by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
August 16, 2002
ARE THE SAUDIS REALLY OUR ALLIES?
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- In the "war on terror," Saudi Arabia is supposed to be on the side of America.
The official line we hear is that Osama bin Laden tried to use the Sept. 11 attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania to drive a wedge between the Saudis and the U.S. by using so many Saudi nationals to carry out the hijackings.
But the evidence is growing that the Saudi royal family may have given tacit approval to al-Qaida's terror campaign. The evidence is convincing enough that more than 600 family members of Sept. 11 victims have filed a $1 trillion lawsuit against Saudi officials and financial institutions, charging that the Saudis gave financial support to bin Laden and al-Qaida.
Skepticism is starting to creep into the decades-old relationship between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. A good example of this came in the form of a briefing given in July to a top Pentagon advisory board. According to The Washington Post, the briefing prepared by Rand Corporation analyst Laurent Murawiec for the Defense Policy Board described Saudi Arabia as a nation that "supports our enemies and attacks our allies."
Murawiec called Saudi Arabia "the kernel of evil, the prime mover, the most dangerous opponent" in the Middle East. He urged the U.S. to present an ultimatum to the Saudis - stop funding fundamentalist Islamic movements, put an end to the barely concealed anti-U.S. and anti-Israel attitudes of the Saudi royal family and take an active role in isolating or prosecuting those involved in terrorism - or face the consequences.
What consequences? Murawiec said if the Saudis refused to comply, the nation's oil fields and overseas financial assets should be "targeted" by the U.S., although no specifics were offered. The briefing also linked the impending U.S. war on Iraq with the possibility that a more American friendly regime in Baghdad might mean that Iraq could ultimately replace Saudi Arabia as the prime source of Middle Eastern oil. This would lessen the Saudis' sway over U.S. foreign and economic policy.
After the details of the briefing were leaked to the Post, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell immediately explained that Murawiec's briefing didn't reflect the official views of the Pentagon and the Bush administration. In an article published by the online magazine Slate, reporter Jack Shafer wrote that Murawiec once spent time with political cultist Lyndon Larouche, that the Rand Corporation also distanced itself from the briefing and that Murawiec gave the briefing at the behest of Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle, one of the top cheerleaders for the pending war on Iraq.
Despite the attempts to knock down the validity of the Murawiec briefing, it can certainly be interpreted as a sign that the reflexive rationalization for the behavior of the Saudis is starting to come to an end.
For all the talk from Washington of how the Saudis are steadfast allies, the fact remains that bin Laden hails from Saudi Arabia and 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers held Saudi passports. The bulk of the funding for international Islamic terrorist groups such as al Qaida have come from the Saudis and they have been spectacularly unhelpful in the post-Sept. 11 investigations.
As the preparations continue for an attack on Iraq, the Saudis have made it clear that they will not support an attack nor allow American forces to use their country as a staging area. No matter how you feel about a second war against Iraq, you have to feel that the Saudis are being a tad ungrateful when you consider how the U.S. and its allies saved the House of Saud from Saddam Hussein in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and stayed around after the war to help keep the Saudi royals - the most reviled group of rulers in the Middle East - in power.
Saudi opposition to an attack on Iraq hasn't appreciably slowed war preparations. The U.S. has been quietly moving its forces out of Saudi Arabia to neighboring countries. If there's going to be a war, it will happen regardless of Saudi objections.
How long will the "Saudis are our allies" charade continue? If the U.S. economy wasn't so dependent on staying in the Saudis' good graces - in addition to being a prime oil provider, the Saudis have $700 billion in U.S. investments - they would have been included in the so-called "axis of evil" long ago.
But if the U.S. succeeds in getting the government it wants in Iraq, Saudi Arabia will no longer have a stranglehold over pricing and supply of oil and they will be even more insignificant if the oil reserves in Central Asia start flowing westward in significant amounts.
The U.S. isn't going to start bombing the Saudis anytime soon. But it does look like the free ride they've been getting is over. They will have to eventually answer for their role in the Sept. 11 attacks, one way or another.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).