There is something surreal about the spectacle of President Bush
touring the Persian Gulf. It calls to mind the signature line of Mad
Magazine's mascot, Alfred E. Neuman: "What, me worry?"
Bush's trip is, after all, premised on the notion that the Arab leaders
he is courting there are reliable allies. Such a proposition should be
subjected to the closest of critical scrutiny by Congress, the press
and the American electorate since a number of highly debatable, and
increasingly portentous, policies are predicated on this assumption.
--Saudi Arabia and the other, smaller desert
principalities are "moderates" who are as opposed as we to the
totalitarian political agenda of fanatical ideologues such as Osama bin
--The Gulfies share our concern about the rising power
of Iran and therefore can be counted upon to join us in countering that
region's would-be Islamofascist superpower. It follows not only that we
can safely provide these autocracies with an array of advanced weapons,
but we must do so.
--The Arab regimes in the Persian
Gulf will help broker a peace between Palestinians and Israelis — if
only the United States pressures the Jewish State to make territorial
and other concessions that may imperil the latter.
willingness of the Gulf's potentates to recycle the immense wealth they
have accumulated in recent years — primarily through oil sales at
exorbitantly inflated prices — to purchase big stakes in U.S. companies
and capital markets is a welcome development. Such investment is to be
encouraged, and those who say otherwise should be condemned as "Chicken
Little xenophobes" in the words of former General Electric Chairman
Jack Welch and his wife, Suzy.
In fact, the Welch tag-team
used a Jan. 21 Business Week column to admonish a letter-writer worried
about Arab and other sovereign wealth funds buying up American
corporations: "In trying times, U.S. companies always attract
opportunistic, activist shareholders. Sometimes they look like Carl
Icahn or Nelson Peltz. Sometimes they look like shiny-faced hedge fund
managers just out of Wharton or Harvard Business School. And sometimes
— like now — they look Chinese or Saudi or whatever. It doesn't matter.
They're all after the same thing: the opportunities in America's
Unfortunately, this confidence in the
inexorable forces of "globalization" is as misplaced in the case of the
so-called "pro-Western" Arab states as are the other assumptions
driving American policy towards the region at the moment.
To be sure, at least some of those to whom President Bush has been
paying court in recent days are genuinely desirous of U.S. protection,
arms, pressure on Israel and investment opportunities. But to confuse
such short-term, expediency-driven common interests with a durable
strategic partnership is, for want of a better term, globaloney.
litmus test of the true intentions of the Saudis and other oil-rich
Arab fiefdoms can be found in an initiative moving forward in Western
capital markets — including, increasingly those of the United States —
in parallel with their sovereign wealth investments in major financial
institutions and exchanges: Shariah finance.As my colleague, Alex Alexiev, has noted in an important analysis of this phenomenon Shariah finance is an invention of the Muslim Brotherhood, not the
Koran; it dates back to the 1920s, not the seventh century. This
Islamist invention is designed to promote and underwrite that
ideology's political agenda of ghettoizing and dominating Muslim
populations — and, in due course, non-Muslim ones.
American enterprises to offer products Islamist "Shariah advisers" deem
to comply with their political-religious-legal code is a Trojan horse
for legitimating that code, Shariah, as practiced by the Saudi,
Taliban, Sudanese and Iranian regimes. It enriches and gives enormous
influence to these adviser/ideologues and affords them new
opportunities to drive millions (if not billions) in tithing and profits to so-called Islamist "charities" and other enemies of the West.
of this cancer by Saudi and like-minded investors inside the West's
capitalist system is one of the ominous facts that belies the benign
nostrums about globalization and the Persian Gulf served up by the
likes of Mr. and Mrs. Welch, and embraced by the Bush administration.
Shariah finance is a prime indicator of why real care must be exercised
about arming its proponents, weakening our ally — Israel — at their
behest and encouraging their strategic penetration of our markets.
respect to the latter, this would seem to be an ideal time for
increased scrutiny of Gulf states' purchases of American companies.
Last year, in the wake of the firestorm concerning Dubai's proposed
takeover of American ports, Congress enacted legislation to strengthen
the hand of security-minded federal agencies involved in the Committee
on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).
CFIUS has been a notorious rubber-stamp even for transactions involving
deeply problematic foreigners, as long as they bring cash. Incredibly,
the Bush administration is reportedly poised to adopt implementing
regulations that will effectively gut this legislation — and compound
CFIUS' past, toothless oversight.
A Democratic-led Congress
returns to work this week. In 2006, its leaders promised that, if given
a chance to run Capitol Hill again, they would restore the
constitutionally mandated concept of checks-and-balances. Arguably, the
practice of that principle of divided government has never been more
needed than with respect to the all-too-prevalent, "What, me worry?"
attitude in Washington about the true nature, reliability and ulterior
motives of our "friends" in the Persian Gulf.