Unfair to Saudis?

By Joseph Farah

Saudi Arabia put its best foot forward last week in a public relations offensive designed to persuade Americans the kingdom is sincerely fighting terrorism.

“We believe that our country has been unfairly maligned,” said Adel al-Jubeir, foreign policy adviser to Crown Prince Abdullah.

It was quite a show.

Al-Jubeir is an articulate, westernized spokesman for his country. He is quick with a smile. His English is impeccable. He dresses well. In short, he’s a great PR man.

But will Americans buy the style and forget the substance?

Here’s what I wrote about Saudi Arabia, not after the Sept. 11 attacks by 19 hijackers, 15 of whom were Saudi citizens, but four years earlier:

Sooner or later, America is going to face a major economic and military crisis because of Saudi Arabia. It’s time to start thinking about whether our long-time policy of propping up the royal family in Riyadh is worth the inevitable price. …

For starters, the Saudi government is an archaic, barbaric dictatorship that has no moral authority to rule. As you read this column, for example, non-Muslims are being persecuted, satellite dishes and other connections to the outside world are being smashed, books are being confiscated and burned and an 8-year-old girl is facing the prospect of being beheaded by sword because her parents are drug smugglers.

How and why America would find itself in bed with such a detestable, corrupt and anachronistic monarchy is a long story. Sometimes geo-strategic decisions require unholy alliances. But this one is in dire need of review.

Why? It’s only a matter of time before the Saudis face an internal or external threat that will either draw the United States into war or cause us grave economic dislocation. Remember the Gulf War? It was fought not over Kuwait, but over Saudi Arabia. With the unconscionable cuts in the U.S. military budget wrought by the Clinton administration, America would be incapable of mounting such an offensive again. And, anyway, the next challenge the Saudi government faces is more likely to be a civil war.

There’s much resentment of the Saudi royal family brewing among the 17 million people who live in the vast desert kingdom. While the Saudis control about a quarter of the world’s oil reserves, only a tiny minority of the population has enjoyed the great wealth we associate with the country. That tiny minority have not been good stewards of the nation’s incredible resources. In fact, they have been profligate. This has led to widespread jealousy and a growing, if still quiet, domestic opposition. …

Of course, there is no freedom for dissent. The press is controlled. There are no political parties. Activists are tortured in medieval fashion. And if anyone speaks out publicly against the royal family, he is likely to disappear. …

So what is the alternative for the United States? Do we have another option than to back the corrupt Saudis against the rising tide of Islamic militancy? Well, it’s time for a roll of the dice.

The U.S. should begin fostering the ideas of freedom and democracy in Saudi Arabia. I know it’s a long shot. There are cultural barriers. Not a single Arab nation has anything close to the kind of freedom we take for granted in the West. But we do live in an information age, and, as they were in the Eastern Bloc, freedom’s best allies can be television, radio and, in the 21st century, the Internet.

It’s time to start demanding that Saudi Arabia open up its society, begin recognizing the inalienable rights of people and beat the Islamic radicals to the punch. Otherwise, once again, we’ll find ourselves on the wrong side of history.

After Sept. 11, it should be much easier to see the truth about Saudi Arabia.

  • The kingdom sponsored the Taliban regime in Afghanistan – the one that, in turn, offered safe harbor and more to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida.

  • Bin Laden himself is a member of a prominent and wealthy Saudi family.

  • Saudi Arabia is one of the most backward regimes in the world – withholding all political rights from women and persecuting all religions other than Sunni Islam.

No PR offensive – no matter how well-financed, no matter how well-executed, no matter how stylistically compelling – should ever allow Americans to forget the brutal truth about Saudi Arabia.