LAST week, I contrasted two official U.S.
responses to news that the Saudi ambassador's wife possibly
funded the 9/11 hijackers: The Bush administration pooh-poohed
it, while leading U.S. senators expressed outrage. I argued
that this difference results from a Saudi-induced "culture of
corruption" that pervades the upper reaches of the executive
branch but does not extend to the Congress.
Questions poured in, asking for more about this culture of
A hint of the problem comes from none other than Prince
Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United States.
The Washinton Post reports that he boasted of his success at
cultivating powerful Americans: "If the reputation . . .
builds that the Saudis take care of friends when they leave
office, you'd be surprised how much better friends you have
who are just coming into office."
This is precisely what happens. It's so bad that Mohammed
Al-Khilewi (a Saudi diplomat who gained U.S. political asylum
after denouncing Riyadh's despotism in 1994) put it this way:
"When it comes to the Saudi-American relationship, the White
House should be called the 'White Tent.' "
Ex-Washington hands paid handsomely by the kingdom include
such figures as Spiro T. Agnew, Jimmy Carter, Clark Clifford,
John B. Connally and William E. Simon. A Washington Post
account lists other former officials, including George H.W.
Bush, who have found the Saudi connection "lucrative." It also
quotes a Saudi source saying that the Saudis have contributed
to every presidential library in recent decades.
Many ex-U.S. ambassadors to Riyadh have received
substantial sums of money since John C. West set the gold
standard by funding his personal foundation with a $500,000
donation from a single Saudi prince, plus more from other
Saudis, soon after he left the kingdom in 1981. Former
Ambassador Hume Horan, a great and noble exception to this
"There have been some people who really do go on the Saudi
payroll, and they work as advisers and consultants. Prince
Bandar is very good about massaging and promoting
relationships like that. Money works wonders, and if you've
got an awful lot of it, and a royal title - well, it's amusing
to see how some Americans liquefy in front of a foreign
potentate, just because he's called a prince."
Surveying this problem for National Review, Rod Dreher
found the number of ex-ambassadors who push a pro-Saudi
line "startling" and concluded that "no other posting pays
such rich dividends once one has left it, provided one is
willing to become a public and private advocate of Saudi
Matt Welch looked at five former U.S. ambassadors for
Canada's National Post and concluded, "They have carved out a
fine living insulting their own countrymen while shilling for
one of the most corrupt regimes on Earth." If you closed your
eyes while listening to their apologies, "you would think the
person talking held a Saudi passport."
The expectation of a payoff even corrupts U.S. government
operations in Saudi Arabia. Timothy Hunter, a former U.S.
diplomat in Saudi Arabia turned whistleblower, reports that
U.S. officials there are "so preoccupied with extraneous
duties - entertainment packages for high-level visitors,
liquor sales and handling baggage for VIP visitors," that they
have scant time to devote to proper embassy concerns.
The heart of the problem is an all-too-human one: Americans
in official positions of authority bend the rules, break with
standard procedures and alter policies for reasons of personal
The effect of the Saudis' massive pre-emptive bribing is to
render the executive branch quite incapable of dealing with
the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the farsighted and
disinterested manner that U.S. national interests require.
That leaves Congress with the urgent responsibility to fix
It must take steps to ensure that the Saudi revolving-door
syndrome described here be made illegal. That might mean that
for 10 years or more after having extensive contacts with the
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, an official may not directly or
indirectly receive funds from that source.
Only with this sort of change can U.S. citizens regain
confidence in those of their officials dealing with one of the
world's more important states.
Daniel Pipes (www.DanielPipes.org) is director of
the Middle East Forum and author of "Militant
Islam Reaches America." This article derives
from a longer analysis in the current issue of
The National Interest.