February 4, 2002
The climax of a Saudi-bashing orgy in the media comes with Michael Isikoff taking out after Neil Bush in the latest Newsweek. "What," Isikoff demands to know, "was Neil Bush doing in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, last week?" After weeks, or is it months, of relentless Saudiphobia the Saudi princess in Miami who supposedly beat her Indonesian maid was a nice touch Isikoff has hit the real target: the Bush family, as I predicted.
And what is the great crime of the President's younger brother? In the present atmosphere, of course, even being in Saudi Arabia is enough to provoke suspicion, at least in certain circles. "Officially," writes Isikoff, "the president's younger brother was a keynote speaker at an international business forum," where he tried to address the public relations problem faced by his hosts. Ah, but the real purpose of the visit was "recruiting Middle East investors for an educational-software firm that, industry sources say, may benefit enormously from the new $26.5 billion education bill signed by President George W. Bush."
You see, it goes like this: Neil Bush is a a principal in Ignite!, which seems to be as much a concept as an educational software company. Ignite! promotes a Web-based interactive learning process, highly individualized and daringly innovative, and, Isikoff admits that "Bush appears excited about Ignite's potential to boost student performance." But that's only at the very end of the piece, after he details the company's efforts to secure contracts in Dubai and the United Arab Emirates (is this a crime?), dredges up Silverado Savings & Loan (he paid out $26 million to settle those claims), and then connects the "digital learning" idea to provisions in the President's education bill that encourage the concept.
A real stretch, if ever there was one, but that isn't the real purpose of the Isikoff piece. The dripping gore at the core of this journalistic drive-by shooting is in a parenthetical remark, seemingly tossed off as an aside:
"(Among the main backers of the event: the Saudi Binladin Construction Group and Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the tycoon whose $10 million offer to help the victims of the World Trade Center attacks was rejected last fall by New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.)"
The bin Laden family name comes up again, in connection with another guest at this event: Bill Clinton, who was paid $300,000 for a series of speeches. Isikoff points out that Clinton, all too eager to take Saudi money, nevertheless took measures to inoculate himself and his wife from charges of consorting with the enemy: after learning that he was scheduled to attend a dinner at which members of the bin Laden family "(who have disowned their terrorist brother)" would be present, Juanita Broaddrick's rapist had them "disinvited." Why oh why do they hate us, do you think? I just can't understand it. Can you?
Gee, I wonder if any of the families of the victims of 9/11, who are having insurance claims and other benefits deducted from their government compensation, are beginning to recognize what a posturing blowhard Giuliani is?
The idea that no member of the Bush family can benefit, albeit indirectly, from the President's legislative program means that any educational reform remotely tied to computer technology is out of bounds until and unless Neil Bush gets out of the educational software business. "What am I supposed to do?" was the presidential sibling's plaintive cry: "Nothing in life?" Well, gee, he could always go to work as a journalist for Newsweek which would amount to pretty much the same thing.
It took guts to come to the Persian Gulf at a time like this. Business travel in the area by Westerners has ground nearly to a halt, and several companies are anticipating evacuation. Clinton initially said he was going to cancel, but I guess greed overcame fear and substituted for courage. Al Gore, who was also supposed to address the five-day seminar, pulled out at the last minute, but the President's brother showed the colors and also showed that Americans will not be intimidated into cowering under their beds. Go about your business was the President's advice in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Go shopping. That's just what Neil Bush was doing and more power to him.
Behind the attempt to smear the President's brother is what I call the "forbidden truth" thesis currently being pushed by a French book of the same name which basically holds that the Americans let 9/11 happen because of the Bush family's "softness" toward their friends in Riyadh. The long relationship of "Big Oil" and the Saudi monarchy, combined with complicated conspiracy theories worthy of a Lyndon LaRouche (gee, isn't he French, too?), produces the "forbidden truth": that the Bush administration passively consented to what happened on 9/11 and collaborated with what was essentially a Saudi conspiracy. It's the kind of smear that could only have originated in France, world capital of anti-Americanism and a country known, also, as the birthplace of the school of philosophy known as deconstructionism, which holds that objective truth is an illusion based on race, class, gender, and ideology.
