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Symposium: Saudi Arabia ... Friend or Foe?

Following is a symposium hosted by Jamie Glazov for frontpagemag.com.

Question #1: After 9/11, it became questionable whether the Saudis were our allies. The problem is that it was long before 9/11 that the Saudis violated their love affair with the Americans. We now know what they have been doing for a long time: funding terrorism, sponsoring jihad against the U.S. etc. But let us first take a step back: if the Saudis are our friends, or if they were our friends, how was that?

Pipes: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has never been a"friend" in the sense that its long-term goals were always deeply divergent from those of the United States. We are a mercantile democracy; they are an Islamist monarchy. We seek the spread of liberal democracy, they seek the spread of Islamist absolutism. These differences were hidden because we had a long-term tactical relationship that benefited both sides.

Ledeen: They kept oil prices low, thus helping to bankrupt the Soviet Union. They provided us with military bases during the Gulf War. They shared intelligence on terrorism for many years, and perhaps still do, at least to some extent. These are not minor matters, by any measure. That said, there is no doubt that we would not have had any interest in an alliance with the Royal Family if there were not huge oil deposits in the area.

Schwartz: For 250 years, the Wahhabi death cult in Arabia, and its political arm, the House of Sa'ud, have pursued the dual strategy of depending on the Christian powers, first Britain and then the U.S., for protection of its rule in the peninsula, while it fostered a campaign against non-Wahhabi Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, and Jews elsewhere. This strategy succeeded because the British and U.S. were indifferent to and ignorant of Wahhabism and its conflict with the rest of Islam. They allied with us for their own benefit, and for that of Big Oil. Everything that has happened is completely consistent with these simple facts. All relationships with the Sa'ud regime involve prostitution on both sides. One can define prostitution as friendship if one wishes. That does not change its nature.

Question #2: Do you think American policymakers have dealt competently with the KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia)?

Pipes: No, I can think of no country where American interests are less well upheld than with Saudi Arabia. The Saudi ambassador to Washington in part once explained why:"If the reputation . . . builds that the Saudis take care of friends when they leave office," Bandar bin Sultan said,"you'd be surprised how much better friends you have who are just coming into office." In part, the lack of assertiveness results from the phenomenon so well described by a former U.S. ambassador to Riyadh:"it's amusing to see how some Americans liquefy in front of a foreign potentate, just because he's called a prince."

Ledeen: No, both because we have failed to insist on liberalization of the kingdom — it was only a matter of time before we turned on a regime that oppressed women and forbade the practice of western religions even on our own bases and in our own embassies — and because our diplomats somehow failed to notice that the Saudis were creating a global network of extremist schools and mosques, dedicated to the destruction of the Western world. That strikes me as perhaps the greatest of all the celebrated intelligence failures leading up to 9/11.

Schwartz: The failure of U.S. officials to recognize the true nature of Wahhabi-Saudi totalitarianism represents the biggest and worst failure in the entire history of American foreign relations.

Question #3: Once our great ally, the KSA has now not only refused to co-operate with the war on terrorism, it has also refused to support an Iraq attack. Worse still, the Saudis won't even allow Americans to attack Iraq from their territory. No wonder the KSA is now being excluded from discussions about a post-Saddam era. It is clear that there is no longer a friendship. And in this war against militant Islam, if you are Saudi Arabia and you are not a friend of the United States, then you are definitely an enemy. Right?

Pipes: I'm not quite ready to deem Riyadh an enemy but prefer to see it as a rival. I believe that a robust representation of U.S. interests can pressure the authorities there to take positive steps.

Ledeen: Yup. The President has been quite explicit: either you're with us or you're agin us.

