Tags: What | About | Saudi | Arabia

What to Do About Saudi Arabia

Friday, 18 January 2002 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON – The recent lawsuit by an American servicewoman ordered to wear head-to-toe "cover" and submit to other indignities when going off-base in Saudi Arabia is but the latest reminder of the extraordinary lengths to which the United States government routinely goes to accommodate real or perceived Saudi sensibilities and/or dictates.

Far more ominous has been the studied aversion of its gaze from official – and officially tolerated – Saudi Arabian support for radical international Islamism.

As a direct result of these Saudi efforts, untold numbers of Muslims have been induced to follow the Wahhabis' brand of extremism, with its characteristic hostility to Western civilization in general and America in particular.

Unfortunately, the ominous implications of this campaign are not confined to Islamist institutions overseas; some 80 percent of mosques in the United States are said to have their mortgages held by the Saudi government and/or private sector – an arrangement that surely contributes to the radical nature of the proselytizing conducted in many of them.

As Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby observed recently, the war on terrorism affords an important, and long overdue, opportunity for the United States to put its relationship with Riyadh on a footing that is more in line with the global power realities.

If, as seems eminently possible, the U.S. proves able to help liberate the people of Iran and Iraq – as it has recently done with their counterparts in Afghanistan – the result would likely be a seismic change in the dependence America and her allies currently have on Saudi oil supplies.

Importantly, the United States could thus give itself a free hand to effect needed changes in the U.S.-Saudi relationship – including, but not limited to, an end to the kingdom's exporting of radical Islamism – without ever having to exercise the option Mr. Jacoby suggests: reversing the decades-old expropriation of American and other Western oil concerns in Saudi Arabia by militarily seizing the oil fields there.

Jeff Jacoby

For Thanksgiving in 1990, former President George H.W. Bush went to Saudi Arabia to visit the 400,000 American soldiers stationed there as part of Operation Desert Shield. The Saudis welcomed Bush, but made it clear that no Christian worship - including grace before the Thanksgiving meal - would be permitted on Saudi soil. It was a shocking insult, but the Americans didn't protest. Instead, the president and his party went aboard a US ship in the Persian Gulf and said their prayers there.

As this episode suggests, the US-Saudi relationship has been dysfunctional for some time. The Saudis treat the Americans with highhandedness, and are rewarded for their disdain with military and diplomatic support. At least part of the explanation for this obsequiousness is oil, of course: They have it, we need it, and our economy would suffer badly if it were to become unavailable. The tendency to be ingratiating with the Saudis is especially pronounced in the Bush family, with its roots in West Texas oil. In a striking demonstration of this last July, the elder George Bush telephoned Crown Prince Abdullah to assure him that his son's "heart is in the right place" and that he was "going to do the right thing" when it came to the Middle East.

That was the last thing Abdullah should have been told. The real issue is not whether we do what the Saudis want, but when the Saudis are going to begin doing what America wants. The House of Saud would be nothing without its vast oil wealth, and it would have lost that wealth long ago were it not for the American muscle that guarantees the security of the Gulf.

And what do the Saudi princes do with their wealth, besides financing luxurious lifestyles for themselves? They spend it to keep themselves in power by buying off their country's Wahhabi religious establishment so that it will keep a lid on the discontent that seethes throughout the kingdom. And the more money they have poured into the Wahhabis' coffers, the more they have undermined world peace and menaced the United States.

Wahhabism - radical fundamentalist Islam - is the established creed of Saudi Arabia. It is intolerant and totalitarian, and its influence is felt across Saudi society. "Anti-Western and Extremist Views Pervade Saudi Schools," read the headline on a New York Times report last fall. And not only schools: Islamic supremacism and loathing of "infidels" permeates the mosques, many government ministries, and much of the media.

The Wahhabi sheiks work tirelessly to spread their brand of Islam to Muslims everywhere. The princes' petrodollars fund Islamist killers in Kashmir and subsidize fundamentalist subversion in the Philippines. They encouraged Al Qaeda's savagery. They radicalized Pakistan. They spread the Wahhabis' influence to the mosques of Europe and America. They prepared the way for Sept. 11.

"By funding religious extremists from Michigan to Mindanao," military theorist Ralph Peters writes, "the Saudis have done their best to destroy democracies, turn back the clock on human rights, and deny religious freedom to Islamic and other populations - while the United States guarantees Saudi security.."

A better policy would begin by retracting the elder Bush's simpering message to Abdullah and restating instead what his son told the world on Sept. 20: "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists."

If you are with us, we would tell Riyadh, you will immediately cut off the Wahhabis' funds and shut down their financial pipeline. You will close the "charities" they use to finance Islamist terrorism. You will purge them from your universities, schools, and bureaucracy. You will halt the emigration of young Saudis lusting for violence and jihad. And you will order those who are abroad to return at once or lose their citizenship. We would make it clear to the Saudi princes that we expect their full cooperation no matter where the war on terrorism takes us. And if it takes us to a land war in Iraq, Saudi Arabia will make its military bases available for staging the invasion.

Will the Saudis refuse? Will they protest that complying with our demands will mean the toppling of their regime? Either way, our course will be clear: We will seize and secure the oil fields.

But our purpose would not be plunder. We would appoint a respected, pro-Western Muslim ally to run the oil industry in trust for the Muslim world. No longer would the petro-wealth of Arabia be used to advance Islamist fanaticism and terror - or to maintain a decadent royal family in corrupt opulence. It would be used, rather, to promote education, health, and democracy throughout the Middle East. The Gulf's great riches, now a well spring of disorder and unrest, could be transformed into a force for decency, stability, and peace. Is it feasible? No question. But the first step - fixing our dysfunctional relationship with the House of Saud - will be the hardest. Let us see if if President Bush is up to the task.

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WASHINGTON - The recent lawsuit by an American servicewoman ordered to wear head-to-toe cover and submit to other indignities when going off-base in Saudi Arabia is but the latest reminder of the extraordinary lengths to which the United States government routinely...
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Friday, 18 January 2002 12:00 AM
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