Richard Reeves

Is Our Real Enemy Saudi Arabia?

NEW YORK -- A scholar in Washington stood up the other day and spoke truth to power -- and it was about time.

The man's name is Laurent Murawiec, a Frenchman who teaches at George Washington University and is a policy analyst at the RAND Corp. On July 10, he told a closed meeting of the Defense Policy Board, a Pentagon advisory group, that the United States' "most dangerous enemy" these days is our good oily friend Saudi Arabia.

"Most" could be an exaggeration. But "dangerous" and "enemy" are right on. The true role of Saudi Arabia in the terrorism that has plagued America (and other countries) since the end of the Cold War is the dirtiest little secret in town. We have been kowtowing to a corrupt, lying medieval monarchy, or to its oil reserves, as its royal family has sought to survive by exporting the anger of its own citizens as holy war and terrorism in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Chechnya and Manhattan.

We have been going after the wrong Muslim countries to protect the royal House of Saud and the oil it has pumped our way -- at a price. We have chosen to ignore and confuse the fact that most of the Sept. 11 terrorists and their leadership are Saudis, beginning with Osama bin Laden.

"The Saudis are active at every level of the terror chain, from planners to financiers, from cadre to foot-soldier, from ideologist to cheerleader," Murawiec told the scholars and former senior officials of the advisory board, including Henry Kissinger, James Schlesinger and Newt Gingrich. "Saudi Arabia supports our enemies and attacks our allies. ... It is the kernel of evil, the prime mover."

Those words, first reported by The Washington Post on Tuesday, may seem hysterical, and they will be denounced as such. But official American response to Saudi involvement has been ridiculous for years. So was Kissinger's attack on Murawiec at the briefing -- the grand old man of American foreign policy said we know how to "manage" the Saudis -- and Secretary of State Colin Powell's apology to the princes of Riyadh after the Post story (by Thomas E. Ricks) appeared.

None of this began on Tuesday, though, nor on Sept. 11. The Saudis, in fact, seem to be managing us far better than we are managing them. In 1996, when 19 Americans were killed by terrorist bombs at an American Air Force base in Saudi Arabia, the government in Riyadh arrested a few citizens. When the United States asked to question them, we were told they had already been executed. Sorry.

American-managing by the princes in Riyadh did not end with Sept. 11. In the early hours of Sept. 12, more than 20 members of the bin Laden family living in the United States were secretly flown out of the country from an airfield in Texas -- with the obvious involvement of the FBI and other government operatives. Question them? Sorry.

They are bad people, our rich Saudi friends. One sad example of our dealings with the Saudi government is that we considered (and sometimes went along with) their requests that American troops dispatched to protect the reign of the princes exclude Jews and women. Local custom, you know. Sorry.

Oil, of course, is the reason for our tolerance of the princes and their beheadings, another local custom. At times the Saudi input to total world petroleum has reached as much as 16 percent. It has also dropped as low as 5 percent, when the royal family wanted to put the squeeze on the Americans. What Murawiec suggested to the advisory board, some of whom almost certainly have lucrative consulting contracts from Saudi interests, was that the United States should demand that the Saudi government end its support of terrorists, and also the anti-American and anti-Israel policies and statements generated for local consumption by radical and fundamentalist Islamic groups in the kingdom.

And if they don't? Murawiec seemed to suggest that the United States should then "target" Saudi oilfields and the kingdom's foreign financial interests and accounts. What does "target" mean? Some of the Americans on the advisory board thought the word meant "invade" and take the oilfields. Well, if, in fact, if we are really at war with terrorism and anywhere it takes us, and we are willing to listen to the truth, we may have to consider that, too. Let the Saudis choose whether they want to be our friends or our enemies.

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