In many ways Saudi Arabia is the “elephant in the room” of American foreign policy: its role in the cultivation of terror is so central and so pervasive, and yet no one in the Bush White House is willing to acknowledge it openly.
The story of Saudi Arabia’s role in the spread of terrorism begins with the observation act that 15 of the 19 September 11th hijackers were of Saudi origin. After learning this glaring fact, the American public has been gradually exposed to the deep role of Saudi money in the pervasion of the Wahabbi brand of Islam, whose theological seminaries have spread the word of fanatical anti-American Islamic fundamentalism throughout the Sunni Muslim world.
But the Saudi connection to terrorism goes beyond ideological support. There is strong evidence of direct complicity of Saudi royals in the funding of the September 11th attacks, and more. In November of 2002, evidence emerged that a Saudi princess, Haifa bint Faisal, may have played a role in funding two of the September 11th hijackers. In response to these allegations, rumors surfaced that officials from the National Security Council were recommending that President Bush demand the Saudis to crack down on sources of terror funding, or face “unilateral U.S action.” It should not come as a surprise, however, that the State Department promptly denied these rumors. (A similar denial had occurred the previous August, when administration officials also condemned the content of a report before the Defense Policy Board recommending an ultimatum for the Saudis). In the absence of any ultimatum, the Saudis were left free, not to engage in a sustained policy of cracking down on terrorists, but to organize a massive public relations campaign aimed at convincing the West that it was cracking down on terrorists.
The proof that the Saudi publicity campaign was baseless came in May, when Saudi terrorists (likely under orders from Al Qaeda officials operating out of Iran) attacked a Western housing compound in Riyadh. Saudi terrorism had finally been brought home to Saudi soil, and suddenly Saudi officials began to respond, by arresting militants and uncovering arms caches (although still inhibiting American investigators). No news like this had been forthcoming prior to the Riyadh bombings, even though, presumably, the same militants had been present. Saudi action seemed to come too little and too late.
Despite the Saudis’ sudden interest in suppressing militants, reports of Saudi insurgents infiltrating Iraq and fighting against American troops have been on the rise. And lingering suspicion about the Saudi role in September 11th is yet to be resolved. A report released in late July investigating responsibility for the September 11th attacks contained large stretches of censored material, about a foreign government with troubling connections to several of the hijackers. It is widely believed that the government is that of Saudi Arabia, but the Bush administration has so far refused to release the censored details.
A public declaration of the Saudi role in terrorism is absolutely necessary, not just as a matter of historical accuracy, but in order for the United States finally to be able to issue a credible ultimatum to the Saudis. It must demand, credibly, that unless the Saudis are willing to cooperate fully and immediately with American investigators, arrest terrorists within their borders, guard their borders with Iraq to protect against infiltrators, and name those members of the royal family who have been complicit in funding terrorism, serious consequences will follow. To demonstrate American resolve, and to warn the Saudis of what may follow, all forms of American aid to Saudi Arabia should be cut off immediately.
Unfortunately, the Saudi role in the support of terror is as much a form of paying blackmail to terrorist groups who would topple the Saudi monarchy as it is a consequence of genuine sympathy for terrorist causes. The Saudi royal family is almost irredeemably corrupt, gorging itself on oil revenue it has not earned. If the cessation of aid is not enough to prompt the Saudis to reform, the United States will have to consider more drastic measures, including but not limited to a seizure of the oil fields that so contribute to Saudi corruption. This measure may sound surprisingly harsh, but it should be remembered that the Saudi oil fields were originally developed by American and Western companies, only to be forcefully and unjustly nationalized by the Saudi government. After the collapse of communism, state ownership of industry has been widely acknowledged as economic foolishness, to say nothing of its being an unjustifiable extension of governmental control over the daily affairs of its citizens. If the Saudis cannot clear the corruption from their house, it may still come to momentous American action to do so for them. But none of this can be done unless the United States begins by acknowledging the Saudi problem.
Cartoon by Cox and Forkum.
 “The Saudi money trail.” Newsweek. November 22, 2002
 “Saudis face U.S. demand on terror.” Washington Post. November 26, 2002
 “Powell denies ultimatum.” The Age (Australia). November 27, 2002 < http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2002/11/27/1038274342219.html>.
 “Briefing depicted Saudis as enemies.” Washington Post. August 6, 2002