October 12, 2001

Never mind the Iraqis – keep your eye on the Saudis

The campaign to link Iraq to the 9/11 attack, never all that convincing to begin with, reached new heights of implausibility with Bill Buckley weighing in on the subject. Alas, the former enfant terrible of the conservative movement – and the hero of my youth – has certainly seen better days. His prose – once airborne and witty – is now leaden and without logic, and his latest column merely confirms the prognosis: terminal senility has set in. Buckley takes Robert Novak to task for not only pooh-poohing the idea that Iraq is really behind the 9/11 massacre but also for daring to question the a priori assumption now demanded of all "movement" conservatives: that we must make Israel's enemies our own.


A whole "revisionist" school of thought has grown up around the 9/11 massacre, which believes that Iraq and not Osama bin Laden was the real mastermind and sponsor. The thrust of their argument, ineptly argued by the addled Buckley, is that we shouldn't spend a whole lot of time diddling around in Afghanistan: there's not much to bomb there, anyway, and they're running out of targets. Well, then, on to Iraq, say the revisionists. Buckley joins a whole gaggle of neocons who signed a statement demanding an expanded war before the assault on Afghanistan had even begun. Iraq, they cry, is the real villain here, and Novak is the gadfly in their ointment, noisily demanding proof.


Buckley admits that "the evidence at hand is not what we would need in a court of law," but, then again, "we would not, in 1942, have been able to prove that Adolph Hitler was exterminating the Jews. We proceed on reasonable grounds." Here you can almost see the synapses trying mightily but finally failing to connect. It's pathetic, and really kind of sad: it sounds like he's telling us that lack of evidence proves a proposition. But Buckley blithely blithers on, averring that "Saddam Hussein shelters terrorists. Abdul Rahman Yasin, a central figure in the 1993 bombing, an indicted fugitive, is sheltered in Iraq." Is he, really? The FBI questioned Yasin in only the most perfunctory manner, and left him free to go to Iraq. His presence there was last confirmed in 1998 – and now he could be practically anywhere from Afghanistan to Malaysia. In any case, the militarily vulnerable Iraqis would be unlikely to keep him around as a living pretext for a US attack.


Buckley's weak pretense of an argument is an embarrassment, and proof that, after a certain age, a pundit's license to pontificate ought to be revoked. After all, says Buckley, didn't Saddam commit "genocide" against the Kurds? Didn't he invade Kuwait? And, hey, didn't somebody once write a book claiming that Saddam inspired the 1993 attempt on the World Trade Center? The weakened neurons of Buckley's brain have arranged these random facts in a pattern he recognizes as "truth" – but the rest of us can only shrug, give each other pained looks, and ask: Say what, Bill?


Seeming to recognize his own incapacity, Buckley goes on to aver that all this "proof" is irrelevant, anyway – since we don't really need any evidence! As he puts it:

"But we do not need conclusive evidence of Iraq's participation in anti-U.S. terrorism to issue an ultimatum: Open your borders to an uninhibited inspection of Iraqi recesses of terrorist and aggressive activity. And deliver Abdul Rahman Yasin, handcuffed, to our embassy in Kuwait."

Who cares about anything so old-fashioned as evidence? A superpower, the world's one and only, needn't bother with such niceties. Besides, Bush said his "crusade" would immediately commence against any nation that "harbors" known terrorists – a vast swathe of territory that includes virtually all the Middle East and a great deal of what used to be the Soviet Union. Should we bomb them all, too – or is there some selection process at work here not readily apparent?


Novak enrages the neoconservative crowd because he points out that their strategy would weaken our ability to combat and prevent terrorism by breaking down the broad coalition, which includes even such hardline Islamic states as Pakistan and Syria, as well as moderate Jordan. What the neocons find especially irksome is that, in Novak, they are dealing with a real reporter. This guy knows the inside scoop, and he gleefully reports:

"Even the most hawkish officials privately admit that there is no evidence linking Baghdad to the September attacks, but they want to conclude the unfinished task of a decade ago anyway. According to White House sources, that is not good enough for President Bush. He wants a better justification for an attack on Iraq to present to the world."


