THE CHATTERING CLASSES were atwitter last week when the Washington Post leaked the details of a Defense Policy Board briefing describing Saudi Arabia as "active at every level of the terror chain,” and charging that the kingdom “supports our enemies and attacks our allies.” The briefing called on Washington to deliver the House of Saud an ultimatum: Stop supporting terrorism, or we’ll seize your oil fields and whatever financial assets you have invested in the U.S.
The cat was out of the diplomatic bag.
While it’s no secret that Saudi Arabia condones, tolerates, and sponsors Islamic terrorism, that inconvenient truth is one which, for now and at least in public, the Bush Administration must doggedly, if insincerely, deny. Conventional wisdom and White House spin instantly chalked up the briefing and the leak that made it public to an irrelevant, albeit embarrassing gaffe, in no way reflective of official Administration policy.
Which it well could have been. But it also could have been something more: a warning, unmistakably clear but also plausibly deniable, that the Administration demands nothing less than the Saudis’ wholehearted cooperation in the War on Terror.
The official disavowal was easy enough to make. The man delivering the briefing, Laurent Murawiecz, is no American government official, in fact, he’s not even American. Murawiecz is a Frenchman working for the private RAND Corporation, and his PowerPoint presentation to the Defense Policy Board was very much his own creation and his own responsibility. Still, never had such a purportedly unimportant remark from such an ostensibly insignificant person every stirred so much attention or raised so much concern.
One wonders if Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was bluffing when he denounced the leak of the Murawiecz’s briefing as “unfortunate.” After all, the Post’s story allowed the White House to maintain the niceties of diplomatic protocol, while at the same time conveying an unambiguous warning to the Saudi kleptocracy that its lukewarm support of America’s position could ultimately prove disastrous. Impolitic or not, Murawiecz was the board’s invited guest, and surely his invitation would not have been tendered without some cursory consideration as to what he might say.
For all the kind words about Saudi Arabia and its highly valued alliance, the kingdom thus far clearly falls outside the narrow confines of the Bush Doctrine, which defines “any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism” as a “hostile regime.” Saudi Arabia bankrolls the hate-filled madrassahs that are breeding grounds for future generations of al Qaeda members throughout the Arab world; it subsidizes Palestinian terror against Israel; it produced 15 of the Sept. 11 hijackers and Osama bin Laden himself.
Simon Henderson, an adjunct scholar of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, charged in Monday’s Wall Street Journal that the Saudi government has paid bin Laden “hundreds of millions of dollars,” to pick non-Saudi targets (like New York City?) for his wicked deeds. And now the Saudi regime has announced that it plans not to cooperate with the forthcoming invasion of Iraq, and that it will conduct its own interrogation and prosecution of some 16 Saudi al Qaeda members, rather than turning them over to American authorities.
That’s an unimpressive record for a country billing itself as one of America’s most faithful allies.
What motivates the Saudis — all that’s ever motivated the Saudis — is self preservation. It’s why the monarchy allows its extreme Wahhabi clergy to maintain tight control over its people, that way the clerics won’t turn against the decadent and corrupt regime. It’s why the country’s leaders signed onto the Gulf War, for fear that Saddam Hussein would take Riyadh as readily as he took Kuwait City. And it’s why they now oppose Gulf War II, mindful that it could compromise their already tenuous hold on power.
A toppled Iraq, made friendly to the U.S. and its interests, would largely free America of its dependence on Saudi oil and Saudi military bases. It might also inflame Saudi radicals hoping to overthrow their monarchy, especially if the monarchy played an active role in the removal of a sympathetic Muslim leader. From their standpoint, Saudi officials have little to gain — and much to lose — even if the rest of the world would be made much safer through the elimination of the Iraqi threat.
What the Bush Administration may have been trying to express to Iraq last week by way of an “unfortunate” leak was that the House of Saud has much more to lose should it get on the wrong side of the millennium’s first great war. It was an unsubtle message to Crown Prince Abdullah: We are not blind to your depravity, your duplicity, your complicity in evil. America has the good sense to take on her enemies one at a time, but take on her enemies she will, and your regime would be wise not to remain one of them.
The President has made it clear that the War on Terror won’t be over until every terrorist-sponsoring state is either toppled or reformed — the Saudis still have time to take their pick.