Another View of the Saudi Power Struggle

In my last post I mentioned Michael Scott Doran’s article “The Saudi Paradox.” For a more complex, though not necessarily contradictory view of the Saudi power struggle there’s Robert Baer’s Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude.

Baer, who was a CIA case officer in the Mideast and Central Asia for decades, opposed the invasion of Iraq, and he wants to drop the drug war, end industrial espionage against the EU and disband the CIA. He opposes messianic universalist democratism but unfortunately has retained his support for military interventionism in principle. Regardless, his tales of astonishing government corruption and ineptitude could cause a reasonable person to question the whole militarist project. Despite the book’s regrettable title, Baer is no knee-jerk Saudi-basher; he praises the nominal rulers of the country, particularly Crown Prince ‘Abdallah, and he criticizes the US and Israeli governments’ roles in fomenting the jihad movement. Baer is also refreshingly nonpartisan; for example, after criticizing “the oilmen who now occupy the White House” he writes, “not that I want to let the Clinton people off the hook, or the first Bush team, or the Reaganites, Carterites, Fordites, or Nixonites: Screwing up Saudi Arabia might be the most successful bipartisan undertaking of the last half century.”

Here’s my Cliff Notes version of Baer’s view of the creation of the international jihad movement:

The goal of the US military /intelligence /espionage complex was to defeat the Soviet Union (rather than, say, to protect Americans). That dualistic worldview led to US opposition to secular Arab nationalism, which was viewed as compatible with Soviet socialism, and support for Zionism, monarchial despotism, and Sunni theocracy, which were not. The victory of Israel – “a tiny state based on religious cohesiveness” – over Egypt, Syria, and Jordan in 1967 discredited secular Arab nationalism and began to shift the balance of power away from the corrupt, hedonistic monarchs, and in favor of the theocrats. The CIA and Saudi intelligence used government-controlled charities (for plausible deniability) to funnel billions of dollars of aid to the most radical mujahideen fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan – the most expensive covert op in history. International jihad groups were organized and funded: next stop the Balkans, Chechnya, and New York. King Fahd’s stroke in 1995 was a turning point, which led to a near-coup by one of his wives in cahoots with his favorite son, Azouzi, and led to a still-unresolved power struggle among corrupt princes, the theocratic establishment, the conservative reformist Crown Prince ‘Abdullah, and rebel theocrats – in various combinations of alliances. The stakes are high: Baer claims, for instance, that Azouzi received one bribe in the mind-boggling amount of $900,000,000.

The US military when stationed in Saudi Arabia was viewed as a guarantor of the Saudi royal family – an obstacle to irregular succession or regime change. The terrorist attacks against US civilians were perpetrated by Sunni militants yet in response the Bushies targeted a bogus “axis” of Arab nationalists, Communists, and Shi’ites – that is, opponents of militant Sunnism. Sleeping with the Devil helps us understand why.

Democracy, the Grand Nonacea

Monday’s Washington Post featured an article titled “‘Democratic’ Frenzy in the Arab World,” which claims that U.S. aggression in the region is already reaping desirable political changes. A bit premature, I’d say, and maybe fundamentally misguided. As mentioned on this page long before 3/11, Morocco, home to most of the suspects in the Madrid bombings, is a democratizing country. It may rank low on lists compiled by Euro busybodies, but it’s a helluva lot further along than Iraq is.

Obviously, a handful of guys committing a terrorist act does not automatically damn their country of origin or its political system. But it should cast a little doubt on a) the certainty that democracy is a cure-all for anti-U.S. hostility, and b) that only the most despotic countries produce such hostility.

Price of an Orange

A tribute written by Starhawk for Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall, two young volunteer activists working for freedom and justice with the International Solidarity Movement who were killed by Israeli soldiers.

    I am writing this as we approach the anniversary of two murders. And I find myself thinking about an orange, a ghost orange, growing on a branch on a ghost tree that no longer stands in the courtyard of a home crushed to bloodstained rubble. In Rafah, the border town that lies on the dusty frontier where Gaza meets Egypt. A place of cement tenements pockmarked with bullet holes, streets choking in dust and smashed concrete, barbed wire and fences and sniper towers, where Rachel and Tom died, like so many of the Palestinians they had come to stand with in solidarity.

    In March of 2003 Rachel Corrie was killed as she was trying to stop an Israeli soldier from demolishing a home. The bulldozer driver saw her, and deliberately ran over her. She was twenty-three years old.

    Just a few weeks later, an Israeli soldier firing from a sniper tower shot Tom as he was trying to save some children who were under fire … read more

Blaming Spain

By now everyone even vaguely following events in Spain has undoubtedly noted the pro-Iraq war, conservative and Republican response to the ousting of Aznar’s PP party in the recent election. It goes like this:

Thanks, Spain! Due to your cowardice, every democracy must anticipate slaughter of their civilians before each election. Way to let 200 of your countrymen die in vain….FreeRepublic

Greatly heartened, they are back on their feet and swinging, asking themselves which Western election result they would like to change next.

