Saudi-US rift rewards terrorists
By Hassan Yassin
Like so many of my fellow Saudi Arabians, I am and always have been a friend of the United States. Never have I doubted that the US is a friend of ours.
However, recent events and the spiraling level of criticism directed at Saudi Arabia have called into question the durability of our friendship and brought about a situation that few of us would ever have believed possible: The United States of America and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are drifting apart.
That this should be causing us the most profound concern and the greatest sorrow should come as no surprise to anyone who truly understands our relationship, because this strain is wholly unnecessary.
Reasonable people, in my country and the US, assessing our long-standing and deep-rooted ties can but ask themselves how it is possible that relations have deteriorated so swiftly.
A few days ago I was invited to dinner at the US Consulate in Jeddah, and a visiting staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee asked the simple question: Why does Saudi Arabia wish to maintain good relations with the United States?
I began my answer by recalling just how good those relations have been for the last 80 years.
None of us have ever forgotten that during World War I, when the countries of the Middle East were still subjected to British and French imperialism, the US supported our struggle for self-determination and independence and continued to do so until those dreams of independence were realized. Later, when the British, French and Israelis invaded Egypt during the Suez Crisis of 1956, the US did not hesitate to turn against its allies and destroy their ambitions.
And yet this has not been a one-sided relationship. Arabs and Muslims across the Middle East allied themselves with the US in its fight against the spread of communism, particularly during the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan; and we stood side by side with Washington when Saddam Hussein’s forces invaded Kuwait.
Indeed, our only serious disagreement with the US has been over its policy toward the vexing issue of Palestine and Israel. Yet we have never suggested that if you are not with us then you are against us. Instead, despite often being poles apart on this issue, we have not hesitated to try to come up with solutions to resolve the crisis.
Almost by definition, friendship has to be able to accommodate differences of opinion, and differences of opinion should not be enough in itself to terminate friendship. For example, the US has a strong relationship with the European Union, all of whose constituent countries, apart from Britain, are firmly set against Washington’s intention to go to war with Iraq. Yet no one would seriously argue that the US will end its relationship with the European Union because of this.
Matters are perhaps coming to a head because we are approaching the first anniversary of the heinous acts that took place on Sept. 11, perpetrated by 19 terrorists, 15 of whom were Saudi nationals and all of whom were guided in their actions by another former Saudi national, Osama bin Laden.
The government of Saudi Arabia has apologized repeatedly and expressed its profound sorrow both for what happened and for the fact that so many Saudis were involved.
But endless analysis of such criminal madness can only lead us to conclude that Bin Laden involved other Saudi nationals in order to engineer exactly the consequences that we are now witnessing: a growing rift between our two countries that could soon, and entirely unnecessarily, develop into enmity. Bin Laden himself stated that his avowed intent was to orchestrate not just attacks on the US but also the overthrow of the Saudi government.
We are all agreed that he must not succeed. So Saudi Arabia will continue to support the US in its war against terrorism, and it fervently wishes to be a partner in this struggle.
The US must surely realize that we will achieve this much more swiftly if we are united rather than divided. Instead of expending our energies on creating divisions between our countries, we should be doing all that we can to cement our mutual ties.
If our two nations can work together to root out the causes and the perpetrators of terrorism, and to avert any further horrendous acts of violence, then we will have done far more to honor the memory of those who died so needlessly on 9/11 than any war of words or deterioration in relations will ever achieve.
So why does Saudi Arabia want good relations with the United States? The answer is as simple as the question—because friendship works. —AN