March 20, 2003

Saudis and Their Apologists...

Saudis and Their Apologists vs. 'Cabal' of Neo-cons: Who has been leading the charge against Prince Bandar, King Fahd and the perfidious House of Saud? Certainly, many of the leading figures come from the neo-conservative Right. Who has been leading the charge against the "cabal" of government neo-cons like Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz? Could it be the Saudis and their apologists?

That's probably an over-simplification, but it's a trend definitely worth tracking. First, there was the Sy Hersh hit piece on Perle in the New Yorker, buttressed by damning on-the-record quotes from Bandar and notorious arms dealer Adnan Kashoggi. As Gary Farber shrewdly speculated:

what strikes me as what is going on here is, among other things, that Richard Perle was suckered into a Saudi Arabian financial honey pot ploy to get back at Perle for his political involvement in acts of hostility to the Saudi regime, such as the notorious invitation to ex-Larouchite Laurent Murawiec to brief the Defense Policy Board on why the Saudi regime is an enemy to the interests of the United States.
Fast-forward to this Robert Dreyfuss piece in The American Prospect, warning about the Wolfowitzites, who, he claims, have "begun almost gleefully referring to themselves as a 'cabal.'" The first scare quote comes from Syrian President Bashar Assad; the rest are mostly from the ranks of notorious former ambassadors to Saudia Arabia, a gang I've been writing about the past 15 months.
"They want to foment revolution in Iran and use that to isolate and possibly attack Syria in [Lebanon's] Bekaa Valley, and force Syria out," says former Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Edward S. Walker, now president of the Middle East Institute. "They want to pressure [Muammar] Quaddafi in Libya and they want to destabilize Saudi Arabia, because they believe instability there is better than continuing with the current situation. And out of this, they think, comes Pax Americana."
Walker, who writes a "Letter from Washington" column for Al-Hayat, told the Washington Post last year that $200,000 of the Middle East Institute's $1.5 million budget for 2001 came from Saudi Arabia. Here's an excerpt from a recent column, discussing his December visit to the Middle East with fellow apologist Wyche Fowler:
Noting the criticism of Egyptian media and anti-Semitic material in the media, Maher, in admitting a problem, said that there was considerable confusion in Egypt, but also in the United States about what is anti-Semitic and what is anti-Israel. What is needed is a serious effort to educate Egyptians, particularly in the media about the difference.
This was the only mention of anti-Semitism in the column, which was supposed to be an assessment of regional opinion.
The alternative to the status quo is not Jeffersonian democracy but either anarchy or Islamic fundamentalism. This is what Americans fail to see. [...]

In conclusion, the Crown Prince [Abdullah, of Saudi Arabia] said that we have a major task ahead of us to protect the US–Saudi relationship and to sustain the US position in the region, particularly if it came to a war in Iraq with attendant negative consequences for the Iraqi people, instability, and a credible charge of US colonialism.

Back to the American Prospect article:
Chas Freeman, who served as U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War, worries about everything that could go wrong. "It's a war to turn the kaleidoscope, by people who know nothing about the Middle East," he says. "And there's no way to know how the pieces will fall." Perle and Co., says Freeman, are seeking a Middle East dominated by an alliance between the United States and Israel, backed by overwhelming military force. "It's machtpolitik, might makes right," he says. Asked about the comparison between Iraq and Hiroshima, Freeman adds, "There is no question that the Richard Perles of the world see shock and awe as a means to establish a position of supremacy that others fear to challenge."
Freeman is president of the Middle East Policy Council, which publishes Middle East Policy magazine, and produces Saudi-apologia dreck like this paper, advertised accurately as a brief to "provide Saudi perspectives on bilateral relations." He also is/was a member of the study group for the Hart/Rudman Commission on National Security/21st Century, and once drew a stern rebuke from the Defense Department for advocating reduced arms sales to Taiwan in order to force the island to negotiate with mainland China. Feel free to Google him.

Other Wolfowitz critics? How about another former Saudi ambassador:

But if the neocons are toying with the idea of restoring monarchies in Iraq and Iran, they are also eyeing the destruction of the region's wealthiest and most important royal family of all: the Saudis. Since September 11, the hawks have launched an all-out verbal assault on the Saudi monarchy, accusing Riyadh of supporting Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda organization and charging that the Saudis are masterminding a worldwide network of mosques, schools and charity organizations that promote terrorism. It's a charge so breathtaking that those most familiar with Saudi Arabia are at a loss for words when asked about it. "The idea that the House of Saud is cooperating with al-Qaeda is absurd," says James Akins, who served as U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia in the mid-1970s and frequently travels to the Saudi capital as a consultant. "It's too dumb to be talked about." [...]

