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Saudi Arabia: Loyal Ally or Unscrupulous Adversary?

Saudi Arabia: Loyal Ally or Unscrupulous Adversary?

A nationwide poll shows that 63 percent of the US public has a negative opinion of Saudi Arabia. And for good reason.


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 minds.

"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.

The values and aspirations of Saudi society are fundamentally at odds with our own.

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.

September 8, 2002

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Visitor Comments: 6

(6) Andrew Axsom, April 2, 2003 12:00 AM

Saudi Arabia: The problem, not the solution

Mr. Jacoby was right on the money with this article. I couldn't agree with him more. Saudi Arabia tells the US they are sorry we are being hit by terrorists, but turns to congradulate the terrorist!

(5) Don (Cleveland Ohio), September 18, 2002 12:00 AM

Saudi Arabia , the supplier .

The alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia can be described in many ways to the relationship between a drug pusher and a drug addict .

Oil being the crack cocaine that we must have in order to restore a stabilized economy . The United States being the consumer of that oil , will turn a blind eye on the hundreds of atrocities the drug dealer , Saudi Arabia has committed , even against those who are closest to the consumer .

Saudi Arabia is an arrogant theocracy who bases it's stability on it's enourmous abundance of crude oil . However , what they don't realize is that the United States , a leader in alternative energy technology will one day divorce Saudi Arabia . One day when we can drive vehicles that yield an amazing 90 miles per gallon . One day when inner city commuters use the park and ride . One day when we realize how damaging fossil fuels are to the atmosphere , creating the greenhouse effect . Indeed crude oil is as much or even more of a threat in popular use , as the terrorism , which is Saudi Arabia's #2 export .

(4) Mary Granillo, September 17, 2002 12:00 AM

The Saudis are the Cause of Terrorism!

They are the ones will so much hate and the one who are suppling money . I believe that they are the one who are going to start www because of their religious believes that makes them think that they are doing it for God. How wrong they are because we are all equal in the eyes of God. And what you said about the way they treat their women. How could we ever trust a nation that act and treats those that don't stand up to their expectations and wants everybody land is another Hitler in the making.

(3) Nick Gatz, September 13, 2002 12:00 AM

Right on!

I'm glad to see that the general public seems to have more sense than the president.

(2) Rex S. Rambo, September 10, 2002 12:00 AM

While Saudi Arabia is more devious, they are a threat to our security and world peace.

Saudis have been killing Americans for 20 years. I consider them our enemy, period.

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