Friday, August 3, 2007

Troubling Saudi Arms Deal

The proposed $20 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia raises troubling questions.

First of all, let us all understand that the Middle East is extremely complicated, and so, as I am not a scholar in this area and have not seriously researched this matter, I shy away from bold, bloggish pronouncements. But I have noticed several "dots" which I will pass along for anyone to add whatever other dots needs connecting.

Fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. On its own, perhaps this is not a cause for concern.

The Saudis fund radical, Wahhabist (click here or here) schools worldwide. These are ideological feeder schools for al Qaeda.

Though peace in the middle east is essential to stabilizing the region and winning the war on terror, the Saudi's are doing nothing substantive to advance this. Only now do they "say," according to the Washington Post, that they are "prepared to seriously consider participating in [President Bush's recently announced] push for Arab-Israeli peace" (New York Sun, Aug. 2, 2007).

The Saudis are hindering our efforts to stabilize the new government in Iraq. They have refused to recognize the Iraqi government, and are only now talking about opening an embassy (NYS, 8/2/07). Robin Wright and Josh White report that, "The Sunni-led kingdom has long resisted such a formal step, which would bolster the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad and signal to Iraq's minority Sunnis that their prospects of returning to power are over." Despite this fact, "the Saudi foreign minister expressed anger" at the suggestion by Zalmay Khalilzad, our UN ambassador, that Saudi Arabia is "not doing enough to help with reconciliation in Iraq," according to Wright and White.

Gary Shapiro of the New York Sun reports that the Saudis are using British courts "to quash discussion of their alleged role in aiding terrorism." The agent in this operation is Sheikh Khalid Bin Mahfouz, a wealthy Saudi businessman. Deborah Lipstadt, a professor at Emory University, herself unsuccessfully sued by Mahfouz, says that the Saudis are "'systematically, case by case, book by book' challenging anything critical of them or anything that links them to terrorism." Of course they are free to sue if they think they are being libeled, but the British libel laws are more generous toward plaintiffs than ours and the aggressive and well funded threat of lawsuits effectively shuts down publisher interest in this topic.

Presumably, we are concerned about the rising power of Iran as a regional hegemon. Arming the Saudis who are mortally hostile to Israel and no help to us in Iraq does not seem to be the best way to deal with that situation, and certainly not without securing concessions on matters of serious foreign policy interest to us. John Edwards is right in saying that, "Saudi Arabia has not done the things that it needs to do in Iraq in controlling terrorism." He should not be the only one saying it.

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