Jewish World Review Sept. 2, 2003/ 5 Elul, 5763

Wesley Pruden

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When saying goodbye means good riddance | The last American troops pulled out of Saudi Arabia, and it was good riddance.

For us.

A brief ceremony at Prince Sultan Air Base, where the 363rd Air Expeditionary Wing dispatched American pilots to enforce the no-fly zones over Iraq during the 13 years between the two wars against Iraq, marked the dissolution of the American shield that saved Saudi bacon from Saddam Hussein.

There's still no shortage of bad guys in the desert. The authentic villains are Saudi true believers, from whom 15 of the 19 suicide bombers of September 11 were recruited to visit violence on America, and who are now pouring into Iraq by the hundreds, perhaps thousands, to shoot at American soldiers.

The royal family, which includes nearly everybody with a prayer shawl, is left with its familiar fear and trembling. Saudi Arabia has more princes than Poland has counts, and they're all too frightened to do anything about terrorists even if they could.

The pullout of the Americans coincides neatly with the dispatch of a dozen or so technicians and accountants from the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service, to "assist" in ferreting out the ferrets who funnel money and other financial assistance to Osama bin Laden and his crusaders for a bloody and benighted distortion of faith.

The grandly named "U.S.-Saudi Anti-Terror Team" may or may not turn out to be anything more than a bunch of good ol' boys looking for a place to share an Anglo-Islamo pitcher of suds; U.S. officials participating in the creation of the scheme say its "effectiveness" will depend on how seriously the Saudi government takes the issue.

Hardly anybody in Washington expects it to accomplish anything except to make credulous Washington friends of the Saudi royals feel better, about themselves if not necessarily their country's security and their own safety.

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The "anti-terror team" will inevitably be described by the president's critics as merely an attempt to put a presentable face on the Saudis, to provide cover for an administration that sometimes gives the appearance of being unwilling or unable to give up its connections to a particularly unsavory cast of oily characters. George W.'s critics, for their part, are unable to give the president credit for holding his nose and grimly doing what he thinks he has to do. It couldn't have been pleasant, for example, to entertain Saudi princes at Prairie Chapel Ranch, particularly when his wife and daughters were there. A man's home is precious, castle or not.

Nevertheless, how the administration deals with Saudi Arabia will be used as the reliable indicator of how serious Washington really is in the war on terror. If George W. looks serious, the rest of us will be serious, too.

There is much to do. The Saudis closed an account at the Saudi American Bank held by Khalid bin Mahfouz, a financier suspected of funding what Washington delicately calls "extremists," but if this impressed anyone, it was difficult to say who he could have been. Bank accounts, like the money in them, are fungible, and the money returned to bin Mahfouz was just deposited in another account in another bank. There's no shortage of banks.

More important than closing a bank account or two are the so-called "Saudi charities," some operating in the United States, which are actually fronts for Wahhabi efforts to penetrate mosques and madrassas, or schools, where the curriculum consists of the three Islamist R's: rage, rant and resentment. The venom pumped out every Friday by hundreds of barely literate imams tutored only in bigotry has turned the desert into a redoubt of hatred of everyone who isn't a hick Muslim eager to murder for Mohammed.

The congressional report on the how and why of September 11 raises more questions than it answers, beginning with the complicity, if any, of the governing royal family. The demand by Crown Prince Abdullah, the presiding royal, to release the missing pages — "we have nothing to hide" — didn't persuade anyone because such a demand is meaningless when a prince is confident it will be ignored.

One way George W. could show that he's really, truly, absolutely, positively serious about going after the bad guys is to send everyone at the Saudi Embassy home to Riyadh. The ambassador, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, is popular with Republicans, as the rich always are, but he has trouble restraining the charitable impulses of his wife, Princess Haifa. Her generosity to "needy Saudi women" somehow found its way to two of the killers aboard the doomed September 11 flights. The princess has carefully cultivated the wives of certain Washington officials, who understand that she didn't really mean it if her charity bought box-cutters and airline tickets. Never has so little tea and so few cookies paid such royal dividends. There's considerable speculation in Congress that Princess Haifa's charities were examined in detail in the 28 pages the president says are too hot for the rest of us to see.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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