U.S. can’t depend on Saudi Arabia for support

By Mark Passwaters

The Battalion

Since the United States took military action in Afghanistan on Oct. 7, it has come under fire from a number of Middle Eastern countries for inflicting damage on an Islamic brother. It was no surprise that longtime foes like Iran and Iraq were critical of the U.S. strikes. What was surprising to some was the lack of response from America’s allies in the region, Saudi Arabia in particular.

People who closely follow developments in the Middle East are not shocked by the silence, and more recently the tacit criticism, from Saudi Arabia. It has become clear during the last few years that Saudi Arabia is no longer an ally of the United States. Indeed, the Saudis hold the sad burden of being responsible for much of the terrible situation that now befalls America. It is time the United States, in turn, looks elsewhere for support.

In the 1980s and 1990s it was clear the Saudis were loyal allies of the United States. Since that time, King Fahd, Saudi Arabia’s ruler during Operation Desert Storm, has become largely incapacitated. He has been replaced in day-to-day operations by his half-brother, Crown Prince Abdullah. Abdullah is no friend of the United States; he actually opposed the introduction of American forces into Saudi Arabia after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

Abdullah has caused Saudi Arabian-American relations to cool significantly. Saudi authorities did not allow the FBI to interrogate any suspects involved with a 1995 bombing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that killed five Americans, or with the Khobar Towers incident in 1996 that left 19 American servicemen dead. The Saudis arrogantly told Americans that they had no business becoming involved in internal matters, although no Saudi national was killed in Khobar, Saudi Arabia.

They also have stepped up their rhetoric against the U.S. alliance with Israel, culminating in Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s outrageous comments that seemed to give justification to the World Trade Center attacks.

The Saudi government also is facing major problems at home and abroad. The Al-Saud dynasty claims to be a purely Islamic monarchy. It bases its rule around Whabbism, a hard-line Sunni Muslim sect, whose leader gave his backing to “Ibn Saud, the founder of the kingdom, in exchange for his following of strict Whabbist interpretation of the Koran.”

The Afghan Taliban claims to operate in much the same fashion, leaving the Saudis in the difficult spot of claiming it is “more Islamic” than another supposed theocracy.

The Saudi government has, over time, alienated many of the nation’s leading religious clerics. It has furthered the problem by spending large amounts of money to send Saudi men abroad to study in Islamic colleges and by founding Islamic schools in places like Pakistan. Instead of receiving thanks, those educated on the Saudi’s dollar now despise the royal family. Many see the Al-Saud as enemies of Islam and seek their destruction, as does Osama bin Laden, a Saudi national. Their mistake can be seen in the number of Saudis who took part in the Sept. 11 attacks, and the large number of Saudis who have donated their money to bin Laden’s al-Qaida network.

The Saudis have responded in their classic form: by throwing money at the problem. Fearful that they will be deposed from inside or out, the Saudis are bribing their foes with millions of dollars in subsidies. This includes millions sent to al-Qaida that has been used against the United States. Such actions, and the hatred of the West espoused by Crown Prince Abdullah, led a senior member of the U.S. intelligence community to say that the Saudis had “gone to the dark side.”

It is time for the Bush administration to recognize the threat the Saudis pose to American interests and act accordingly. Americans should move to solidify relations with other Persian Gulf states (including, perhaps, Iran) and some of the former Soviet republics, such as Azerbajan and Kazakhstan. In this case, our reliance on Saudi oil will become far weaker, and the Saudis can be left to their own devices. It would be interesting to see how they react when this marriage of convenience is no longer convenient.