Saturday, August 02, 2003

Target: Saudi Arabia

In the next few weeks two things are going to happen: the Bush Administration is going to describe Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program, using Iraqi scientists to do most of the talking; second, it is going to start opening the lid on the Saudi role in the September 11, 2001 attacks. The Saudi role, described in 28 pages of classified documents from the joint Congressional Committee investigating September 11, has been described by leakers as detailing "connections between the hijacking plot and the very top levels of the Saudi royal family." These two developments are conveniently happening at a time when even the most obtuse critics now realize that the Ba'athist resistance in Iraq has been crushed and oil production in that country has consistently exceeded one million barrels per day.

With American forces now relocated from Saudi Arabia to Iraq, the Royals must be asking themselves what leverage they still have to hold back America. When the United States campaigned in Afghanistan, ensconcing itself in the vast oilfields of Central Asia, it rendered the Saudi oilfields redundant over the long term. With Iraq in its possession, the Americans have achieved the same result in the short term. Without the oil weapon, what levers remain in Saudi hands? Money, for one. The Saudis have always tried to buy politicians in Washington to suit their ends. Yet how effective this will be when the Washington politicians could just as easily take everything the Saudis own is questionable. Whatever the morality of the action, the feasibility of the "kick their ass and take their gas" policy is unquestioned.

Ultimately the only protection the Saudis now possess is the American political process itself. It will simply bank on the fact that an American President requires Congressional approval to take the House of Saud down. But what happens when the bipartisan committee investigating September 11 "force" President Bush to reluctantly reveal that it was the Saudi Royals who bankrolled the death of 3,000 people in New York? How does the circle get squared then? But there is a further joker in the pack. For the first time in recent history, the House of Saud is seriously contending with an internal threat from the Islamists. They will no longer be bought off. The twin dangers to the playboy billionaires of the Arab world are that, if the Islamists gain ground, America will enter Saudi Arabia to frustrate them. Yet if they crack down hard on the Islamists, the Royals themselves will soon be the subject of increasing Islamist attack. Complicating factors further is the presence of Mecca in the KSA, the sacred city of Muslims worldwide. Mecca and its pilgrimage sites will sooner or later become a battleground between the Royals and the Islamists. On that day, the Sauds will lose their legitimacy and their days will be numbered as few.

These political developments should ripen within a year. If President George Bush wins a second term, the Saudis will discover just how expensive September 11, 2001 really was.