And the Bandar Played On
by Stephen Schwartz
DOWN ON THE RANCH in Crawford last week, President Bush had another courteous chat with a Saudi prince. The guest this time was Riyadh's ambassador, Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, who had come with his family all the way from Washington just for lunch.
Some Beltway spin artists, alarmed at the prospect of removing Saddam Hussein from Baghdad, are pleased at the sight of Bush's solicitude for the Saudi royals. Yet we ought to be increasingly suspicious of "our Saudi ally." The only hint about the content of the Crawford meeting was an indication that the president had raised the continuing scandal of female American citizens held against their will in the Arabian kingdom (see "Held Hostage in Riyadh," THE WEEKLY STANDARD, August 5, 2002). Bandar gave some assurance that the issue would be resolved.
Plainly, the whole encounter was all too polite. A year has passed since September 11 and the Saudis have yet to provide us with an investigation of their subjects' involvement in the atrocities of that day. Bush should have made this the topic of a major wood-shedding. When the Saudis claim they too are under attack from al Qaeda, and that they must therefore proceed with caution in supporting the campaign against terror, few in the West, for some reason, see the contradiction. If the Saudi rulers are targets of al Qaeda, that should be an incentive for more, not less, cooperation with the United States.
According to Saudi dissidents, Riyadh's reluctance to move against al Qaeda has less to do with fear of Osama bin Laden than with panic that a full investigation would reveal the extent of complicity in September 11 by members of the royal family. The reactionary wing of the family, known as the Sudairi seven, includes King Fahd and his six brothers, among them the defense minister, Prince Sultan (father of ambassador Bandar), and the interior minister, Prince Nayef. (Crown Prince Abdullah is outside the group of seven.)
In November the regime pardoned and freed a former assistant to bin Laden, Abdul-Rahman al-Surahi, 42, who was arrested in 1996 and sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. Simultaneously with Bandar's meeting in Crawford, Saudi media announced that Saud Abdul Aziz Al-Rashid, 21, named by U.S. authorities as a dangerous member of al Qaeda, would be released from Saudi custody. He was interrogated and "cleared" by Riyadh with no opportunity for U.S. investigators to examine him. Hundreds of Saudis who went home from Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban have returned to private life, with no evidence that Riyadh cares what involvement they may have had with the extremist regime in Kabul or with al Qaeda.
The Sudairi seven--Defense Minister Sultan and his son, Ambassador Bandar, in particular--can't change their habits. They will not learn to treat American citizens on their soil with the respect due, and they will not agree to deal with their own citizens who are under suspicion with the proper thoroughness. They will not adopt a posture of transparency to combat terrorism. And they will not stop protecting Saddam Hussein, who keeps Shiite Iran in check--conveniently for the Saudis, ever nervous about the restive Shiites who make up a majority of the population in the eastern oil-producing region of Saudi Arabia.
The typical pattern of Saudi behavior was on display in Bandar's flight to Crawford, as it had been in Crown Prince Abdullah's visit a few months back. When Abdullah flew to see Bush, his pilots refused to work with Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers who were female. When Bandar winged in, it turned out his pilots had neglected to file adequate flight documentation. U.S. fighter jets scrambled to accompany his plane, which had to land in Colorado for an inspection before proceeding to Texas.
In both incidents, the moral is the same: Saudi princes traveling in their private jets don't feel they need to comply with U.S. air regulations. They are above our law.
Bush may have called Bandar's attention to the rising American chorus of condemnation of the Saudis, but much more needs to be done. A demand that the Saudis provide a full, public, transparent accounting of their involvement in September 11 should be non-negotiable. And our citizens' right to leave Saudi Arabia when they wish should be guaranteed.
The requirement that the Saudi monarchy, like Spain after Franco's death and Moscow under Gorbachev, cease official funding of an extremist ideological apparatus should also be beyond discussion. Further, the president should make it clear that Saudi sabotage will not deter the United States from pursuing regime change in Iraq or otherwise promoting democracy in the Muslim world.
One thing is certain: The Saudi problem cannot be ameliorated by social visits between Saudi princes and the president. More to the point is Rep. Dan Burton's bipartisan delegation of six congressmen (including the independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont) heading to the kingdom to "discuss American citizens who have been kidnapped and held against their will."
Throughout the current crisis of Saudi-American relations, it has been obvious that neither the Saudis nor their Western apologists have a clue how to respond. Not long ago FBI director Robert Mueller, regrettably, spoke at the national convention of the American Muslim Council, a leading front for radical Islamist apologetics. Next week that debacle may be replayed: The National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations (NCUSAR) has scheduled a mammoth parley in Washington for the weekend before the anniversary of September 11, to discuss the aftermath of that day's atrocities.
NCUSAR has announced that General Tommy Franks will speak at the meeting, alongside naysayers on Iraq and whitewashers of Saudi extremism. The worst of these to be listed on the program is Ahmad Turkistani, director of the Institute for Islamic and Arabic Sciences in America (IIASA). Based in Fairfax, Virginia, IIASA is an affiliate of the Imam Muhammad Ibn Sa'ud University in Riyadh. It trains imams to staff mosques on American soil, and embodies pure Wahhabism, the Islamofascism that is the official dispensation in the Saudi kingdom.
The IIASA is also an official Saudi distribution center for literature that includes books and pamphlets inciting violence against Ashari (non-Wahhabi) Sunni Muslims, Shiites, Jews, and Christians. Saudi dissidents have called on American authorities to investigate the abuse of diplomatic credentials by Saudi officials involved in IIASA as a preliminary to closing down the institute.
Another speaker scheduled to appear at NCUSAR's event is Khaled Saffuri, an associate of Republican insider Grover Norquist, who will comment on the influence of think tanks on U.S.-Arab relations. Other sessions will air arguments aimed at denying the association between Wahhabism and violence, of which the last year's murders--of Christians and Shiites in Pakistan, missionaries in the Philippines, and the 3,000 victims of September 11--are only the latest examples.
What in the world is Gen. Franks doing at such a gathering? Unfortunately, its corporate sponsors include ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, Saudi Aramco, Conoco, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman.
The time is fast approaching when the affairs of the Saudi kingdom and the business of the United States will have to be separated. Better sooner than later.