Alexander's Column

Our friends, the Saudis

Mark Alexander · Jun. 21, 2002

Yasser Arafat and his cadre of Islamic extremists continued their campaign of terror in Israel, endeavoring to undermine support in the region for a U.S. strike against Saddam. Homicide bombings and other assaults in Israel claimed the lives of 33 civilians, and delayed President George Bush’s plans to roll out his “vision” for peace in the region. Israel responded to the deadliest single Palestinian terrorist attack in Jerusalem since 1996 by rolling tanks back into lands returned to Palestinian control under the Oslo Accords. (The Israelis have also begun construction on a wall to keep out terrorist infiltrators.)

Indicative of the formidable diplomatic minefield in the region was this week’s brouhaha over Saudi Arabia’s public refusal to allow U.S. intelligence analysts to interview 13 recently arrested terrorists – 11 Saudis, an Iraqi and a Sudanese with direct links to al-Qa'ida. The Saudi’s have been the subject of much criticism, especially given that 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were Saudis – al-Qa'ida operatives for Saudi national Osama bin Laden.

All the media ranting about the Saudis “refusal to cooperate” notwithstanding, one may accurately conclude three things about this case. First, the Saudis have much more effective interrogation “techniques” than we are – “legally” – allowed to implement. Second, every bit of intelligence that is useful to the U.S. will be provided to the U.S. through back channels. And third, it is nescient to view and criticize the Saudi government’s actions in isolation from the dynamics in the region. The current regime, however corrupt, is far better than any alternatives on the horizon. (You may recall that Shaw Mohammad Reza Pahlavi of Iran was dethroned by the Ayatollah Khomeini.) The Saudi government’s “open” relationship with the U.S. must be tempered by pro-al-Qa'ida sentiment within its own borders.

The difficulties in maintaining governments in the region that do not threaten U.S. national interests was illustrated by the slow progress for the new loya jirga in Afghanistan. The Jihadis plotting and slinking around the outskirts of the germinating representative institutions are not far off – close enough in fact to lob a couple of rockets on the capital city, Kabul, Tuesday. And the American commander on the scene has estimated at least another year will be needed to root out the remnants of Taliban and al-Qa'ida threatening the incipient people’s government. Elsewhere in Afghanistan, U.S. Special Forces teams came under enemy fire in two separate locations Tuesday.

Yesterday, the Turkish military relieved British forces charged with security for the Afghan capitol of Kabul. The move to place Turkey – NATO’s only Muslim member-state – in this role is strategic; providing the Afghans with what Washington considers to be a successful example of a Muslim-majority, secular state.

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