You bet he does – especially when experts are so skeptical of the revisionist thesis. When Saddam invaded Kuwait, "reclaiming" his "nineteenth province," and threatening Saudi Arabia, Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda movement offered their services to the Saudis rather than have the American infidels desecrate holy soil. They were refused. The ongoing American occupation of the Saudi peninsula is Bin Laden's main grievance: it is the chief religious argument he musters for a jihad or holy war, and the central concrete political issue that divides apostates from true believers in the Muslim world. Most of the hijackers were Saudis, and it is now coming out that Al Qaeda itself has strong connections to Saudi intelligence. Never mind Iraq – if we want to trace the mysterious origins of the Ladenite movement, its sources of income and support, then the logical place to start is the land of Mecca and Medina, the seat of the House of Saud.


As Stephen Schwartz points out in his interesting but flawed essay on the religious roots of the Ladenite movement, the Saudis have the strongest ideological links to Al Qaeda. Both Bin Laden and the Saudi royal family, as adherents of the Wahabi sect, uphold the same fundamentalist vision that animates the Taliban. But there is, apparently, more than an ideological connection: while Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the US, assured Larry King the other day that Bin Laden was "the black sheep of the family," a story came out the day after the 9/11 attack that Bin Laden was buddies with Turki al-Faycal, the Saudi spy chief fired in August by royal decree. Anatole Kaletsky, writing in the [London] Times, raises some interesting questions:

"What if a great deal of the money, training, and religious and political inspiration comes from Saudi Arabia, America's main "strategic ally" in the Gulf? …Many of the US hijackers were Saudis, as is bin Laden. In several cases, their terrorist indoctrination began at fundamentalist Islamic colleges, funded by Saudi money. Their political attitudes reflected an anti-Western religious zeal that is widely promoted in the Saudi media … Saudi Arabia is also the only country apart from Afghanistan that practices the medieval version of Sharia in all its horror. And the head of the Saudi intelligence service, believed to be the Royal Family's main link with the Taliban, resigned abruptly within 24 hours of the horror in New York. When you put these facts together, there is surely a risk that the trail of money and blood that started at the World Trade Center could ultimately lead to Riyadh."


It wouldn't be the first time the Saudis have been implicated in state-sponsored terrorist activities: in that regard, the Egyptians may have some valid complaints to lodge against them. In any case, the attempt to follow the money is being blocked by Riyadh: they won't even freeze Bin Laden's Saudi assets. And as for helping with the investigation: you can forget it. Six of the terrorists got their US visas in Saudi Arabia, yet the authorities won't provide US law enforcement with routine background checks done on all such applicants. More signs that something is afoot in the House of Saud: Tony Blair will not visit Riyadh, as planned, supposedly because he and Prince Abdullah "could not find a mutually convenient time for the meeting." One gets the impression that no time would be convenient from the Saudis' point of view. Meanwhile, the Saudis have launched another anti-Christian crackdown, arresting and allegedly torturing immigrant Nigerians and others for holding underground religious services.


Crown Prince Abdullah, the heir apparent, is the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia: old King Fahd, now senile, has long since been shipped off to Europe with his hundred-plus wives and retinue, and the hardline Crown Prince, said to be vehemently anti-Western, is consolidating his power. After years of existing as a protectorate of the US, there is no doubt that the House of Saud is moving in a different direction. But just how radical a shift is underway?


It is interesting that the statement put out by 46 neoconservatives demanding that Bush expand the war to include Syria, Iran, and Iraq, as well as part of Lebanon, excludes the most likely suspect – the Saudis. No doubt they – who fulsomely support our military intervention in the region on behalf of the Saudi monarchy – would be greatly disturbed by the possibility of a Saudi connection to 9/11. For it would call into question the whole basis of our policy in the Middle East: indeed, it would deal that misguided and dangerous policy a body-blow from which it would never recover. Yet there is a lot more evidence of a Saudi link to the 9/11 atrocity than there is of Iraqi complicity. Advocates of the latter theory are flaying a single unconfirmed report of a meeting between an alleged Iraqi agent and the leader of the hijackers in Prague – and that is it.


That our great "allies," whose oil wealth we are pledged to defend, might in any way be connected to the worst terrorist attack in American history – would that be enough to make a discussion of US foreign policy relevant to understanding what happened on 9/11? If it turns out that there is a connection, then the answer is an emphatic yes – which is why this line of inquiry will most definitely not be pursued by US law enforcement officials, at least not too vigorously.

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.


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