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.