The Democrats wouldn't breathe a word of this, naturally, and so the task is left to their fellow leftists on the Continent, who don't face the constraints of wartime. But now Newsweek edges in that direction, raising the hint of an Enron-like scandal involving Neil Bush with a foreign policy twist.
In the context of the current vehemently anti-Arab, anti-Muslim atmosphere, the mere hint of any business connection to the Middle East (excepting Israel, of course) is analogous to the days of the cold war when trade in Polish hams was considered very close to treason. Of course, in the end, it was the trade connection and contact with Western culture that was the Kremlin's undoing. But such subtleties are lost in the present hysteria, where Neil Bush's attempt to bring the benefits of educational software to the more developed and liberalized Persian Gulf emirates is viewed as inherently suspicious. "Every country has a concern about the education of its children," he says, "and I'm happy to cooperate with them" Aha!, say the Saudiphobes. Consorting with the enemy!
The whole point of the Newsweek hit piece is to draw Neil Bush and, by implication, the rest of the Bush family into the alleged Saudi web of "subversion" supposedly behind the 9/11 atrocity. It is a classic smear out of the Clintonian playbook: a brazen frontal assault aimed at discrediting if not totally destroying the victim. This method, nonetheless, owes something to an older tradition, the classic red-baiting smears of a more Republican genre of character assassination. In the new cold war, pitting America and Israel against the Arab world and Europe, the race is on to see which party gets the upper hand and the Democrats are definitely in the running.
As much as this Republican administration has tried to cuddle up to Israel, the attentions of Sharon's American suitors have been pretty consistently rebuffed. After comparing President Bush to Neville Chamberlain, and vowing that Israel would never suffer the fate of Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II, Sharon ignored the Americans and pursued his "Israel First" policy of destroying the Palestinian Authority as a political force. The Bushies have made a point of uttering nary a protest, and have practically given the Israelis a blank check in the region at least in public.
But beneath the surface there are conflicts with Israel, beginning with the basic divergence of Sharon and the Bush administration on the strategic question of how to fight a war on terrorism. Israel's view of the matter is that all Arab countries, including especially the Saudis, are on the other side, and cannot be considered allies of the West. Secretary of State Colin Powell, and the President he serves, have quite a different view of the anti-terrorist coalition: they do not want to see the US, Israel, and perhaps Turkey and India, arrayed against the whole of the Arab-Muslim world. Both realize that, in tracing and tracking down the various elements of Al Qaeda's international terrorist federation, the US is going to need the cooperation of precisely those governments Israel sees as its deadliest enemies.
Up until very recently, the Israeli desire to build an anti-Arab united front was effectively opposed by the big oil interests Exxon-Chevron, and their corporate allies who once enjoyed a near-monopoly on Arabian oil due to a special and long-standing arrangement with the House of Saud. But those privileges were effectively revoked by Crown Prince Abdullah, successor to the ailing King Fahd, an act which set in motion the current crisis in US-Saudi relations.
In a 1998 visit to Washington, the Prince announced to a shocked audience of oil executives that the days of special government-granted privileges were over: from that day hence, the Saudi oil market would be opened up to free competition. When Prince Abdullah returned home, he announced in an unusual interview that thousands of companies from all over the world had already submitted bids worth over $100 billion. US oil executives pushed the panic button.
Reconsolidated by multiple corporate mergers, the original Standard Oil-Rockefeller "trust," once busted, is reborn. Yet the reincarnated Oil Trust immediately finds itself in a fierce struggle for survival with foreign competitors, as well as domestic independents, against a backdrop of falling oil prices and a worldwide economic recession. Having lost their exclusive Saudi franchise, the Trust is now subjected to the indignity of being forced to compete with the old Aramco, which formerly embodied their monopoly and is now Saudi-owned. Why, the nerve of some people! For that they would pay, and the Oil Trust soon struck back
The first Gulf War started when the economic interests of the oil trust coincided with the demands of Israel's lobby in the US. Saddam Hussein, in asserting a claim to Kuwait as Iraq's "nineteenth province," was deemed a threat to the Saudi oil fields, and the House of Saud, the source of the Trust's vast wealth. The Israeli lobby, for its part, had an obvious interest in eliminating their principal antagonist in the region, whose missiles were within range of Israel. When these two interests came together, US military intervention was the result.
