Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
Political Science and International Relations departments
Mary Baldwin College
Staunton, VA USA 24401
Much talk about strain in the Saudi Arabian relationship with the U.S. fills coverage of Prince Abdullah's visit to Pres. Bush's ranch this week. So it is useful to step back from the rhetoric and examine the facts about why that relationship has soured.
Pertinent to how most Americans feel is one overarching fact: nearly all of the 19 attackers on Sept. 11 were Saudis. While many Americans still remain ready to draw a line between the bombers and the Saudi Government, some are not. A February 2002 poll showed 44% of Americans, and higher proportions of American women, believe Saudi Arabia itself to be a sponsor of terrorism.(1)
For the sake of continued oil supplies, our Government must maintain the opposite view, at least when speaking in public. But if the Egyptian Mohammed Atta and his co-conspirator Saudis truly were renegades, as the Prince and his Government claim, one would expect complete cooperation of the Saudi Government with America in our war on terrorism. That hasn't happened. Indeed, if the Saudis were as helpful now as we were to them in 1990-91 (i.e., when we turned back Saddam's Iraqi Army as it moved toward their oilfields), the U.S. would not need to be building a new command center in Qatar. But we are building it; Saudi Arabia has blocked use of airfields we built there. Saudi bases were unavailable for full U.S. use as we defeated Afghanistan, and they remain off limits as we prepare for stage two, the coming war on Iraq. Some friend.
Old friends sometimes disagree, it will be said. But unlike the Saudis who cut oil shipments to the U.S. in 1973-74, we steadily have lived up to our commitment to defend Saudi national security since we made it in 1947. Do genuine friends disagree nearly all the time? Does a friend block us from questioning their detainees who have killed Americans? The Saudis did just that regarding the bombers of our barracks at the Khobar Towers, June 25, 1996. Nineteen Americans died there. Prince Abdullah's government also has been unhelpful regarding breaking the networks of terror that spawned Sept. 11, and last Fall, would not even let the Gallup Poll ask Saudis who they thought responsible for the attack on the USA. (Elsewhere in the Muslim world, 61% told Gallup they were sure Arabs had NOT conducted the attack. Such is the state of truth supplied by the state run presses of the Arab world!). The same Gallup poll showed a slim 16% of Saudis to even have a positive view of the U.S.(2) Things have not improved since last Fall. A clear majority (51%) of Saudis say they view negatively not just the government but the people of the U.S.; and 88% don't like our Middle East policy, as reported in an April 2002 Zogby poll.(3)
Much has been made of a recent Peace Plan uttered by Prince Abdullah in March, and embraced in a modified form later by the Arab League. But the Saudis' apparent interest in peace, like their professed friendship toward the U.S., is another example of speaking out of two sides of the mouth. On April 1, the government-run daily, Al-Jazirah, praised homicide bomber "Abd Al-Baset Oudeh, mujaheed and martyr, the quiet hero" who bombed a Passover Seder in Netanya, Israel, the event that was the straw that broke the back of Israeli patience with Palestinian terrorism.(4) Nor is Saudi involvement with bombers of civilians very indirect. The state treasury finances religious charities that in turn funnel funds directly to the terrorist groups which target both America and Israel. State television runs telethons which fund recovery efforts for Palestinians and which also pay sums directly to the families of bombers, just as Saddam's Iraqi Government pays such sums. Nor is all this unofficial: on Saturday April 13, in the London paper Al Hayat the Saudi Ambassador to Britain, Ghazi Algosaibi, published a poem praising the "martyr" Ayat Akhrasthe, an 18-year-old female homicide bomber of a supermarket. Saudi money now will reward her family for murder.(5) Tellingly, Saudi Arabia has remained silent in the weeks after Pres. Bush requested all states in the region to condemn such bombings.
Prince Abdullah, received this week with much grace by Pres. Bush at his Crawford, Texas ranch, wants now to lecture us about what we need to do differently in the Middle East. What gall! If Bush really meant it when he declared that nations must choose sides and must reject evil, the dirty mischief of the Saudis and of the Saudi Arabian Government cannot continue. An American war to rid the world of international terrorism steadily moves forward. The facts show it clearly: too often Saudi Arabia is on the wrong side.
(1) Poll finding 44% of Americans believe Saudi Arabia sponsors terrorism: http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&node=&contentId=A2192-2002Feb25
(2) Gallup Poll reference: http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/americas/newsid_1843000/1843838.stm
(3) Zogby Poll reference: http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/americas/newsid_1843000/1843838.stm
(4) Saudi Press praise of Passover bombing: http://www.memri.org/news.html#1018674363
(5) Saudi Ambassador to UK poem of praise of homicide bomber: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A11936-2002Apr18.html
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