Saudi commercials could be feel-good hoax

by Chris Schafer

Americans watch the commercials with wary eyes and hints of skepticism in their voices. The ads point out Saudi Arabia’s long history as a U.S. ally and the country’s role in helping the United States track down terrorists and block terrorist money from reaching its eventual beneficiaries. We understand that some of what the commercials say is true, even if it is over-dramatized. We know that Saudi Arabia stood with us in 1991 – even if it was mostly for its own protection – and we know that the United States’ association with the Saudis is about as pleasant as it gets with a Middle Eastern nation.

But as Americans, we also know many other things about our ally in the Middle East, things that the commercials don’t tell us. We know that Saudi Arabia is not willing to stand with us against Iraq again. We know that it is the home nation of Osama Bin Laden, the majority of the Sept. 11 hijackers and at least five other members of al-Qaida’s top leadership – a leadership pool that only includes one individual from Iraq and none from Iran, the axis of evil nations. We know that Saudi schools teach the most fundamental forms of Islam. And now we know that the wife of the Saudi U.S. Ambassador might have helped finance al-Qaida and the Sept. 11 attacks.

So with the positive aspects of Saudi Arabia in mind as well as the negatives, what’s left for Americans to base their opinion on? Realistically, it seems, Saudi Arabia is a friendly nation, willing to work with the United States whenever possible. But it sits atop of a self-made powder keg of religious extremism. Just how much cooperation can it provide to “the great Satan” before they jeopardize their own stability?

Saudi Arabia says it is willing to work with the United States to help eliminate terrorism around the globe. It was quick to support the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks and condemn terrorism. But they are highly unwilling to oblige with tasks that could make the process easier. The Saudi government refuses to allow Americans to hunt for suspected terrorists within the nation’s borders, and its own investigations don’t appear to produce much in a nation which is still a possible home for fleeing al-Qaida members. Pakistan has been a much more cooperative partner and its incumbent government is much less fortified than that of Saudi Arabia. It seemingly doesn’t have the power to crack down on Muslim extremists, yet Pakistan does, with results that include the capture of several top al-Qaida operatives.

Till the Saudi government balks at the idea that it needs to change any

of its methods, simplistically repeating that it is doing all it can. But will that be enough or – more importantly – will it appear to be enough to the American people and the rest of the world? It will be interesting to see what the Saudi “all it can” entails with regards to the financial transactions of Princess Haifa al-Faisal and others.

Is it possible the ambassador’s wife had no idea where her money was truly going? She believed the money she sent was being used to help an ill Saudi woman in the United States to cover her medical bills, a justifiable and even noble cause. And in the aftermath of Sept. 11

it was learned that millions of dollars from all around the world were cycling their way into terrorist organizations without most of the sources actually knowing that that was the eventual destination. So it is possible that the ambassador’s wife was deceived in a similar manner.

Whether she is cleared of any wrongdoing or not, the key to deciding which side of political fence Saudi Arabia truly stands on will come in the aftermath. After the terrorist attacks, the United States saw many arenas in which we failed to track terrorists and their actions. We have gone to great lengths to rectify those loopholes.

Will the Saudis be willing to do the same thing? Will they be willing or able to crack down on their own homegrown Muslim extremists in ways they never have before? Or will they simply make more feel-good commercials telling the U.S. population that they are?

Chris Schafer’s biweekly column appears alternate Wednesdays. He

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