The blame must, of course, fall squarely on the Spanish electorate. It would be wrong to think, however, that there is anything peculiarly Spanish about their abject surrender.
Confronted with terrorism like Al Qaeda’s, the pampered, fat, comfortable electorates of the West will not fight. They will jump to do the terrorists’ bidding. Change our government? yes, Sir! Stop giving support to President Bush? Yes, yes, Sir! Jump, you flabby swine! How high, Sir? …John Derbyshire

In the three days between the slaughter and the vote, it was widely reported that the atrocity had been designed to influence the election. In allowing it to do so, the Spanish knowingly made Sunday a victory for appeasement and dishonoured their own dead….Mark Steyn

These responses illustrate the illogical premises behind the Spain voted for Osama/appeased terrorists jingos currently making the rounds in conservative/Republican/liberventionist circles. Publius at Legal Fiction writes the best rebuttal I’ve seen:

Let me more clear. I think that everyone agrees that al Qaeda (and terrorism more generally) presents a serious threat and that it must be dealt with. The real debate, however, in both America and the world is about tactics. In other words, everyone agrees that we must fight terrorism, but people disagree on how we should go about it fighting it. As for Bush, people aren’t disagreeing with his goal of eliminating terrorism. They’re disagreeing about whether Bush’s tactics (specifically, the war on Iraq) are helping or hurting the cause.

That’s my biggest problem with Andrew Sullivan’s defense of Iraq and Bush more generally. He stresses (over and over and over) that we are at war; that this is not a law enforcement operation; that we must appreciate the war-like aspects of this war we are fighting (did I mention that we’re at war?). Fine. For the moment, I’ll concede that, Andrew. We’re at war. But here’s the problem – just because we’re at “war” does not mean that everything that Bush has done is an appropriate way to fight that war. One can agree that we’re at war but disagree with invading Iraq on the grounds that it was an inappropriate, counterproductive way of fighting that war. And I’m getting sick and tired of people classifying my disagreement with Bush’s anti-terrorist strategy as an indication that I don’t realize that we’re at war, or that I don’t sufficiently understand the threat. Bullshit. This is just bullying. It’s framing the debate in such a way that you either agree with everything they’re saying or you’re voting for Osama. There is no room for claiming that maybe, just maybe, there are different ways of fighting that war and some ways may be better than others.

But now you can understand why Sullivan got so upset about the Spanish election. He and the other pro-Iraq war people have a nagging insecurity about whether it was actually the right thing to do in light of the failure to find weapons or a true terrorist link. In short, postwar developments have called Sullivan’s thesis into question – that invading Iraq was a necessary part of the war on terror. And that’s why he (and others) are trying so desperately to paint this election as an appeasement of terror or a vote for Osama. They don’t want to admit that people can oppose terror AND the war in Iraq at the same time and still be good people. Or more precisely, they can oppose the Iraq war at the same time they appreciate that we’re at war. Look, al Qaeda may benefit from the election. And it will certainly hurt America’s policy in Iraq, and that is upsetting. That said, it’s stretching plausibility to say that the voters were endorsing Osama or appeasing terror three days after millions of people took to the streets to mourn the nation’s worst terrorist attack in history. These people were voting against Aznar’s dubious attempt to exploit fear of terrorism in order to gain support for his policies (both pre and post-3/11). They were also rejecting Bush’s tactics in fighting terrorism, which Aznar had adopted so enthusiastically.

Not only is the pro-Iraq invasion peoples’ Osama-vote/appeasement argument illogical, it is also demonstrative of a mindset that is hyperdefensive of Bush’s tactics specifically. Any criticism of the conduct of the Bush Administration as it claims to be “fighting terrorism” is construed as pro-Osama appeasement. Maybe, as Pubius says above, they’re sensitive about the subject because the invasion they were so keen on has turned out to be not only based on lies but a bloody quagmire and money pit. On top of that, it clearly hasn’t made a dent in terrorism.

One more insightful Publius graf:

The lesson here is that the American blogosphere should be a little more humble in the explanations of the election than it has been. For example, Andrew Sullivan, John Derbyshire, and Glenn Reynolds have all simplified the election by saying that the Spaniards voted for Osama; that they appeased terrorists; that they fail to understand the terrorist threat; etc. What’s fascinating about this collective response is that it’s more of a reflection of their own thoughts than it is an assessment of the election. They’re not really engaging Spanish politics, they’re responding to their American critics on the issue of Bush’s war against terrorism. For them (and others on the other side of the spectrum), the Spanish election has simply become an inkblot test and these people are projecting their values upon it to justify their domestic policy preferences.