Loose Canons

A Most Dispensable Ally

We have no Saudi friends -- because friends do not hold some 46 American citizens hostage.

By 6.18.02

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Allies come in three varieties -- those that commit blood and treasure to help, those who are all talk, and the phony allies who want our protection from other threats while they work against us. Of the phony allies, Saudi Arabia is certainly the most dangerous. It is the time to rethink our relationship with the House of Saud.

To understand the Saudis, and why they are a dedicated opponent rather than an ally, we have to remember that they are Wahhabists. The religious intensity and intolerance of Wahhabism both writes their laws and affects everything they do.

In 1742, Muhammed ibn Abdul Wahhab proclaimed a reformation in Islam. Martin Luther's reformation helped move Europe in a modern direction, sparking progress in politics and science as well as religion. Wahhab's reformation was aimed in the opposite direction. Wahhabism rejects any interpretation of the literal words of the Koran. It rejects any accommodation to the doctrines of other Muslims, calling them non-believers. Of course, it rejects Western culture and tolerance of individual freedoms outside its religious dogma.

A native of Arabia, Wahhab allied himself with local chieftain Mohammed Ibn Saud. Their army ravaged the area until 1818, when the Egyptians forced Ibn Saud's surrender. Wahhabism lay dormant until about 1912 when Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud seized control of Riyadh and proclaimed Wahhabism. Wahhabist intolerance and fanaticism was embodied in his Bedouin raiders -- called the "al Ikhwan" or "the brethren" -- who made war on the tribes of Arabia and Iraq, killing thousands of "non-believers." When the House of Saud was established, Ibn Saud made Wahhabism one of its cornerstones. Wahhabist fanaticism is not an ancient phenomenon. Osama bin Laden is a Wahhabi.

Wahhabist dogma precludes any real U.S.-Saudis alliance. While Saudis give lip service to peace, Saudi money is paying for Wahhabist indoctrination all around the world, teaching hatred of the West. In Africa, Saudi charities distribute food, but only to those people who first sit through a lesson in Wahhabism. Saudis spend about $50 million a year teaching Wahhabism to American Muslims. For all its money, the House of Saud's hold on power on is very weak, and its continued existence depends on Western oil money and our protection of Saudi Arabia's borders.

Because we fear a fundamentalist regime taking their place, we have cut the Saudis far too much slack over the years. During the Gulf War of 1990-91, the Saudis allowed us to base our troops and aircraft in their country because it was obvious they were Saddam's next target. When the first President Bush visited the troops on Thanksgiving Day, 1990, he was told that the Saudis would not permit him to say a Christian prayer of thanks on their soil.

The Saudis are consistent. They refused to cooperate in investigating the Khobar Towers bombing. They don't even concede that almost all of the 9-11 hijackers were Saudi citizens and have made no investigation of the events leading to 9-11. They have made a pretense -- nothing more -- of helping block financial transfers to terrorist organizations. They now say we can't use bases there for offensive operations in the coming Iraq campaign. Despite all that, we take them seriously when they propose peace plans for the Israelis and Palestinians. Crown Prince Abdullah's plan is a fancily-wrapped gift box with nothing inside. In return for our protection and indulgence, the Saudis allow kidnapped American citizens to be held against their will under their Wahhabist law.

Last Wednesday Rep. Dan Burton's Committee on Government Oversight and Reform heard testimony from one American who escaped Saudi-enforced captivity, and the mothers of some Americans who haven't. According to Mr. Burton, it's clear that about 46 American citizens are being held against their will in Saudi Arabia with the endorsement of the Saudi government.

In 1986, Patricia Roush's estranged Saudi husband kidnapped their two children and took them to Saudi Arabia. Despite Mrs. Roush's efforts, the Saudis refuse to let the young women -- both American citizens -- leave without their father's permission. According to Mrs. Roush's testimony, both desperately want to leave but instead are being forced into arranged marriages. Under Saudi law, their American citizenship is of no importance. Monica Stowers lived in Saudi Arabia with her husband and two American citizen sons. Her husband divorced her in 1985, and had her deported but kept the children. Mrs. Stowers moved back to Saudi Arabia about four years later when she heard the boys were being abused. She managed to get them into the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh where she was told that under Saudi law the children couldn't leave without the permission of the abusive father. The Marine guards were ordered to escort Mrs. Stowers and the children out of the embassy. They did, apologizing all the way.

The Marines have nothing to apologize for, but the President and the State Department have plenty. President Bush is trying to buy Saudi support for the coming campaign against Iraq. But we neither need nor should we want that support, for it will be bought at a price that is far too high.

Iraq, Iran, Libya and Syria are the most visible sponsors of terror. We can deal with them in turn. But Saudi Arabia is the banker and the farmer of the terrorist culture. The hundreds of millions of dollars it invests in it each year ensures that no matter how hard we fight, terror will grow and spread. It is time to stop coddling the Saudis. We should start by telling them to release the Americans held there. If they don't, we should do whatever it takes to get those people home.

Marines are pretty good judges of right and wrong. How about asking the Marines in the Riyadh embassy for volunteers to get Mrs. Roush's daughters and Mrs. Stowers' sons safely onto a plane bound for the USA? I'll bet a case of good scotch that every last one of them volunteers.

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About the Author
Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He is the author of several bestselling books including Inside the Asylum and In the Words of Our Enemies. He is coauthor (with Herbert London) of the new book The BDS War Against Israel. You can follow him on Twitter@jedbabbin.