Sunday, April 25, 2004

The Saudis and the Iraq war 

There are a couple of interesting items today involving the Saudis, which I am sure that people smarter than I am will dissect.

First, the Associated Press is reporting that the "Saudis aided in Iraq more than thought":

But senior political and military officials from both countries told The Associated Press the Saudi royal family permitted widespread military operations to be staged from inside the kingdom during the coalition force's invasion of Iraq.

These officials would only talk on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity and the fact that some operational details remain classified.

While the heart of the ground attack came from Kuwait, thousands of special forces soldiers were permitted to stage their operations into Iraq from inside Saudi Arabia, the officials said. These staging areas became essential once Turkey declined to allow U.S. forces to operate from its soil.

In addition, U.S. and coalition aircraft launched attacks, reconnaissance flights and intelligence missions from three Saudi air bases, not just the Prince Sultan Air Base where U.S. officials have acknowledged activity.

Apart from the obvious question it begs ("more than thought" by whom? -- I assumed that the Saudis were helping a lot), it interests me that the story should surface as news now. Obviously, somebody inside the Administration thought that it was a good time to improve the image of the Saudis inside the United States. Why?

One reason -- a cynical one -- is that the Bush family is very closely associated with the Saudi royals. The Bush-Saud relationship has become more public recently, including in connection with the claim that the Saudis promised to push down oil prices ahead of the U.S. elections this November. Meanwhile, the reputation of the Saudi royal family in the United States, and of Saudi Arabian society in general, has suffered tremendously in the last three years, and for good reason. Perhaps the Bush Administration is trying to burnish the image of the Saudis ever so slightly so as to armor itself against criticism that the Bush family is too chummy with the House of Saud.

There are, however, several possible geopolitical reasons for signalling that the American-Saudi relationship remains strong. First, the Saudis are increasingly under attack from Islamist terrorists, perhaps because the jihadists have interpreted the substantial withdrawal of the American military from Saudi Arabia as a signal that we will not support the Saudis if the chips are down. Second, the Saudis have felt it necessary to be very critical of the United States recently, particularly over its support for, or failure to withdraw support from, the Sharon government. We may be interested in blunting that criticism by "outing" the Saudi support for the Iraq war, which the Saudis are obviously not eager to publicize within the Arab world. Finally, it may be helpful to us if Iraqis, including some of the Sunnis who are actively resisting the American occupation, understand that Saudi Arabia was an active supporter of the invasion.

Separately, Reuters is reporting that Prince Bandar suggested a year ago that the United States buy off the Iraqi army, and that a lot of the bloodshed since then could have been avoided had we done this. This was a very wise suggestion on Bandar's part, and it is advice that the American command and the CPA should have taken. For at least 700 years, and probably for much longer than that, any student of history has understood that unemployed soldiers are to be avoided if humanly possible. In disbanding the Iraqi army, we recreated brigandage, one of the three great scourages of 14th century Europe, when unemployed men-at-arms terrorized a population dying of plague and paralyzed by the schism of the Church. The solution then, as now, was to employ the unemployed soldiers. We should have done it a year ago, and we should do it now if we still have the chance.


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