- The Washington Times - Monday, October 22, 2001

Rogue states like Iraq and Libya can't hold a candle to Saudi Arabia when it comes to the radicalization of Islam. The controlled Saudi media doesn't mention that at least 10 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudis. Nor are Saudi subjects told that their kingdom has been the principal source of funding for the Taliban regime since 1996.

The conspiracy of silence also covers up the fact that Saudi government funds, coupled with generous donations from the Saudi private sector, are still funding the madrassa (religious schools) "educational" system in Pakistan that has spawned an entire generation of young boys taught to hate the United States, the "anti-Muslim superpower that is the fount of all evil."

The United States, determined not to rock the leaky Saudi boat, has been pretending it did not know that Saudi money was greasing the various relays of transnational terrorism from madrassas to Osama bin Laden's terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. After eight years of total Koranic immersion, to the exclusion of all other disciplines, such as math and science, but generously larded with messages about how the United States is bent on the destruction of Islam, the most gung-ho boys are selected for holy warrior training. It was in these Afghan camps that bin Laden's al Qaeda operatives then picked the most promising candidates for the hall of martyrdom fame.

By ignoring royal excesses and the total lack of democratic processes, as well as a dubious level of cooperation with the FBI in tracking Saudi connections to transnational terrorism, the United States kept the oil flowing, along with Saudi billions into U.S. Treasury bonds and U.S. arms purchases.

But the Saudis are now hoist on their own petard. These same anti-American hatemongers that the Saudis have been funding also hate the tired, corrupt regimes of the Persian Gulf that have wasted their country's wealth on extravagant lifestyles. Gen. Hameed Gul, Pakistan's retired spy chief who is now "strategic adviser" to the more extreme religious parties, says the ruling royal families of the Gulf have generated hatred by the way they flout "divine law." The Saudi royals made a pact with their clergy, which is now falling apart. In return for immunity from criticism, the royals gave the Wahhabi clergy a free hand, allocating generous subsidies for Koranic schools all over the Muslim world, with an estimated annual budget of $10 billion. But now the Saudi royal regime is co-equal with the United States and Israel on the Islamist hate list.

Even non-Muslim India has received madrassa largess from the Saudis for the Koranic education of their 140 million-strong Muslim minority. Between them, the subcontinent's three principal nations India, Bangladesh and Pakistan hold half the world's Muslim population of 1 billion plus. More than 50 percent are younger than 25. Uday Bhaskar, deputy director of India's Institute for Defense Studies, said, "You can spot the Saudi-financed madrassas because they look cleaner, with fresh coats of paint."

The Koranic schools produce young men who can read and write, speak Arabic, and recite the holy book by heart, but have no skills. In Saudi Arabia itself, there is a deep-seated resentment among young college graduates who can't find jobs, as they didn't learn any skills either. Many drifted over to bin Laden's Afghan camps before U.S. bombs returned them to the desert. There they trained to overthrow the Saudi monarchy that still rules by divine right of kings.

Forgotten in the sound and fury that followed Sept. 11 is the fact that bin Laden's priority objective is the demise of the Saudi monarchy and the establishment of an Islamic state that would control the Gulf's vast oil reserves. The United States, as bin Laden sees it, is the principal prop of the Saudi regime. Pakistan's Islamists talk about a greater Islamic state that would marry Saudi oil to Islamic nuclear weapons and collapse the capitalist system. Extravagant geopolitical lucubrations perhaps, but they are also the objectives of politico-religious leaders who wield tremendous influence among the Muslim world's impoverished masses.

The two air bases the United States maintains in Saudi Arabia are state-of-the-art, but the Saudis will not let the U.S. Air Force use them for anything beyond enforcing the no-fly-zones over Iraq. In fact, the Saudis are hinting they would like to see a scaling down of the U.S. presence and a gradual return to an over-the-horizon presence. This appears to be an attempt to pre-empt the Bush administration after Riyadh heard that some senior U.S. officials are discussing the idea of a limited military disengagement from Saudi Arabia.

The time is at hand for the United States and Britain and other Western democracies to convince Saudi Arabia that the survival of the House of Saud depends on fundamental reforms whose aim would be a constitutional monarchy acting as a unifying symbol for a more representative government. Transparency and sunshine laws will have to replace a system of secret royal slush funds, secret subsidies to Islamist schools the world over, and secret arms deals commissions for the benefit of princes of the royal blood.

The image of the United States defending itself by attacking Afghanistan didn't last long. Already the perception among the Muslim elites is merging with the street assessment of a mindless superpower bombing a poor Muslim country. There is no appetite for acting as a proxy of the United States. In telephone conversations, educated Pakistanis express alarm because they do not see a U.S. exit strategy.

It's difficult to bomb Afghanistan back to the Stone Age because the country is already there, and has been for some time. Afghans are best at guerrilla tactics, which they put to devastating use against the British and Soviet empires. There is little to suggest that a viable plan is ready to replace Taliban's obscurantist medieval regime. The ingredients for a much-discussed coalition government are well-known. They speak 30 different languages and range from Pashto-speaking tribes that straddle both sides of the Pakistan-Afghan border to the Northern Alliance made up of Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara minority tribes to dissident Taliban elements. Putting them all in a blender called a grand conclave under the symbolic chairmanship of an 87-year-old deposed king, Zaher Shah, is mission almost impossible.

The U.S. left Afghanistan in the lurch after Soviet occupation forces pulled out in 1989. This lack of geopolitical foresight gave birth to the phenomenon of "Afghan Arabs" under bin Laden's leadership who turned against the United States with a vengeance. The law of unintended consequences gave us Sept. 11. This time, there is no way the United States can walk away even if bin Laden is captured or killed. Nation-building under some sort of a U.N. mandate is unavoidable.

Transnational terrorism is a hydra-headed snake that feeds on perceived injustices and inequities suffered by the developing world at the hands of an uncaring capitalist world. The United States and its allies now have a historic opportunity to give the clerical demagogues of the Muslim world the lie by dusting off a speech George C. Marshall gave at Harvard in 1947. Bin Laden believes he found the answer to a superpower's overwhelming conventional military power by waging asymmetrical warfare. But his terrorist swamp would quickly drain when faced with a Western New Deal.

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