conservatives by surprise.

It wasn’t a pleasant surprise.

In a tale as old as time, the harder the Shah pushed his populace to abandon the ways of the past, the ways of their fathers, and deeply held religious beliefs, the harder those forces resisted.

Finally, as always happens, the Shah pushed too far and banned the headscarf.

Theretofore the hyper-conservative, fundamentalist, Islamist revolutionaries of Iran had only a scant handful of adherents. After such a heavy-handed and ill-advised move, the ranks of the Islamic Revolution swelled, women joined the movement, and the Shah was swept from power.

Whereupon he — wisely — fled Iran with his family.

Of course, the Iranian women so key to the successful coup were soon betrayed by the movement they helped to power. Instead of being outlawed, the headscarf would become mandatory under the new regime.

Instead of a wealthy, modern nation like so many other successful countries in the Middle East, Iran has been locked in a military crusade against the world’s only Jewish state — and little else — at the expense of the nation, its people, and the national interest ever since.

In 2001, Saudis opposed to a closer relationship with Western powers like the U.S. were determined to avoid this fate. With that in mind, some likely did everything they could behind the scenes to submarine any chances of a successful U.S./Saudi Arabia partnership.

Could that have included material support for the terrorist group that carried out 9/11 — possibly.

One thing has become clear in the decades since the tragedy of 9/11: The Saudi government proper, the Saudi Royal Family wants a robust, diplomatic, and profitable relationship with the United States.

They do not wish to destroy that relationship by sponsoring a terror attack against such a powerful and wealthy military ally.

Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries in OPEC+ have often been victims of terrorist attacks from the same forces that attacked the U.S. on 9/11. And their ilk.

Over the past decade in particular, things have gotten so bad between Saudi Arabia and Iran-sponsored proxy terrorists that the oil-rich Royal kingdom has been moving closer to Israel. There can be no question that Iran opposes the U.S. and all its works. There can be no question that Israel is allied to the U.S.

At least until recently, Saudi Arabia — despite its many ideological differences with Western progressivism — was moving closer and closer to its more stable and secular allies, interested, like Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman himself, in a profitable and peaceful shared future for all concerned.

Over the past few months, Saudi Arabia seems to be thawing toward Iran — perhaps hoping to try a strategy of appeasement, perhaps inspired by U.S. failures in Afghanistan, perhaps for ideological reasons.

Accusing Saudi Arabia of human rights abuses is perhaps understandable, but if anything, such criticisms should be grounds for a closer, more open relationship, rather than a closed one.

Isolating nations like North Korea and Iran over the past decades has done nothing for the ordinary North Koreans and Iranians oppressed under such brutal regimes.

Like all worthwhile relationships, trade relationships take work, practice, fine-tuning, attention, and compromise.

The concession of the PGA to LIV Golf, in many ways, is no worse than the concessions Hollywood routinely makes to Chinese Communist Party censors. The CCP often fields accusations of human rights abuses.

CCP officials hurl those accusations right back at their diplomatic counterparts from the United States — to the consternation of the latter

Cooperation and finding common ground, even with those with whom we disagree — especially with those with whom we disagree, even bitterly — is more likely to lay the foundation for a peaceful future than isolation and neglect.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)