The Monitor will return next week to compiling some of the more outrageous anti-U.S. and anti-Israel statements made by prominent leftists in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist atrocities. This week, however, attention must be paid to a welcome and long overdue media phenomenon: the roughing up, by an array of pundits who have replaced their rubber gloves with brass knuckles, of the always duplicitous Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The double-dealing House of Saud has, of course, been kowtowed to for decades by a series of American administrations, both Democratic and Republican, despite the fact that the U.S. stands as the Saudi royal family’s ultimate guarantor of survival and likely saved the billionaire sheiks from an Iraqi takeover in 1991.
Now it?s the George W. Bush administration’s turn to get all squishy in the knees about the Saudis, and it?s impossible not to wince whenever the otherwise impressive Condoleezza Rice or the vastly overrated Colin Powell prattles on about the close and invaluable relationship enjoyed by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.
But media patience has worn thin with the charade of the good and friendly Saudis, and in the past week we’ve seen the Saudis taken to task in an uncharacteristically strongly-worded New York Times editorial and an equally sharp piece by whoever it is who’s been writing Thomas Friedman’s columns for the past seven or eight months (it can’t possibly be the real Tom Friedman writing under the Friedman byline – this one’s been making too much sense).
Nor have the political magazines been quiet: The Weekly Standard contributed its take on the subject in late September with an article by Stephen Schwartz titled “Saudi Friends, Saudi Foes: Is Our Arab Ally Part of the Problem?” and last week The New Republic chimed in with a tough look at the Saudis by Joshua Teitelbaum, “Deserted: Why Riyadh Stiffs America.”
But the knockout punch is delivered in the Oct. 22 number of The New Yorker, where investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has at the Saudis, not with the aforementioned brass knuckles but with a veritable blowtorch.
While the Monitor has in the past taken issue with Hersh, a man of pronounced left-wing leanings whose tendency it is to interpret the information he’s uncovered in a manner conforming to his ideological beliefs, there can be no denying the man’s unparalleled muckraking skills. And what he’s learned about the Saudis should inspire second thoughts even among the striped-pants brigade at the State Department (though it’s probably assuming too much to credit the occupants of that hidebound institution with very many first thoughts, let alone second).
“Since 1994 or earlier, the National Security Agency has been collecting electronic intercepts of conversations between members of the Saudi Arabian royal family, which is headed by King Fahd,” Hersh writes. “The intercepts depict a regime increasingly corrupt…and so weakened and frightened that it has brokered its future by channeling hundreds of millions of dollars in what amounts to protection money to fundamentalist groups that wish to overthrow it.”
Intelligence analysts know from those intercepts, Hersh continues, “that by 1996 Saudi money was supporting Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda and other extremist groups in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Yemen and Central Asia, and throughout the Persian Gulf region.”
“The Saudi Regime,” Hersh quotes an American intelligence official, “has gone to the dark side.”
Hersh reports that his sources described an unstable Saudi regime (King Fahd suffered a severe stroke in 1995 and retains power due purely what Hersh describes as a “bitter family power struggle”), whose oil reserves are vulnerable to terrorist attack, “as the most immediate threat to American economic and political interests in the Middle East.”
But as the same officials told Hersh, “the Bush administration, like the Clinton administration, is refusing to confront this reality, even in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks.”
Jason Maoz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org