Schwartz: Saudi Arabia is a battlefield between Wahhabi and Ashari (i.e. non-Wahhabi) Islam. Crown Prince Abdullah seeks to extricate the regime from the Wahhabi grip. We should assist him in this. The Wahhabi wing of the regime created 9/11. The U.S. must demand a full accounting of this fact. Wahhabism is the enemy, Arabia is the battlefield, some members of the royal family do sincerely support us. The situation is more fluid than it appears from outside. The Sudairi faction of the regime (King Fahd and his full brothers) pretend to be our friends but support our enemies. Abdullah criticizes the West but opposes continuation of the Wahhabi ideological state. Our involvement in Saudi Arabia should be aimed at enabling and facilitating the transition away from the Wahhabi legacy, not at propping up a repellent gang of global looters.

Question #4: Some analysts argue that whatever stands between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. at the moment, that we must look at the" compatible" long-term goals of the two nations. What exactly is compatible between the greatest democracy in the world and a despotic regime that promotes Wahhabism, which is one of the ugliest forms of Islamic fascism one can find?

Pipes: There are indeed some common interests, particularly concerning the steady supply of Saudi oil and gas but also including the stability of the Arabian peninsula.

Ledeen: We do have some common enemies and the optimists believe that there are plenty of top Saudis who really, deep down, share at least some of our values, and it's possible they may" come around" after we have won the war against Iran, Iraq and Syria. Americans believe in repentance and conversion, after all. And war does have a way of converting people to new ways of looking at the world. Once the Terror Masters have been defeated, their popularity will drop, and the temptation to join the global Jihad will be far less potent.

Schwartz: There is nothing compatible between the West and Wahhabism. The restoration of Ashari Islam in the Two Holy Sites is of interest to the whole world in that it would reinforce theological pluralism and mainstream traditionalism. There is nothing compatible between the corruption and deceit of Al Sa'ud and the values of the rest of the world. An Arabia in which the legitimate aspirations of the majority of the people for a new political order, parliamentary, based on a secular constitution, transparent, and religiously pluralist, are fulfilled is, again, in the interest of the entire globe. The fate of the Saudi state and the people it rules over are not a private matter of the princes and the people, but a cause of concern for all of humanity.

Question #5: Mr. Schwartz points out that the House of Sa'ud has depended on the Christian powers, first Britain and then the U.S., for protection of its rule in the peninsula. One can only imagine the humiliation and fury that the Saudis must feel in being the caretakers of Islam's holiest shrines and at the same time having to depend on infidels for their own survival. Without the protection of a civilization that they despise and consider themselves superior to, the ruling Saudis know their dynasty would crumble overnight. It's pretty clear how a deep-rooted and intense hatred of America fertilizes itself in this dynamic.

Isn't this the West's problem with the whole Muslim world in general? We basically see a civilization that is incapable of material progress and building democracy, yet it has contempt for the secular West -- on which it depends. In other words, we face an inevitable enemy within Islam, because in being intrinsically opposed to innovation (bida), Islam must ultimately strike out at a civilization that it considers evil, but without which it could not feed its own people. The way the Saudis need us and hate us is a perfect example. Am I making sense? If I am, does this mean we have an enemy in Islam itself?

Pipes: No, the enemy is not Islam, a religion that like all religions is hugely adaptable. The enemy is the prevalent reading of Islam these days, which is hostile to almost everything the United States represents.

Ledeen: Yes, I'm sure they don't like having to depend on the infidel West for their security. So what else is new? The French don't like it either, and Lord knows they consider themselves superior to us in myriad ways, but they don't organize murderous campaigns against us. No, that"explanation" doesn't explain, I'm afraid. One has to look into Wahabbi'ism itself, and one has to look at the mindset of the Saudis: their hypocrisy, their fecklessness, and so on. The Saudis aren't very cultured (in contrast, say, to the Iraqis and the Iranians), so they are easier prey for fanatical doctrines.

Islam is not, as you suggest, incapable of material progress (there's lots of material progress in several Islamic countries, from Morocco to Indonesia and Malaysia), or democracy (Turkey, for example), nor is it intrinsically opposed to innovation, nor does"it" have contempt for the secular West. We are at war with a collection of tyrants: the leaders of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia. We are not at war with"Islam itself."

