After another eight Americans lost their lives in a terrorist attack the Saudi spin machine has spun out, crashing on the curve of its own pathology. About thirty people died in the May 12 attacks, including Americans, Brits and some Saudi guards. By Sunday, the Saudi spin machine was whirling like Carville used to at the mere mention of Monica, but not doing nearly as good a job. On Fox News, Saudi “foreign policy adviser” Adel al-Jubair — numero uno spin doctor for Crown Prince Abdullah — was talking about the “partnership” between Saudi investigators and the FBI. The partnership is, as it was in the 1996 Khobar Towers investigation, entirely fictional. While al-Jubair was praising it his boss’s Interior Minister, Prince Nayef, was telling a Riyadh news conference that the Americans were in Saudi Arabia to “observe” and would not in any way “participate” in the investigation. “They have come here at their own request, and they are here only for inspection purposes,” Nayef said. They should at least hire Carville to coach al-Jubair and Nayef. He’d at least make their stories match.
According to the Saudi paper Arab News, the Saudis are still — even now — refusing to admit that their problem with terrorism is worse than, say, Nepal’s. No amount of spin can cover that up. In its story on the news conference with Prince Nayef last Sunday, Arab News reported that Nayef “said the problem of terrorism was no bigger in Saudi Arabia than anywhere else in the world, despite reports that 15 of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11 were Saudis and that most of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba are Saudis.” Unfortunately for us this is more than the academic exercise the Saudis want it to be.
The usual Saudi denials of complicity in terror are so threadbare that only their best buddies in Foggy Bottom and CNN could be willing to accept them. The latest blow to their credibility comes from the fact that Saudi Arabian National Guard members apparently have been selling weapons to al-Qaeda. A May 6 raid on the hideout of the terror cell that probably perpetrated the attacks on May 12 came up empty of people but resulted in the seizure of a considerable weapons cache. Those weapons have been traced back to a Saudi national guard armory. The Saudis are investigating this, and we can be sure that they’ll take drastic action. A few people will be arrested for the thefts, tried and executed. We will never know who — if anyone — was punished, far less if they actually were guilty.
The Saudis are trying to cast themselves in the role of friend in need. One report says that among the targets of the terrorist cell that murdered the Americans in Riyadh were the Saudi defense minister and Interior Minister Prince Nayef. Spinmeister al-Jubair played on this theme while on Fox News. He said, “we are in a showdown with the forces of darkness in Saudi Arabia.” From this morality play are we supposed to understand the necessity of supporting the Saudis in their hour of danger? If that’s their message, they don’t need Carville. They need Baghdad Bob.
We constantly hear about how difficult it would be if the Saudi monarchy were destabilized. But it — like all other despotisms — is inherently unstable, and it should be our national policy to use their instability to bring about an end to their support for terrorism. The Saudis maintain their power because of oil wealth, severe oppression of their people, and by keeping us convinced that they are the devil we know, and better than one we don’t. They are vulnerable on many fronts. We have to deal with the fact that the Saudis are the farmer and banker of terrorism. We have to deal with this ugly truth in the long term and the short. The long-term strategy will succeed, if we stick with it.
The Saudi despots are most vulnerable to encroaching freedom. If freedom gains a foothold in one of the Arab nations (remember, Turkey is not Arab), the Saudis know their days will be numbered. To make sure that message gets through, the radio and TV news broadcasts in Arabic that we are broadcasting from Baghdad should be beamed into Saudi Arabia. Let them jam the signal, as Castro tries to in Cuba. The underground that will arise merely to listen to the radio will be the beginning of the end for the Saudis. In Iraq, they — along with the Iranians — are funding the religious unrest aimed at blocking democracy. If we can succeed in Iraq, the Saudis’ days are numbered. In the short term, we should do more.
The Saudis have four suspects in custody from last week’s attacks. Of course, our FBI agents have not been allowed to interrogate them. Let’s call a halt to the charade we are playing with the Saudis. FBI Director Mueller needs to stop praising the Saudis for their sham cooperation. Attorney General Ashcroft should place a call to Interior Minister Nayef and suggest that if we don’t get full cooperation immediately — which includes unfettered access to the suspects and the forensic evidence — we will pull our people out as we did after months of playing this game in 1996. Mr. Ashcroft can tell Nayef that their lack of cooperation can be on every front page, and then make it so when they fail — as they certainly will — to do what they should.
There is much else we can do to push the Saudis to reform, or stand aside. But the sad truth is that no American government — even this one — has acknowledged the severity of the Saudi problem and tried to pursue seriously a solution. If Mr. Bush is unwilling to push them on this investigation, I fear there will be no short-term policy attempting a solution. But even if there is not, if Iraq becomes truly free, a functioning democracy, it will be the Poland to the Saudis’ USSR. Freedom is not a subtle thing. And it is wonderfully contagious.