Jewish World Review Sept. 3, 2002 / 26 Elul, 5762
With 'eternal friends' like these
If sucking up to the House of Saud were an Olympic event, George W.
Bush would be a contender for the gold.
He was at his fawning best last week, when he hosted the Saudi
Arabian ambassador, Bandar bin Sultan, for lunch in Crawford, Texas.
The ambassador, who showed up with six of his children, was treated to
what The New York Times called "the full ranch treatment" -- a meal of
grilled chicken and biscuits, followed by a personal tour in the
president's pickup of the 1,600-acre ranch. The White House PR staff
released photos of the two men chatting and Bush's spokesman sang
Bandar's praises. The Saudi envoy is "a very seasoned diplomat," Ari
Fleischer gushed, "a very affable fellow, very good humor, speaks
English better than most Americans."
Hours earlier, Bush had phoned Crown Prince Abdullah and urged him
to ignore the growing expressions of anti-Saudi sentiment in the United
States -- exemplified by the Rand Corporation analyst who had recently
told a key Pentagon advisory board that the Saudis "are active at every
level of the terror chain, from planners to financiers, from cadre to
foot-soldier, from ideologist to cheerleader."
Such talk, Bush assured Abdullah, "cannot affect the eternal
friendship between the two countries."
Can Bush honestly believe that there is "eternal friendship" between
the United States and the country that supplied 15 of the 19 Sept. 11
hijackers? Certainly most Americans don't believe it. A nationwide
poll released last week shows that 63 percent of the US public has a
negative opinion of Saudi Arabia, up from 50 percent in May. And that's
*after* the Saudis spent several million dollars on a coast-to-coast
advertising and lobbying blitz aimed at winning American hearts and
"In the war on terrorism we all have a part to play," says the
narrator in one of the Saudi ads. What he doesn't say, but what many
Americans have figured out, is that the part being played by Saudi
Arabia is not that of a loyal ally or dependable friend, but something
closer to a callous and unscrupulous adversary.
Why have Americans so thoroughly soured on Saudi Arabia? It isn't
just because most of the Sept. 11 terrorists were Saudis, or because
two-thirds of the Islamist militants being held in Guantanamo are
Saudis, or because Osama bin Laden himself is (or was) a Saudi.
It isn't just because Al Qaeda's terror network is bankrolled with
Saudi money -- including, The Times of London reported last week, $300
million in "protection money" paid to Osama bin Laden by senior members
of the Saudi royal family.
It isn't just because Saudi Arabia is the world's foremost purveyor
of fanatical Wahhabi Islam, the fuel that propels Islamist terror, or
because the Saudi media disseminates repugnant anti-American and
antisemitic slanders, or because Saudi ambassadors and clergymen sing
the praises of suicide bombers.
And it isn't just because the Saudi regime, which owes its survival
to American troops, refused to let the United States use Saudi bases for
attacks against the Taliban, and says it will refuse as well to
cooperate with any military campaign against Iraq.
All of these fuel American antipathy toward Saudi Arabia. But more
significant perhaps than any of them is the widening realization that
the values and aspirations of Saudi society are fundamentally at odds
with the values and aspirations of our own. Virtually everything our
civic culture venerates -- religious and political tolerance, freedom of
speech and expression, constitutional self-government, liberal
democracy, equality of the sexes -- Saudi culture abominates. The Saudi
princes run an intolerant and repressive totalitarian theocracy --
backward, bigoted, and closed. There may be no country on earth with
which we have *less* in common.
"Eternal friendship" between the United States and Saudi Arabia?
President Bush undermines his own credibility when he talks that way; he
comes across as phony and morally unserious. The root of the
American-Saudi relationship for the past half century was not friendship
but self-interest -- we needed their oil, they needed our protection.
But the United States imports far less Saudi oil than it used to and the
threats that imperiled Saudi Arabia in years past -- Nasserist
radicalism, Shiite fundamentalism, Iraqi aggression -- have faded. The
great threat in the Middle East today is Islamist fascism, and Saudi
Arabia is not its target but its source.
For years, US support for the Saudi regime has been justified on the
grounds that it was vital to preserve stability in a volatile part of
the world. But as Michael Barone observes, "Stability in the Middle
East gave us Sept. 11." What is called for now is some constructive
instability -- a board-clearing upheaval that will dislodge the
dictators and fanatics who encourage terrorism and menace world peace.
What Saudi Arabia needs most is not the full ranch treatment, but a
change of regime.
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