With friends like the Saudis

Posted: Nov 26, 2002 12:00 AM
Suddenly, official Washington is publicly seized with a subject that has, until recently, generally been considered impolitic to address out loud: Is Saudi Arabia with us in the war on terror, or is it fundamentally against us? Now that the issue is finally being joined, it is stunning how few people in high places actually disagree with a perception that has become nearly universally shared by the American people -- namely, that the Saudis are a big part of the terrorist problem that we face today, and will likely confront for the foreseeable future. Several factors have lately compelled elite opinion to reconsider its longstanding embrace of the House of Saud and the kingdom's vast petrodollars. First and foremost among these was the stunning reality that fifteen out of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. In the aftermath of that day of infamy, the U.S. government has raided and/or shut-down several Saudi charities on suspicion that they have been used to funnel funds to al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. Then, over the weekend, Newsweek reported that the congressional inquiry into the September 11th attacks has concluded that a pair of Saudi "students" who had ties to two of the hijackers appear to have received tens of thousands of dollars from a bank account in the name of Princess Haifa Al-Faisal. In addition to being a daughter of the former Saudi king, Princess Haifa happens to be the wife of the long-serving Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan. On Sunday, Crown Prince Abdullah's flack, Aden al-Jubeir, took to the television talk shows to portray this transaction as nothing more than an act of charity from the wife of the senior Saudi official in this country to the ailing wife of a Saudi citizen living in San Diego. (Whatever the facts, Americans cannot help but be struck by the spectacle of men from a society that assiduously demeans women scurrying to take refuge behind their burkas.) Monday's Washington Times led its front page with an Agence France Presse wire story that Princess Haifa has also been linked to an apartment in Washington used by another Saudi citizen who subsequently "lived with members of a terrorist cell linked to al Qaeda." The article reports that the Saudi, Mansour Majib, happened to live in Sarasota, Florida temporarily in 2000 when several of the 9/11 hijackers took flying lessons." Now, this could all be coincidental. The Saudi ambassador's wife could be an innocent, well-meaning individual whose philanthropy and business dealings are no more motivated by a desire to support terrorism than would be, say, those of the wife of the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia. The problem is, as a growing number of prominent Americans are feeling compelled to say, there is too much of this going on -- involving both Saudi individuals, charities and official entities -- for all of it to be coincidental. Combine this increasingly widely shared perception with congressional investigators' reported conclusion that the FBI and CIA had been insufficiently aggressive in pursuing Saudi connections to 9/11 and other terrorism and you have an explosive mix. Concerns about the true character of Saudi Arabia's role in the war on terror were vented on Sunday by a politically disparate group of past and present congressional leaders including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senators John McCain, Charles Schumer, Richard Shelby, Bob Graham, Joseph Lieberman and Joe Biden. Each in his own way served notice that what there must be a prompt end to what has amounted to a Saudi double-game -- declaring its support for us in fighting terrorism while providing indispensable financing and other assistance needed for al Qaeda and other terrorist networks to operate globally. Sen. Schumer went so far as to contend that the Bush Administration's "most serious foreign policy failure" has been its unwillingness to recognize the true and hostile nature of the Saudi regime. In fact, it would appear that neither the Bush team nor Sen. Schumer fully appreciates the magnitude of the threat posed here at home by Saudi Arabia's radical brand of Islam known as Wahhabism. This threat arises from the cumulative impact of initiatives like the following, each of which is being pursued by organizations benefitting from Saudi largesse: o a prison recruitment program aimed at transforming American felons into radical Islamists; o an effort to recruit, train and place Wahhabist chaplains in the U.S. military, with untold negative repercussions for the troops' order and discipline. o Wahhabi indoctrination and publicity efforts on over 500 college campuses, including a divestment campaign aimed at Israel; o the pursuit of a virulently anti-American, Wahhabist agenda in U.S. mosques, one broadly similar to that inculcated in Saudi-backed schools or "madrasas" elsewhere around the globe. By some estimates as many as 75% of American mosques are financed by the Saudis, making them directly subject to Saudi theological direction and control; o campaigns aimed at securing favorable press treatment for Islamic entities and suppressing, wherever possible (for example, through threatened lawsuits), media and commentators perceived to be critical of Islamist terrorist organizations, their state-sponsors and causes; and o political influence operations designed to secure access to, and sway over, key executive and legislative branch personnel. Senator Shelby, a long-time chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, declared on Sunday that what must be done by the appropriate U.S. agencies is to "follow the money." This must be done not only with respect to Amb. Bandar's wife and "charitable" activities similar to hers. It must also apply to the money that has cascaded from various Saudi nationals and institutions to mount and sustain such ominously strategic initiatives. After all, with friends like Saudi Arabia, who needs enemies?