Jewish World Review April 26, 2002 / 14 Iyar, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Rarely in the history of diplomacy will there be such a disparity between what is said in public and what is said in private than at the summit this weekend between Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah and President Bush at his ranch in Crawford.
In public, all will be smiles. In private, Abdullah and Bush will threaten each other. The threats will be described to reporters as "frank and candid conversations."
Our puerile press corps tends to describe Saudi Arabia as a "friend" of the United States. In reality, Saudi Arabia is, after Iraq and Iran, America's foremost enemy in the war on terror.
Saudi "friendship" to the United States has consisted chiefly of having the Saudis permit us to pay exorbitant prices for their oil, and to protect them from regional enemies. But while we express appropriate thanks for these marvelous gifts, we ought to remember that 15 of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11 were Saudis; that Saudi Arabia was the chief international supporter of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan; that Saudi Arabia is the principal financer of radical Muslim groups within our borders, and that the Saudis refuse to cooperate in international efforts to cut off the flow of funds to Al Qaeda.
In public, most of the discussion will focus on the conflict in Israel/Palestine. In private, Saudi energies will be focused on delaying or preventing a U.S. strike on Iraq. Ideological affinity and perceived self interest make Saudi Arabia a de facto ally of Saddam Hussein.
This will be puzzling to the shallow, who recall that the United States and Saudi Arabia were allies in the Gulf War against Iraq. But in those days there was the possibility that Saddam's tanks might not stop in Kuwait, but roll on to Dhahran.
The outcome of the Gulf War has turned out to be unsatisfactory for the United States. But it served Saudi purposes well. The U.S.-led coalition inflicted sufficient damage upon the Iraqi military to lift the threat it posed to Saudi Arabia. And since the Gulf War, Saddam's attention has drifted away from regional aggression to focus on terror attacks on Americans and Jews, which do not displease Saudi princes.
A wounded Saddam in power in Baghdad serves the interests of the Saudi princes much more than a liberal, pro-Western democracy there would. Saddam still serves as a barrier of sorts to the Shi'a Muslim clerics in Iran. And a democracy in Iraq could make Saudis wonder why there is no freedom and democracy at home.
But Saudi Arabia's principal reason for wanting to keep Saddam in power is economic. Saudi Arabia is by far the largest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, and pretty much calls the shots there. A consequence of the liberation of Iraq likely would be the destruction of OPEC.
"Iraq would fall within the sphere of American influence, supplanting the role of Saudi Arabia, or at least eroding its regional influence," wrote Hamza Olayan in the Lebanon Daily Star. "OPEC would become virtually an American organization, were Washington to assume effective control over Iraq's oil production. The neighboring states would fear - and this is the key thing - being infected themselves by the bug of change in Iraq."
Abdullah will threaten Bush with the anger of the Arab "street" if his demands are not met. This is sure to terrify the editors of the New York Times. But one hopes Bush has noticed how quiet the Arab "street" has been since Israel crushed Palestinian terrorist organizations in the West Bank. Abdullah also will threaten economic sanctions. But here, too, Bush holds the high cards. The Saudis need our money more than we need their oil.
Abdullah Bajubeer, a Saudi engineer, dismissed the threat of an Arab boycott as a "joke." Writing in the Saudi newspaper Arab News, Bajubeer noted that the 13 Arab nations (including Saudi Arabia and Egypt) that belong to the UN's Economic and Social Committee for Western Asia have a combined economic productivity that is no greater than Holland's.
"Though we may have manufactured for ourselves the impressive motto, Glory, Glory to the Arabs, it only feeds the illusion of non-existent power and a role of no importance," Bajubeer said.
Bush holds the aces in his showdown with Abdullah. It remains to be seen if
he will play them
04/23/02: Why peace in the Mideast is closer than ever