Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Laurent Murawiec, a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute and the author of the new book Princes of Darkness : The Saudi Assault on the West.
FP: Mr. Murawiec, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Murawiec: Thank you, Jamie.
FP: What inspired you to write Princes of Darkness?
Murawiec: In the first place, I was asked to brief the Defense Policy Board at the Dept. of Defense on Saudi Arabia, and possible policy options. The ruckus that followed was enlightening: after my briefing was leaked to the Washington Post, the long-delayed debate about our Saudi "allies" that had until then been kept under wraps exploded on the front pages finally broke out. That was the start. Then a French publisher asked me to write a book - here it is, in English translation.
FP: Tell us more about your Defense Department briefing in July 2002 and its significance.
Murawiec: There's been a big problem with Saudi Arabia since, at least, 1973: the Saudis were a prime mover in slapping an embargo on oil on the US and all countries deemed to be friendly to Israel; they embargoed the US Navy in the middle of the tension of the Yom Kippur War; they took the lead in launching the great oil raid on the world economy, the quadrupling of oil prices that nearly tanked the world economy and did tank the weaker economies, those of the Third World. Friends! Allies!
Now there was a time when the deal between the Saudis and us made sense: after 1945, we need oil, lots, cheap, in guaranteed amounts and at stable prices. In return, we protected them from regional and extra-regional predators - Nasser, the Soviets, etc. They became rich, we powered industry. Good deal. Problems started later: as soon as the kingdom stabilized, King Faisal conceived a great design of taking over Sunni Islam to the Wahhabi creed, and Saudi imperial goals.
There was a brief period of apparent renewal of the alliance, in the common fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. But the Saudis and their Pakistani clients were channelling all resources to the fundamentalists, the bigots, the pre-Taliban haters, not to the fighters. And once the Red Army left Afghanistan, any vestigial reason for the alliance vanished. We were facing an entrenched power which favored Sunni despots and dictators, was dead-set on destroying Israel, was manufacuring and exporting an ideology of hatred towards America, Christianity and Judaism, the West in general; was powering the "Talibanization" of countries such as Algeria or Indonesia, and well on its way to capture Sunni Islam. In short, an enemy. But - fifty or more years of presence of a powerful Saudi lobby in Washington - these people mean business, and money's not the matter - as well as the ensconsed "Eisenhower Doctrine" - let's be friends with the owners of the real estate under which the oil is - had rigidly shaped America's Middle East policy. Loving Riyadh was an article of faith.
I was not the first to say that this was wrong. Nor were my arguments new. It just happened that saying what I said where I said it and when I said it - at the Pentagon, after September 11 - and the ensuing leak, gave traction to the line of argument.
FP: Ok, expand a bit on the specific ways in which the Saudi Arabian elite is an enemy of the West in general and of the U.S. in particular.
Murawiec: Let's start with Wahhabism. It is not "an austere version of Islam." It's a deadly, simplistic, bigoted, brutal creed which relishes in forbidding everything in sight; it is an Islam that kept itself totally isolated from the great centers of the Golden Age, Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo, Kayruwan, Samarkand and Tashkent. It is a creed which returns to an imagined, and wholly fantastical, 7th century Islam. It makes a claim to being the exclusive repository of Allah's mandate. To Wahhabism, non-Wahhabi Muslims are infidels (kufr). Shiites are apostates who should be killed. Christians and Jews ought to be killed as well. Prof. Bernard Lewis has aptly proposed a simile: imagine the KKK in power in Texas in 1900 and using the vast oil resources there to spread its 'faith.' Now, the organic connection between the Al-Saud and the Wahhabi dates back to 1744 when the two families tied up and struck a deal that still holds: I give you religious legitimacy, and you can plunder anybody you want in the name of Islam; I protect you zany cult and we'll spread it together.
Now today's princes are not - unlike bin Laden - feverish zealots intent on rocking every boat in sight. They are rich, fat, gorged with oil and whisky, powerful and scheming. They are like Stalin: defend the Fatherland, use it as the tool of world domination. Bin Laden is like Trotsky: permanent Islamic revolution no matter what. So they differ tactically. The princes know that they have somehow to keep the US is not happy, at least not mad at them: they want a dependent US. We'll deliver oil, and stability in the Middle East. They do oil, which makes them rich, and the kind of stability that's called Saddam, Assad, Arafat, etc.
