TIME TO GET 'EM SAUDIS
[Alternet - November 27, 2002]
The latest brouhaha over Saudi links to al Qaeda that has the media pundits in a tizz maybe no more than a clever PR maneuver by the conservative hawks in the Bush administration.
The recent controversy emerged after revelations that the Saudi ambassador's wife may have donated money to the 9/11 hijackers. The Washington Post Tuesday carried a report claiming that the White House had threatened to punish the government if it did not crack down on Saudi financiers of terrorism -- a report later denied by the White House. Edward Walker, ex-assistant secretary of state in the Clinton and Bush administrations, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the report was most likely leaked by the Rumsfeld-Cheney crowd. "They have vested interests in seeing (the U.S.-Saudi) relationship deteriorate, and they will continue to work to undermine it," he said.
The closely knit cabal of Likudniks, Christian conservatives, and neoconservatives have been itching to go after Saudi Arabia for a long time -- see 1992 draft of secret memo authored by Wolfowitz and Libby. Since the 9/11 attacks, these Rumsfeld and Cheney protege's have used the media to orchestrate a campaign of innuendoes suggesting the need for regime change in Saudi Arabia.
Ousting the Saudi government would be part of a larger blueprint for the Middle East, which would include taking over the oilfields and dismantling OPEC. That may explain why neocon guru Stephen Schwartz reacted to the latest "revelation" with the following yee-haw quote: "The United States has to stop pussy-footing around on this. If 15 of the Sept. 11 hijackers had come from Iraq, Baghdad would be in cinders by now."
U.S., Saudis in awkward diplomatic spat
White House denies ultimatum to crack down on terror bankers
San Francisco Chronicle - 27 Nov 2002
A scandal that threatens to poison the strategic relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia kept flaring on Tuesday, resisting the Bush administration's attempts to talk it down.
The administration emphatically denied a report that it was considering a plan to threaten Saudi Arabia with financial sanctions -- or other unspecified unilateral steps -- if it fails to crack down on wealthy Saudis who have financed Osama bin Laden's terrorists.
But as the implications of the report grew clearer, many analysts cautioned that the U.S. options are limited.
The United States needs Saudi oil and access to its military bases too much to file for divorce, they say, and any heavy-handed actions would hurt Saudi cooperation in the war against terrorism.
"There's a Saudi-bashing impetus in Washington now, particularly in Congress and among the administration's hawks, who have a vast misunderstanding of Saudi Arabia," said James Noyes, a former U.S. assistant secretary of defense for the Mideast who is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
Noyes said the Saudi royal family's decentralized power structure hinders quick action.
"I think Saudi cooperation will be gradual and has to be arranged privately,
without open threats," he said. "In Saudi Arabia, problems are settled within a very large family rather than in a crisply functioning government of public laws."
But the recent revelations may have done lasting damage to the bilateral relationship.
Last weekend, U.S. officials said that Princess Haifa al-Faisal, the wife of the Saudi ambassador to the United States, had sent money to a Saudi man in San Diego who was in contact with two of the hijackers in last year's Sept. 11 attacks. Some congressional leaders followed with harsh criticism of the Saudi government.
Then on Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that a National Security Council task force had recommended that President Bush give the Saudi regime an ultimatum: Crack down on terrorist financiers within 90 days, or the United States will take firm steps to bring them to justice.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer admitted Tuesday that an interagency group is working to devise new measures to pressure the Saudis and other nations to stop funding for terrorism, but he insisted that no conclusions have been reached and no ultimatum is being contemplated.
"The president believes that Saudi Arabia has been a good partner in the war against terrorism," Fleischer said. "But even a good partner like Saudi Arabia can do more."
Relations with Saudi Arabia have been tense because 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens, and much of the financing for bin Laden's al Qaeda organization is believed to come from wealthy Saudis, including members of the royal family.
For some Washington conservatives, Saudi complicity is clear.
"The Bush administration has let these issues go for too long, and now they're just playing damage control," said Stephen Schwartz, senior policy analyst at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a think tank in Washington, and author of "The Two Faces of Islam," a widely praised new book that strongly criticizes the Saudi royal family.
"The United States has to stop pussy-footing around on this. If 15 of the Sept. 11 hijackers had come from Iraq, Baghdad would be in cinders by now," said Schwartz, a former Chronicle reporter.
In Saudi Arabia, a government spokesman said Tuesday that if any of the princess's money had reached the hijackers, it could only be because she had been tricked.
Many experts in Saudi culture said Riyadh's explanation is not far-fetched, because the Saudi royal family has a long tradition of giving individual gifts to their subjects -- even those whom they barely know.
"This is the way the Saudis work," said Sandra Mackey, whose 1987 book "The Saudis: Inside the Desert Kingdom" is considered a classic expose.
"They try to keep contact with ordinary people by taking care of their financial needs. It's very common for a person who is in need to make contact with the royal family and to be given money. And that person could wind up to be a terrorist."
James Akins, who was U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the Nixon and Ford administrations and who returned Sunday from a three-week trip to that country, said most Saudis feel increasingly angry about what they see as bullying by Washington.
"The anti-Americanism in Saudi Arabia is palpable. I've never seen anything like it," Akins said.
"If there's a revolution in Saudi Arabia, as some neoconservatives in Washington seem to advocate, it will clone bin Laden throughout the country and help him in his goal of overthrowing the monarchy."
In Washington, many see the past week's revelations as part of the Bush administration's tendency to fight its internal factional battles through dueling leaks to the media.
"It's an inadvertent good cop, bad cop arrangement," said Edward Walker, who was assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs in the Clinton and Bush administrations and now is president of the Middle East Institute.
"There's an ideological split, particularly in regard to Iraq, that frequently uses leaks to the press. Some people in the administration have wanted this to get out for a while now.
"They have vested interests in seeing (the U.S.-Saudi) relationship deteriorate, and they will continue to work to undermine it."
E-mail Robert Collier at rcolliersfchronicle.com.