- The Washington Times - Monday, August 12, 2002

"U.S. advisers see Saudis as enemies," said the lead story headline in the International Herald Tribune, a global newspaper read by almost all Americans living abroad and by the elites the world over. "Briefing at Pentagon recommends ultimatum over links to terrorism," was the subhead.
Someone, somewhere has taken leave of his/her critical faculties. Fortunately for the Bush administration, it was just one person. Unfortunately for the Pentagon, that one person had won the plaudits of the very same people who keep pushing for a U.S. military blitzkrieg against Saddam Hussein's Iraq and damn the consequences. They can already see a quick victory in Iraq. And then why not kill two desert falcons with one stone and blitz our way into the Saudi oil fields and topple the House of Saud? Afghanistan-Iraq-Saudi Arabia in three easy geopolitical lessons. Hold the phone while we check for bats in the belfry.
The genesis of Saudi Arabia-as-the-enemy thinking dates back to 1979. That's when Muslim jihadis (holy warriors) stormed and occupied the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Saudi security forces were unable to blast them out and turned to the French for both the assistance of Special Forces and equipment to smoke them out of the catacombs. This was like the pope losing control of Vatican City to terrorists. It was two weeks before French commandos tear gassed them out and restored Saudi control. To this day the Saudis deny that non-Muslims ever entered their most sacred shrine where Christians and Jews are not allowed.
That same year, 1979, just across the Gulf, the Iranian clergy had toppled the Pahlavi dynasty and established draconian, bloody revolutionary rule. The ayatollahs executed more Iranians in a few weeks than the deposed shah had done in his entire reign.
The Wahhabi clergy was more than a little upset at the extravagant excesses of the Saudi royal family. In a famous incident in 1974, then Crown Prince (now ailing King) Fahd, squired by Saudi playboy zillionaire Adnan Khashoggi, dropped $4 million in one night at Monte Carlo's gaming tables. Saudi princes and princesses took their cue from Fahd and taught the Western world a whole new way to count 1 billion, 2 billion, 3 billion. That was the background buzz when Saudi jihadis invaded the Grand Mosque.
Trembling in their sandals, the Saudi royal family quickly struck a Faustian bargain with its Wahhabi clergy. The Saudi imams could tighten control, courtesy of the religious police, over the personal behavior of the kingdom's subjects, but the clergy would cease and desist any criticism of the House of Saud. To seal the deal, the monarchy awarded the Wahhabi panjandrums multibillion-dollar budgets to build mosques and spread a strict interpretation of the Koran's good word throughout the world. Approximately half the 2,000 mosques in the U.S. are beneficiaries of Saudi largess.
Some 7,500 Pakistani madrassas (free-room-and-board Koranic schools) were made possible and continue to spread anti-U.S. venom with Saudi funds. The Pakistani military government has abandoned post-September 11 plans to reform the madrassas because of strenuous opposition from politico-religious parties.
Talk about invading Saudi Arabia to secure its oil fields could trigger Milton's whirlwinds of tempestuous fire from Malaysia to Morocco and beyond. Front pages in the developing world have already extrapolated the lucubrations of one man and his fan club, nongovernment types who feel comfortable to the right of Ariel Sharon, into Pentagon war plans.
The fact that the rash of alarming news stories is based on a single slide in a 24-slide power-point presentation by one scholar in one think tank is overlooked. Laurent Murawiecz, a Rand Corp. analyst, a resident French alien, described Saudi Arabia as "the kernel of evil, the prime mover, the most dangerous opponent" in the Middle East." This is twaddle in all its unrationed splendor. The Defense Policy Board, where Mr. Murawiecz dazzled by his ignorance, is chaired by Richard Perle, a former assistant secretary of defense, who now spearheads the inside-the-Beltway charge to invade Iraq.
Saudi Arabia clearly is not the U.K. But it has stood by the U.S. in countless geopolitical crises. Its problem is a flat-Earth clergy that has indeed ladled out billions to religious schools at home and abroad that produce brain-challenged youngsters who believe the extremist gospel that the Judeo-Christian world is out to destroy Islam.
The answer is not a U.S. occupation of the Saudi oil fields, but the democratization of an absolute monarchy and its rapid evolution to a constitutional monarchy. Opening up budgetary practices that are impervious to light, such as the Wahhabi clergy's war chest, and its contents, debated in a free press, would go a long way to curtailing pseudo-religious, anti-American poison.
The so-called "Pentagon briefing" was neither Pentagon nor a briefing. And the so-called U.S. advisers were neither American nor U.S. advisers, but one Frenchman employed by Rand with a slide show.
The Middle East is the world's roughest neighborhood where no one plays by Marquis of Queensberry rules and where telling the truth is considered the height of stupidity. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in this mix, is a friend suffering from geopolitical schizophrenia compounded by occasional myopia. But the remedy is not an invasion add-on to Iraq.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large for The Washington Times and for United Press International.

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