The Saudi system is manufacturing by the dozen of thousands every year graduates from Islamic schools whose brains have been addled by the unending outpouring of red-hot hatred against anything non-Wahhabi, especially the West, the US in the first place. They're exporting Jihad. They're funding it, generating the indoctrination, the miseducation, the propaganda. They're exporting Jihadis.
Now the job of some of the princes is to sweet-talk Washington. So you have the slick, oily types who speak reasonableness itself in English, and spew fire and brim in Arabic. You have King Abdallah who twice threatened the US with a new oil embargo in recent years, and repeatedly alleged that Israel "was behind" Sept. 11. Allies! Friends!
FP: Why has the U.S. supported the royal family despite all of these circumstances?
Murawiec: Inertia, corruption, short-sightedness. Inertia, because 50 years of a strategic partnership became embodied in people, institutions, ideas, doctrines, which weigh on any policy: love for Saudi Arabia and their Saudi Highnesses is an article of faith at the State Department. To join the Foreign Service, you have to be vaccinated with Saudophilia tremens, this virulent disease. This also means corruption: since 1973, Saudi oil income has topped two trillion dollars (in 2002 value). A lot of it spills back to "friends." As just-departing Ambassador Bandar once famously said "If the reputation, then, builds that the Saudis take care of friends when they leave office, you’d be surprised how much better friends you have who are just coming into office.” What cheek! When you chart the extent of that corruption, at I did in the book, you stumble from surprise to shocking surprise. Short-sightedness: stability in the Middle at all costs - including the cost of the World Trade Center, of the sprawling international Jihad.
FP: Tell us about the connection between the Saudi royals and bin Laden.
Murawiec: First, there's the old Afghan connection: bin Laden was one of the chief operatives the top princes and Saudi intelligence used in the first war there against the Soviets. Their joint war was less one fought against the Soviet Army that a war for power (our stupidity was to allow the Saudis and their Pakistani friends to hijack our resources and use them on behalf of their radical jihad agenda). This is what in time created the Taliban. Back home after that war, bin Laden was made into a folk hero by the Royals, a picture boy of jihad.
Second, look at the Royals and at bin Laden. What's the difference? The Royals are fat, rich, gorged in luxury, sitting on top of the oil, the income, the palaces, their state, their power. They don't want to risk it. They want to implement the grand design King Faisal launched in 1973, when they really became rich, and take over Sunni Islam, extend the writ of their insensate Wahhabi creed, as they have successfully done, e.g., in Pakistan, they want pro-Wahhabi madrasas throughout the world, they want the World Muslim League and all the other Islamic NGOs to recruit, influence. They have taken over al-Azhar, the great institution of learning in Cairo, the primus inter pares in the Sunni world. They want to go on. They want to go on being able to manipulate the United States, buy influence, blackmail Washington with the threat of bin Laden taking over Saudi Arabia, offer "stability" by way of supporting Sunni dictators and other despots.
Bin Laden - and the other killers, Zarkawi, Zawahiri, etc. - is lean and mean. Remember Shakespeare's Caesar, "yon Cassius has a mean and hungry look..." He has not seen a boat he does not want to rock. He is held by no tactical consideration, mostly: he is the Trotsky to their Stalin. He plays the role of the Mahdi, or the sub-Mahdi. So the difference between the ones and the others is one of tactics: the Saudi Royals want a regulated form of terrorism, which they can largely control, bin Laden wants a deregulated form of terrorism, which he controls. If you study the sociology of sectarianism in Muslim history, such divisions are nothing new.
When al Qaeda started wreaking some havoc inside Saudi Arabia - while never, ever, touching a hair of any of the Royals, note - the Royals reacted with fury: don't tread on my turf! But they kept on allowing large numbers of Jihadis to go from Saudi - where they are known - to Iraq. They kept on having their clerics issue murderous fatwas that call for killing GIs in Iraq. The al Qaeda bombs inside Saudi Arabia, which somehow mostly end up killing foreigners, or lowly Saudis, are a means of negotiation between al Qaeda and the Royals: see what we can do to you if you don’t do this or that.