"I've stopped saying that Saudi Arabia will be taken over by Osama bin Laden or by a bin Laden clone if we go into Iraq," says Akins. "I'm now convinced that's exactly what [the neoconservatives] want. And then we take it over."

Brackets theirs. Akins is an old diplomat. He became U.S. attaché to Baghdad in 1963, the year of Saddam's coup, which America supported, and served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 1973-76. I'm not really familiar with him; a Nov. 1, 2001 Christian Science Monitor profile on Crown Prince Abdullah:
To James Akins, a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Abdullah has all the necessary traits to earn respect throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds.

"Abdullah is an Arab nationalist and a good Muslim, and is incorrupt," says Mr. Akins. "And he is popular." [...]

"He is running the country, and doing it quite well."

Well, that settles that! Here's his Saudi-like take on Gulf War I, and U.S. motives toward Iraq, in a PBS interview from a couple years back:
I was opposed to the war. I thought this could have been handled in the Arab context. He certainly had to leave Kuwait, no question about that. There wasn't a single person in the entire region who thought that he should be allowed to incorporate Kuwait into his country. Prince Sultan, the Saudi defense minister, said right after the invasion that this has to be handled in the Arab context. Clearly Saddam must leave, but this also has to be handled in a brotherly Arab fashion, and Iraq needs to develop the port. There are two islands that block the entrance to the port. They are totally barren, not a single person living there, there's no oil, no resources. In the interest of their brotherhood, Kuwait could lease part of these islands to Iraq so they could develop the port. When he came out with this, I said publicly that the problem is solved--that's Saddam the face-saving device that he needs. He is going to accept it, and the problem will be finished. [...]

If the sanctions are lifted, he's certainly going to treat that as a great Iraqi victory, and that would be difficult for American politicians to swallow. I understand that. But if we want to get rid of him, how can we do this? Well, maybe we don't want to get rid of him. Maybe there's nothing wrong with the present situation from their perspective. Iraq is not a real important player in anything except oil supply.

It's possible, of course, that these men are merely voicing their informed opinion. But I think it's even more possible that said opinion, because it is based on experience chumming up with erudite oppressors, is biased heavily toward the oppressors' point of view, and certainly not the kind of evidence I'd be comfortable pegging an anti-"cabal" article on.

Posted by at March 20, 2003 02:20 PM
Comments

Well, Hersh wrote some of the earliest (and harshest) post-9/11 critice, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung and the FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) -- the two premier newspapers in the German speaking world -- last week ran lengthy, prominent exposes on the influence of the "neo-cons" in Washington (particularly on Wolfowitz and Kristol). A whiff of old European anti-Semitism perhaps? Well, that charge is mitigated, somewhat I suppose, by these articles' portrayal of Jewish conservatives in DC as having been the product of a certain "school" of thought, namely their indebtedness to the German-Jewish American emigre political philosopher Leo Strauss who taught for two decades at the University of Chicago. I say "mitigated" because it's in fact perfectly legitimate to discuss Strauss since he did have an impact on incipient "neo-conservatives" (Irving Kristol). Struass has had, and continues to have, a rather sizable influence (though in a perhaps more rarified sense) on political thinking in this country. But his influence, it should be stressed, was totally unwitting -- Strauss was a man who shunned the limelight and never sought to create a "school" -- only that he offered profound, pathbreaking insights into the crisis of modernity and of Western civilization. Moreover, many of his best students have been quite unpolitical and have stuck to esoteric philosophical matters. And still others have been quite left of center: noteworthy here is William Galston who was one of Bill Clinton's chief advisors. But nonetheless, I find suspicious dilating on Wolfowitz, et. al. -- he represent the only high ranking "Straussian" in the cabinet. Straussians had more of an influence during the Reagan administration.

Also, if any of you chance to pick up Saul Bellow's rather pleasant novel _Ravelstein_ (a roman-a-clef of Allan Bloom, one of Strauss's students), Wolfowitz, one of Bloom's former students, is featured as (surprise!) one of Bloom's former students whom Bloom loves talking to on the telephone, getting "first dibs" inside info on developments during the first Gulf War.

