Monday, June 28, 2004

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Al Qaeda and Saudi Arabia

With all the debate about the 9/11 Commission's finding regarding Iraq's dormant relationship with Al Qaeda, anothe finding has been ignored -- the relationship (or lack thereof) between Al Qaeda and the House of Saud.

I discuss this in my latest Tech Central Station essay, "About That Commission Report..." Go check it out.

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds kindly links to my essay but has the following cavil:

Of course, the force of this point depends to some degree on how much faith one has in the Commission, and I have very little. In addition, the finding that "we found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior officials within the Saudi government funded al Qaeda," strikes me as rather carefully worded.

On the second point -- it's tough to prove a negative statement. If I had been writing the report, that's exactly how I'd have phrased that finding. It's true that some evidence could surface that elements of the Saudi government bankrolled Al Qaeda -- just like some evidence could emerge linking Saddam Hussein to 9/11.

On the first point, a lot of the criticism directed at the 9/11 commission staff report was that it was, well, a staff report, but had the imprantur of the 9/11 Commission. William Safire wrote last week (link via Jeff Jarvis):

The basis for the hoo-ha was not a judgment of the panel of commissioners appointed to investigate the 9/11 attacks. As reporters noted below the headlines, it was an interim report of the commission's runaway staff, headed by the ex-N.S.C. aide Philip Zelikow.

I haven't paid too much attention to the "runaway staff" allegation, so I can't comment on it one way or the other. I can say that claims that the interim report was a partisan hit job would have to explain the fact that Philip Zelikow was a co-author of Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft with current National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice -- a book that remains the definitive account of how Germany was reunified, by the way.

Zelikow might not be everyone's cup of tea, but he's a meticulous scholar, and I do trust his rendition of the facts.

posted by Dan on 06.28.04 at 09:05 AM


“Bronson was drawing her conclusions from a recent Council on Foreign Relations task force that concluded that while more needs to be done in this area, the Saudi government has taken aggressive action on this front over the past year -- at the prodding of the Bush administration.”

I strongly suspect that reading Tom Wolfe’s 34 year old classic, Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, may be the best way of understanding the House of Saud members supporting Al Quaeda. These morons probably only wanted to party with Osama bin Ladin’s nihilistic thugs. My imagination is getting the better of me:

“Osama is one cool dude. He’s my main man---and hasn’t bitch slapped me in over a week. His people are merely fighting against a perceived unjust establishment. We are going to have a great party tonight. Wow, I’m a player.”

Prodding by the Bush administration? That’s not necessary anymore. The Saudi government is now motivated by pure self preservation. Osama and his buddies were not suppose to commit acts of violence within the Kingdom.

posted by: David Thomson on 06.28.04 at 09:05 AM [permalink]

As i read it, The Saudi government has ALWAYS been motivated as you say, by pure self preservation, even when they were ignoring AQ.

The deal there is simple; not provoking anyone in their populace to side with AQ on various issues was in their self interest, or so they viewed it. Apparently, this is a kind of dormant appeasement. They had to be shaken out of that line of non-thought.

Now that this has apparently happened, I submit we should start seeing some serious changes there... changes the press won't tell us about, because it doesn't paint a bad picture of the situation which can be used against the Bush administration. But we should be watchful here.

Mind, I'm by no means suggesting that the House of Saud are our best freinds, here. They will always work in their own self-interest. But in my view, this becomes an issue of managing that factor.... making sure it's in their self-interest to work with us and not against us.

posted by: bithead on 06.28.04 at 09:05 AM [permalink]

'changes the press won't tell us about, because it doesn't paint a bad picture of the situation which can be used against the Bush administration'

This is the same press that basically cheerleaded the run up to war and uncritically accepted so many administration claims ? [ So many that 60 minutes and the NYT had to go back to issue a mea culpa).

Re: The Saudis -- for too long, they've tried to play both sides of the game, avoiding cracking down on Wahhabism, which forms the basis of their power. I tend to believe that the royal family at least had no links to 9/11, but I also belive that funding from charities, blind eyes to Al Qaeda recruiting et al. was rampant.

Why have some countries such as Bahrain, UAE etc. managed to be (relatively) peaceful, prosperous and even have a semblance of democracy, while Saudi Arabia hasn;t moved ? I don;t know, but this may be something for an academic to imagine.

posted by: erg on 06.28.04 at 09:05 AM [permalink]

There is the House of Saud, which is vast, approximately 7000 princes and their extended elite non-Saud relatives ( bin Rashids, bin Ladens etc.)and then there is the Saudi government, dominated by the Senior princes and their eldest sons who occupy the power ministries and deputy minister positions. The latter do not want conflict in the relationship with the US if it can be avoided.

Not the same thing with the former group. There are very wealthy, very Islamist ibn Saud running around the Middle east and Europe who are shut out of the decision-making process of the KSA government. Loose cannons exist.

Carefully worded indeed.

posted by: mark safranski on 06.28.04 at 09:05 AM [permalink]

I didn't read whatever Instapundit wrote when they released the 9/11 Comission report, so I don't know if he's criticizing Zelikow or not. But I do know that he wrote off the 9/11 Comission a long time ago. I don't think he ever thought much of it, and I know he completely dismissed it when they had the first public hearings and the Comissioners dared to criticize the Administration. (OK, I'm exaggerating, but that's what it sounded like.)

posted by: Devin McCullen on 06.28.04 at 09:05 AM [permalink]

Rumours around in press says that interior minister is somewhat more pro-al queda and not getting along with the king.

posted by: lucklucky on 06.28.04 at 09:05 AM [permalink]

This is the same press that basically cheerleaded the run up to war and uncritically accepted so many administration claims ? [ So many that 60 minutes and the NYT had to go back to issue a mea culpa).

Yes, one in the same.

Then again, the Democrats were doing the same thing... that is, Cheering both Mr. Bush, and his actions. Come closer to election time, the tune changes. Is that such a shock?

posted by: Bithead on 06.28.04 at 09:05 AM [permalink]

Denis, I completely agree. If anyone should be questioned here, its definitely Glenn. His site is pure partisan crap. Its completely worthless to read because it doesn't even attempt to consider the other side of the arugment. How many times does he rail against the NYT for 'bias', and somehow he forgot to mention the biggest NYT fiasco of the past year (at least I didnt see it on his site).

posted by: Jor on 06.28.04 at 09:05 AM [permalink]

In fact, there was some concern, due to his connection with Rice, that Zelikow would make sure the committee was kept docile and that their report would be a whitewash.

posted by: Jon H on 06.28.04 at 09:05 AM [permalink]

Safranski's point is apt. The Saudi government and and the various members of the vast Saudi royal family are two different things; moreover funding from the first is a lot easier to track than funding from the second.

For that very reason we ought not expect the moon and stars from the 9/11 Commission, which for my money has already cast revealing light on many aspects of the disaster. The Saudi connection is important, but may not be within the Commission's power to describe definitively.

posted by: Zathras on 06.28.04 at 09:05 AM [permalink]

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