Schwartz: I fail to see how the credibility gap between Wahhabism and its dependence on the Christian world affects any other Muslim societies than those in the Gulf and I therefore don't comprehend how a leap can be made from that to an alleged"problem with the whole Muslim world in general." Numerous societies that are not Islamic at all have as bad or worse problems. Islamic civilization is not incapable of material progress and building democracy. The problems of, for example, Peru or Bolivia, or Myanmar or even Romania, cannot be blamed on Islam, and are essentially the same problems. Malaysia, which is a traditionalist Islamic society and a monarchy at the same time as it is stable and maintains parliamentary institutions, shows quite significant progress, to say the least. The King of Morocco, the leaders of Bosnia, the Indian Muslims, can hardly be described as having contempt for the West. Speaking of Bosnia, it is a completely secular and modern European society that would have done a fine job of attaining prosperity, progress and democracy but for the tender ministrations of Milosevic, the presumptive savior of Christian Europe.

Question #6: Mr. Pipes notes that he can think of"no country where American interests are less well upheld than with Saudi Arabia." This is why all three of you agree that American foreign policy vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia is a pathetic disaster. It appears hard to deny that, when it comes to understanding other cultures and religions, Americans can be quite ignorant. They are so inward looking that they don't think they need to know about anything outside of themselves. How else can we explain how and why the Americans missed that a main"ally" was, for years, spreading and funding an ideology (Wahhabism) that was fascistic, anti-Western and, if anything, simply evil? What does all of this say about a part of the American character?

Pipes: I see the failure to uphold American interests less as a character flaw and more as the result of a cozy, insiders' relationship that has prevailed for nearly six decades between diplomats, politicians, and businessmen on the two sides. Only after 9/11 is this quiet little world getting rattled, much to the chagrin of insiders in both countries. That explains President Bush's two invitations of Saudi leaders to his Crawford ranch; his dismissing the critiques of Saudi Arabia as"irresponsible statements," and his spokesman saying that the Saudi ambassador to Washington"speaks better English than most Americans."

Ledeen: We knew that Americans are weak on history, geography, foreign languages and cultures and religions. Tocqueville knew that in 1831, when the educational system was a hell of a lot better than it is today.

As I've said repeatedly, Saudi Arabia is a massive American intelligence failure, because either we didn't know what the Wahabbis were all about, or it wasn't reported in language a policy maker could understand.

Schwartz: There is a simple explanation and it has nothing to do with the American character or culture. It has to do with the failure of U.S. antitrust policy to effectively control the Standard Oil successors, ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco above all. Big Oil has protected the Wahhabi-Saudi dictatorship for 65 years. This is not the fault of ordinary American citizens. But if anybody besides the executives of Big Oil bears responsibility for the problem, it would be the political leaders who identified the affairs of Big Oil with the business of the U.S. government.

Question #7: Mr. Ledeen notes that"Once the Terror Masters have been defeated, their popularity will drop, and the temptation to join the global Jihad will be far less potent." This point reminds us that, instead of triggering a violent backlash from militant Muslims, a sound pummeling of an Arab/Muslim power would do the opposite. This is true in many ways.

But let's take the example of the KSA. We all know that the Saudis are responsible for 9/11. Without their backing of Wahhabism, al-Qaeda etc. over the years, 9/11 would not have occurred. That's why real justice would have demanded that the U.S. do to the ruling Saudis what they did to the Taliban. But obviously the Americans can never administer justice to the KSA because if they ever attacked the Saudi regime, they would be attacking the country that is the host to the holy shrines of Islam. This would make enemies of 1 billion people and ignite more terror rather than less. Right?

Pipes: I agree completely with Mr. Ledeen. Note the difference in effect of 9/11 and 11/9 (Nov. 9, when the first Taliban city fell to U.S. forces). The one brought great support to Al-Qaeda, the latter lost it. It is possible to use military force against the valuable parts of Saudi Arabia (i.e., the oil fields) without going anywhere near the two holy cities. It's even possible to break up the current kingdom so that the oil fields and the holy cities are (once again) under separate rule.