A quick impromptu translation by moi of an excerpt from FAZ: "the most important current Straussian politician is Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense, whom many commentators identify as the 'Superbrain' of the government. He not only studied under the atom war thinker Albert Wohlstetter but also under Allan Bloom -- just as did Francis Fukuyama, the most famous of the government Straussians."

and the article closes: "Not oil but rather Ideas are what drive neo-conservatives forward. Their democratisation mission is not yet completed. However they have betrayed their 'Ahnherrn' [I don't have my German dictionary at hand; "their intellectual god-father"?] They follow him faithfully but Leo Strauss would never have wanted the solitary hegemony of the USA. The virtuous, patriotic bourgeoisie need the Polis, the nation as a delimited, natural realm of the political. Leo Strauss was in this sense no neo-conservative. He remained a thinker out of old Europe, who brought ideas of antiquity to bear on the new world."

Posted by: Robert Light at March 21, 2003 03:59 AM

Matt -- I took no offense re: your post. Just trying to add a bit.

The Strauss-Billy Kristol connection is interesting. A good source on that is the book Gang of Five, about important younger conservatives (the other four profiled are Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed, David McIntosh, and Clint Bolick).

But the neo-cons really germinated in the 1970s in Public Interest and Commentary magazines. This development predates Billy K's intellectual supremacy, such as it is. The real godfather of the neo-cons is not Billy but his dad, and I've never seen any suggestions that Strauss was important in the elder's development.

Posted by: Max Sawicky at March 21, 2003 06:08 AM

Regarding former US ambassadors to Saudi Arabia, there's at least one who's uncorrupted, according to Daniel Pipes: Hume Horan. And he thinks it's unwise to use the Saudis as a public punching bag. So I wouldn't assume that all defenders of the Saudis (or, for that matter, all critics of the neo-conservatives) have been corrupted by Saudi money.

The conservative, US-allied governments in the Middle East are in an extremely precarious situation, because of popular anger against the US.

Posted by: Russil Wvong at March 21, 2003 10:02 AM

No, Strauss was influential in Kristol Sr.'s development -- Irving wasn't a direct student of Strauss but (I assume) is "strauss inspired." He also has thoughts about Strauss in his book "Neo-Conservatism." The _Gang of Five_ book -- I skimmed the sections on Harvey Mansfield -- seems Ookay; her comments about Strauss are better than the usual denigration and ad hominem ignorance leveled at him.

To see an example of the "vast Straussian conspiracy" (ha!) at work, check out www.straussian.net -- put together by some grad students at Boston College.

Posted by: Robert Light at March 21, 2003 10:24 AM

When I wrote "(I assume) Kristol Sr. is Strauss-inspired" -- this wasn't articulated clearly. What I meant is that I wasn't sure if he studied directly under Uncle Leo (as Strauss was referred to back in the day).

In any event, it is a fact that Strauss absolutely decisive in Sr.'s thinking (and on his son Bill).

Best,
-R.

Posted by: Robert Light at March 21, 2003 01:33 PM
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any suggestions that Strauss was important in the elder's development.

Posted by: Hume Horan. And he thinks it's unwise to use the Saudis as a public punching bag. So I wouldn't assume that all defenders of the Saudis (or, for that matter, all critics of the neo-conservatives) have been corrupted by Saudi money.

The conservative, US-allied governments in the Middle East are in an extremely precarious situation, because of popular anger against the US.

Posted by: Russil Wvong at March 21, 2003 10:02 AM

No, Strauss was influential in Kristol Sr.'s development -- Irving wasn't a direct student of Strauss but (I assume) is "strauss inspired." He also has thoughts about Strauss in his book "Neo-Conservatism." The _Gang of Five_ book -- I skimmed the sections on Harvey Mansfield -- seems Ookay; her comments about Strauss are better than the usual denigration and ad hominem ignorance leveled at him.

To see an example of the "vast Straussian conspiracy" (ha!) at work, check out www.straussian.net -- put together by some grad students at Boston College.

Posted by: Robert Light at March 21, 2003 10:24 AM

When I wrote "(I assume) Kristol Sr. is Strauss-inspired" -- this wasn't articulated clearly. What I meant is that I wasn't sure if he studied directly under Uncle Leo (as Strauss was referred to back in the day).

In any event, it is a fact that Strauss absolutely decisive in Sr.'s thinking (and on his son Bill).

Best,
-R.

Posted by: Robert Light at March 21, 2003 01:33 PM
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