Now these same conditions are being replicated in the post-9/11 Middle East, but with the target of the impending attack considerably widened to include not only Iraq, but also Iran and perhaps even Saudi Arabia, under certain circumstances. For King Fahd has been ailing for quite a long time, is said to be senile, and is well nigh on 80 years of age. In the event of Fahd's passing, the Crown Prince, who clearly relishes flaunting his independence from the US, could face a challenge from Prince Sultan, the defense minister, whose wing of the Saudi family could demand his appointment as Crown Prince as a condition for Abdullah's ascension to the throne. This could provoke a sudden crisis in US-Saudi relations, foreshadowed, perhaps, by the current shift.
Abdullah is in his late 70s, and so the question of his successor looms large in Saudi politics: will the aging sons of Ibn Saud give up power to a new generation? Abdullah seems determined that this must come to pass, and against this the seven surviving Sudeiris, brothers sprung from the womb of the same mother, stand as an obstacle in his path. This subgroup within the House of Saud includes King Fahd, as well as Prince Nayef, the interior minister, and Prince Salman, the governor of Riyadh.
There are also the Sudeiri grandsons, including Prince Bandar, US ambassador to Washington. The King already once ceded his authority to the Crown Prince, on account of debility, and then later retracted his formal abdication, leading to widespread speculation that a protest by the Sudeiri faction forced the royal hand. There are all kinds of rumors, including tales of attempts on Abdullah's life, and, in the event of King Fahd's passing, the US could intervene on the side of the fulsomely pro-American Sultan who is likely to rescind his half-brother's declaration of economic independence.
Put in this context, the fulminations of National Review, the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto, Andrew Sullivan and his fellow "warbloggers" against "our friends, the Saudis" as Taranto likes to put it come into clearer focus. Why, it seems like only yesterday when, faced with an alleged threat from Iraq, we were told it was necessary to go to war in order to save not only the Emir of Kuwait but also the House of Saud. Today, our Saudi allies once deemed vital to the interests of the West, and in whose defense we slaughtered an untold number of Iraqis are denounced as misogynistic medievalist homophobic tyrants, whose religion supposedly poses a deadly threat to the West and whose rule must be ended. How quickly, and conveniently, they forget.
The recent statement by deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz that, in the post-9/11 world, our allies may morph into our enemies unless they get on board the anti-terrorist bandwagon certainly startled the Europeans, but is also applicable to Saudi Arabia. An all-out war, pitting the US and Israel against the united Arab and Muslim states with Turkey and India drawn in on the side of the US is a real possibility. Yet there is another factor that could bring the boiling Middle East cauldron past the point of overflowing .
While the question of Osama bin Laden's whereabouts have largely been forgotten or else put on the back burner by most Americans, the question may come up again soon as rumors circulate that the Evil One has sought the protection of Tehran. A recent article by George Jonas in the National Post raises just this possibility: Jonas posits a rapprochement between two former enemies, Iran and bin Laden, based on necessity and bin Laden's medical needs. Iran, avers Jonas, is the only country in the region where the fugitive terrorist mastermind could receive necessary dialysis treatments and still avoid death or capture by the West. Could it be that Washington now believes this?
Nothing else, it seems, could account for Bush's designation of Iran as one third of the "Axis of Evil" and his diatribe against its "unelected" rulers. This last drew a retort from the democratically elected Iranian reformer, President Khatami, previously an American favorite, who declared Bush's "warmongering" an "insult to the Iranian nation." While there were reports that some Al Qaeda had fled to Iran, that country had previously pledged to cooperate with the US anti-terrorist effort.
How all this plays out remains to be seen, but of one thing we can be sure: there are several fuses of varying lengths that have already been lit in Palestine, Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Which one burns the fastest is a matter of conjecture, but sooner or later an explosion is bound to occur and take the whole region with it.
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