A wink and a nod at terror

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From the Chicago Tribune

A wink and a nod at terror

November 5, 2001

At the outset of the war against terror, the oil-rich kingdom of Saudi Arabia proclaimed that it stood firmly with the victims and against the terrorists.

The Saudis, it turns out, have an odd definition of the word "firm."

Their action has not matched the rhetoric. They have denounced the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, but won't acknowledge that some of the roots of terrorism emanate from their own soil.

The Saudi government has failed to thoroughly investigate records of 15 hijackers believed to have been Saudi citizens. Saudi charities and a prominent businessman have emerged as major sources of funding for Al Qaeda, the terrorist network of Osama bin Laden, yet the Saudis have refused to participate with at least 80 other nations in freezing the financial assets of terrorists.

So the pressure is on the Bush administration to break the cozy relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.

There's one problem. The U.S. has a lot to lose. The U.S. doesn't like to admit to vulnerabilities, but here it is vulnerable.

The Saudis sit on almost a quarter of the world's oil and they're a moderating influence in OPEC. The U.S. relies on their oil.

The U.S. has 5,000 troops on Saudi soil, though they serve primarily to protect the Saudi rulers from hostile neighbors and restive Islamic fundamentalists.

That's the Saudi trump card. They tell the U.S., in effect, you may not like our tactics, but the alternative would be an openly hostile fundamentalist regime controlling all of this oil.

The princes who rule the kingdom are heirs to a strict brand of Wahhabi Islam practiced by both Saudis and the Taliban in Afghanistan. A hostile view of non-Muslims is taught in Saudi and Taliban schools. Yet the Saudi regime has been a moderate ally of the West.

The Saudis have kept the oil flowing all these years as they walked a tightrope between their conservative Islamic roots and their Western allies. Now they are in a more precarious position, vulnerable to being replaced by a radical Muslim regime.

That apparently gives the Saudis reason to believe they don't have to back their words with deeds. But it's not too late for President Bush to show that he will back his words. The president said that when it comes to terror, you're either with the U.S. or you're against the U.S. It's time to make that clear to Saudi Arabia.

It would be better if the U.S. had a firmer position of strength, if it didn't need that oil and didn't care who ran Saudi Arabia. It's not in a position to cut loose from Saudi Arabia.

It is in the position--the victims of Sept. 11 prove it is in the position--to demand that the Saudis stand firmly against terrorism, even when it emanates from their own citizens, even when it places their regime at some risk.

In time, the U.S. will have to reassess its affair of convenience with Saudi Arabia.

It no longer seems so convenient. Not at all.

Copyright 2001, Chicago Tribune

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), November 05, 2001

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