Ledeen: Your point that we will make one billion enemies and ignite more terror if we attack the Saudis is wrong. We are going to war with various Islamic countries, and the Saudis' turn will come at the end. If, by that time, they have not shut down the network of mosques and schools that breed the next generation of terrorists, we'll have to bring them down too.

Schwartz: The center of Wahhabi-Saudi power is not in Mecca or Medina, but in Riyadh. Nobody in the Muslim world except goofy Wahhabis equates Riyadh with Mecca and Medina. It is only among ignorant Westerners that the claim of Saudi to lead the Islamic world community is given any credibility at all; no Muslims except Wahhabis consider the Saudis the leaders of the Muslim world. Being gatekeepers for the Hajj, who deny participation in the Hajj to all except Wahhabis and those certified by them (which is why of a billion Muslims only one million make hajj every year), does not make them leaders of the Muslim world; nor does their oil wealth. They have been designated as such by us, not by the Muslims.

In the Muslim world today, Alija Izetbegovic, the former president of Bosnia, Aslan Maskhadov, the anti-Wahhabi Chechen leader, the King of Morocco, Mahathir Muhammed, Megawati Sukarnoputra, Ayatollah Khatami, and numerous others, have more credibility than King Fahd. Osama bin Laden is admired by young and extreme elements but has no credibility as a leader.

The defeat of the Wahhabi-Saudi alliance, the liberation of Mecca and Medina from their control, the fall of Riyadh as the center of power in Arabia, and the replacement of the Wahhabi-Saudi dictatorship by a federalized entity made up of Hejaz (location of Mecca and Medina, identified with Ashaari Islam and therefore anti-Wahhabi), the Eastern province (location of the oilfields, with a Shi'a majority, extremely anti-Wahhabi), and Najran (southern area also with an anti-Wahhabi Shi'a majority) would be greeted with celebration by most of the world's Muslims. It would not make one billion Muslims our enemies.

Question #8: What would happen if the Saudi monarchy were toppled? What would replace it?

Pipes: Obviously, there are a range of scenarios, depending whether the monarchy were overthrown from without or within. Assuming you mean from within, the chances at this point are slender of such a development; but if it did happen, it would probably be carried out by an even harder-line element than the ruling elite today. In other words, the country would look more like Afghanistan under the Taliban.

Question #9: What changes do you think should be effected to U.S. policy toward the House of Sa'ud in general?

Pipes: The United States needs a robust policy, where our representatives stand up for our interests — the energy consumer, the abducted child, the soldier sent off to war against Iraq, the moderate American Muslim — against those of Saudi Arabia. This won't be easy to achieve, as a culture of corruption has enveloped our decision-makers, making them all-too-ready to appease their Saudi counterparts.

Saudi-US relations will depend on how much effort Washington invests in this matter. If the American leadership gives Saudi Arabia the critical attention it deserves, things could end up in good shape. But inertia will lead to greater problems.

Ledeen: If we have to bring down the Saudis, we will have to support a legitimate alternative, probably one of the several unemployed Hashemites. That won't make anything like 1.2 billion enemies. Maybe a few thousand members of the royal Saud family and their retenues, but not many more...

Schwartz: We should facilitate a transformation in Saudi Arabia by the following:

  1. A non-negotiable demand for a full accounting of Saudi involvement in 9/11 plus
  2. A non-negotiable demand for the Saudi regime to sever its relations with the Wahhabi International in exactly the same way the Russian government severed its relations with the worldwide Communist movement.
  3. Failure to comply with a and b would mean the beginning of a phased diplomatic break.
  4. Meanwhile, we should encourage the non-Wahhabi elements in Saudi society in organizing civil society, while preparing for the possible breakup of the failed Saudi nation-state. The threat in Saudi is that of another Yugoslavia, not another Iran.

Military defeat is the only solution with regard to open terror. Defeating Saudi backing of terror can be done through severance of the regime from the networks.

This symposium was published by frontpagemag.com and is reprinted with permission.