FP: Is the new King Abdallah a reformer?
Murawiec: Nice joke. He's been in power for about 40 years; he'd led the Saudi National Guard (SANG) for that long; it is Bedouins-based, the most reactionary, bigoted, illiterate, xenophobic segment of Saudi society: that's his power base, the tribes. His reputation for austerity is a sham. He's the guy who twice in recent years threatened the US with a new oil embargo. He's the guy who repeatedly stated that Israel was behind September 11. I know no element that would allow anybody to call him a reformer on any other basis that "he said." Bring it on, if it's there!
FP: So if the Saudis aren’t really our ally in the terror war, why does Saudi Arabia keep getting hit by terrorism?
Murawiec: I've covered part of the question above. The terrorist acts inside Saudi Arabia just express a well-know truth: you can't breed attack dogs and hope they will never come back to bite you. Saudi Arabia, its mosques, its schoolbooks, its universities, its imams and predicators, its very creed, have been spawning Jihadis for decades. That some of the attack dogs turn into wolves should be no surprise. The control mechanism for a long time was to export them: Saudi killers were all over the place. Most of the September 11 hijackers as you know. But their numbers are overflowing. There are 'only' 50,000 mosques in the country. They can employ 'only' a corresponding number of crackpots and would-be killers. The unemployed, trained killers turn against the hand that fed them. But, as I remarked earlier, there's been not the slightest intimation of an attempted hit at the princes... strange!
FP: Can we do without the Saudis?
Murawiec: We have to get tough with them. They got a pass for decades, no matter how outrageous their actions. When they bought missiles from the Chinese, in the '80s, and the US Ambassador Hume Horan was tasked by the State Dept. to protest to King Fahd, Fahd demanded - and got - his head. Even the great Ronald Reagan caved in! When they ran the '73 oil crisis, Kissinger, in a rare fit of toughness, hinted at military action, only to backtrack timorously within 48 hours. Enough already! We have to demand that they shut down the pseudo-'charities' that fund terror, deliver their officers and the archives to us. They must shut down the universities and schools that teach jihad and hatred. They must silence completely the predicators of jihad. They must scrap the ugly schoolbooks that call for murdering Jews, Christians, Shiites, etc. They must shut down the World Muslim League, the World Association of Muslim Youth, the International Institute of Islamic Thought, and the bevy of other Saudi-based, Saudi-funded NGOs that are the infrastructure of the Saudi "Islamintern."
FP: What about the oil?
Murawiec: The oil is a common good. We cannot accept the politicization of the markets. All the nice multilateralists, the cute UN-minded people, and the likes of Sweden and John Kerry should recognize that: the more we allow the Saudi raiders to tinker with the oil markets, the worse the consequences. Fools have been babbling about the Third World debt crisis for one generation, blaming the IMF, the World Bank, the greedy banks, etc. But, for Heaven's sake, the fundamental cause of the debt crisis was the quadrupling of oil prices in '73, and the next round in '79, it was this giant razzia on the world economy. The modern economy, being innovative and flexible, did not take. They adapted. The anti-capitalist economies of the Third World, run by kleptocracies and Soviet-like killers, did not adapt, they tanked. Thank the Saudis and their OPEC cohorts. So if it turned out that the Saudis denied large quantities of oil, withheld them from the market, or continued to jack up prices - they make it into a political (as opposed to market) affair - we return the favor. Threats backed up by capability and demonstrated intent are a very good tool of diplomacy.
FP: President Bush calls you tomorrow and asks you for advice on American policy toward the Saudis. What concrete steps do you immediately advise?
Murawiec: The "shut down" list. And I'd say: "Sir, Mr. President, judge people according to their deeds, not to their sugary words." I'd also advise that a lot of heads that having talking the Saudis up, at the State Department, the CIA especially - the "we-love-the-Sunni-dictators-and-despots-forever-because-they-deliver-stability" school of the three monkeys who see, hear and say no evil - should roll. The 'Arabists' have controlled US policy in the Middle East - and not the Likud! As every cretin, every liar and every falsifier repeats endlessly - for too long.
FP: Laurent Murawiec, you always call a spade a spade my friend. Thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.
Murawiec: Thank you - always a pleasure.
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