it just me, or are the Saudis not particularly charming even when
they are on a charm offensive?
Here was Crown
Prince Abdullah in a New York Times interview the other day,
trying but apparently not that hard to make nice:
"In the current environment, we find it very difficult to defend
America, and so we keep our silence. Because, to be very frank with
you, how can we defend America?"
A day earlier,
the head of Saudi intelligence unloosed this charming thought: "Some
days you say you want to attack Iraq, some days Somalia, some days
Lebanon, some days Syria. Who do you want to attack? All the Arab
world? And you want us to support that? It's impossible. It's impossible."
When the Saudis
tell us that everything is alright with their relationship with
the United States, what they really mean is that they want the status
quo to go on forever, i.e. they want the U.S. to continue to ignore
the Saudis' dangerous work creating a radical Islamic network around
the world, while we provide security for the royal family.
As I argue
in the cover story in the new National Review, mutual strategic
and mercenary interests between the U.S. and the Saudis have long
submerged the significance of the peculiar, intolerant, and anti-Western
beliefs at the core of the Saudi monarchy.
11, such considerations now pale against the cultural contradiction
between the two countries. The U.S.-Saudi relationship should change
fundamentally. And the key, as with so much in the Middle East at
the moment, is Iraq.
controversy over the U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia is part of a
strategic shift in the region that is making old assumptions obsolete,
and so making current U.S. policy a basket of contradictions.
them is the fact that U.S. troops are in Saudi Arabia to protect
the House of Saud from an Iraqi threat the princes no longer really
fear. With the Iraqi threat no longer so frightening, the Saudis
probably won't let us use Saudi bases for the only task we need
them for toppling Saddam Hussein.
be because the Saudis worry that the U.S. is not really serious
about confronting Saddam. But things, in the long run, might actually
be worse for the Saudis if we do finish the job in Iraq. Installing
a functional, Western-oriented government in Baghdad would dramatically
increase U.S. leverage in the region.
A decent government
in Iraq could become a model for the Arab world. It would provide
a boost to reformers in Iran. And it might chasten Yasser Arafat,
who typically moderates his behavior at times of Western assertion.
It thus would
serve to embarrass the Saudis who, in comparison with a reformist
government in Iraq, would look more backwards than ever and
possibly disrupt the Iranian-Palestinian radical axis on which the
Saudis have increasingly looked favorably.
a successful U.S. effort to topple Saddam and install a friendly
regime in Baghdad would make the U.S.-Saudi alliance far less important.
In many ways, Iraq seems a more natural candidate for friendship
with the U.S. than does Saudi Arabia, despite the Saddam interlude.
traditionally been a sophisticated and commercial-oriented people,
with few of the traditions of Islamic radicalism of the Saudis.
Also, the Iraqis could withdraw from OPEC and begin fully pumping
oil into the world market, thus reducing Saudi market power and
one of the incentives for the U.S. to appease the regime.
As for U.S.
troops, it is yet another contradiction of the current situation
that Osama bin Laden's prescription makes the most strategic sense
in the long run: pulling out of Saudi Arabia.
wouldn't let us fly missions against the Taliban from Saudi territory,
and are resistant to letting us fly bombing missions to enforce
the no-fly zones in Iraq. What use are our bases?
In a post-Saddam
world, the U.S. could withdraw its security guarantee from the Saudis,
fulfill its basing requirements elsewhere Kuwait, Qatar,
Bahrain, possibly even Iraq and give the Saudis some time
to think about the Bush doctrine: Supporting and tolerating terrorists
makes you a terrorist.
the next Saudi charm offensive might actually be a little charming.