The Saudi War on George Bush

Saudi Arabia has launched an undeclared war on George W. Bush. This simple fact must be understood by policy and strategy elites, the press, and the general electorate. Otherwise, the Saudis may well succeed in their tacit campaign to sabotage the long term success of America's war on terror, by engineering the electoral defeat of George W. Bush in November.

 

President Bush has provoked this response by proclaiming his intention to encourage democracy and liberalism in the Middle East, liberate the Arab masses from despotic rule, bring peace and prosperity to the region, and halt the spread of militant Islamic terror groups. Unlike past Presidents who, in varying degrees, paid lip service to these ideals, President Bush has acted decisively on them. His politically perilous actions, such as his invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, his conditioning support for a Palestinian state on the cessation of terror, corruption, and dictatorship, and his active promotion and support for liberal groups in the Arab world, have aroused Saudi fears and provoked a quiet counterattack.

 

George W. Bush seriously disrupted the previous cozy relationship that Saudi Arabia historically enjoyed with the Bush family —— and with Washington power brokers, in general. The Saudis feel that their family's absolute rule over the kingdom may be endangered, and that their efforts to spread their virulent brand of Islam, Wahabbism, may be curtailed by the current Administration. The Saudi royals may well feel abandoned, and in their disillusionment have resolved to prevent a second term for George W. Bush.

 

The Saudis traditionally had a symbiotic relationship with the Bush family and with George H.W. Bush's coterie among the policy elites of the Republican Party. The largesse of the Saudi royal family is legendary. The Saudi Ambassador to the United States, Prince Bander bin Sultan, has boasted of his success in cultivating powerful Americans:

 

If the reputation then builds that the Saudis take care of friends when they leave office, you would be surprised how much better friends you have who are just coming into office.

 

The list of ex—office holders who propagate pro—Saudi spin is a long and disgraceful one. Hume Horan is an ex—Ambassador to Saudi Arabia who is a noble exception to the rule. He says this of his former colleagues who are now on the Saudi dole:

 

There have been some people who really do go on the Saudi payroll and work as advisors and consultants. Prince Bandar is very good about massaging and promoting relationships like that.

 

This phenomenon becomes self—evident in charting the history of Bush I and his White House staffers. Former President Bush I traveled the lecture circuit in Arab lands, earning upwards of $100,000 an appearance. Sentiment—tinged gifts to his Presidential Library and $500,000 to fund a scholarship in his name at Phillips Academy Andover (son George W's preparatory school, not coincidentally) are certainly important, but pale in comparison to his profits from participating in the Carlyle Group.

 

The Carlyle Group is a supremely successful merchant bank, which also has James Baker (Bush I consiglieri) and Brent Scowcroft (Bush I National Security Adviser) as partners.  This particular investment group has enjoyed access to investment funds from the Saudi royal family. Undoubtedly, the triumvirate of former officials, none of them previously renowned for investment prowess, has handsomely prospered from the arrangement.

 

One—sided relationships are fleeting and rare in the political world, and one is entitled to ask what the Saudis have received in return for their munificent gestures. Publicly, James Baker and Brent Scowcroft have written editorials critical of the approach Bush II has taken towards the Middle East (particularly his support for Israel and regime change in the dictatorships that rule the Arab world). The New York Times reported in 2001 that Bush I had phoned the Saudis in Bush IIs's presence, and assured them that his son would do the 'right thing' with regard to the Israeli—Palestinian conflict. Presumably, this meant pressuring the Israelis.

 

This sort of arrangement, a comforting one for the Saudis, whose sybaritic lifestyles promoted a level of comfort unknown to all but a few human beings in the history of mankind, began to end as the two Boeing 767s approached the World Trade Center on that fateful morning over two years ago.

 

The terror attacks convinced George W. Bush that America's approach to the Middle East needed to be drastically changed, to ensure America's safety. His campaign to oust the Taliban from theocratic rule in Afghanistan and his defeat of Saddam Hussein sent a message to the Saudis that 'business as usual' was a thing of the past. In calling for liberalism throughout the Arab world and for the acceptance of other religions, Bush challenged the support structure of the Saudi royal family, whose legitimacy is predicated on their role as defender of Islam's holy sites and propagator of the faith.

 

Much more importantly, in severing the ties that once bound, Bush II has declared that the ties of filial duty, which both animate and constrain the dynamics of the Saudi royal family, do not matter so much in his family. Not anymore, at least, no matter what the former appearances. In doing so, George Bush has become an apostate to the Saudis. It is not merely a matter of interests, but rather an issue of deep principle, fundamentally linked to their own way of life, and to their survival.

 

From the vantage point of the Saudis, Bush II is not just unreliable, but also a danger. He is a self—identified born—again Christian, and is closely allied with the religious wing of the Republican Party. In a theocratic nation which forbids the practice of Christianity, a leader linked to rival religion is anathema. In their eyes (as well as those of some of President Bush's most ardent opponents) he may seem to be something of a theocrat himself, but from a longstanding historical rival religion.

 

When the President's Christian moorings are combined with the exaggerated role that Jewish neo—cons supposedly have in the White House (once again the fevered imaginations of the Saudis bear some resemblance to those of the President's most extreme domestic antagonists), trouble of the most fundamental sort looms for their regime. All along, the fanatic Wahabbi wing of the clergy has preached that a holy war exists with the West, and that accommodation with the infidels can only be a tactical pause in the eventual all—out war. From their perspective, it is easy to understand why George W. Bush —— the Christian 'puppet of the Jews,' and thus the embodiment of Wahabbi nightmares —— needs to be removed from office.

 

How have the Saudis acted to destroy George Bush's political career? By using the 'oil weapon' to torpedo the American economy over the next eight months, and thereby weaken electoral support for George W. Bush's candidacy in November.

 

The Saudis have traditionally been a swing producer within OPEC, acting to ensure oil prices remain 'just so —— not too high, not too low' by increasing or decreasing their marginal production. Oil prices which are too high may encourage conservation and the development of alternative energy supplies. Prices which are too high also weaken the Western economies where Saudi Arabia's investments must be parked.

 

However, this historical concern seems to have been trumped by Saudi short term desires to inflict as much pain on the American economy as it can, by raising oil prices in the run—up to November.

 

By restricting OPEC output since the end of hostilities in Iraq, the Saudis have forced oil prices up over the past several months. The American economic recovery is being slowly, almost imperceptibly, throttled. From a low of $23.61 per barrel in May, 2003, average crude oil prices have risen rather steadily, to $31.03 last month, up nearly one—third in eight months. If this rate of increase continues over the next eight months, the economic consequences for America will be grim.

 

Jobs are not being created at the expected rate, and increasing voter dissatisfaction with the President is shown in public opinion polling, with jobs and the economy heading the list of concerns. Additionally, the Saudis may have been reducing their holdings of petrodollars and converting them into non—dollar denominated assets. This has hurt the value of the dollar. Money flows are difficult to follow, and currency manipulation may have unintended consequences, but a proxy for the Saudi desire to hurt America may be seen in the increasing number of oil field contracts going to non—US companies.

 

The other factor which may hurt Bush's chances for reelection is the situation in Iraq. Terrorists have been streaming in from Saudi Arabia, to wreak havoc and fund terror groups, despite protestations to the contrary by Saudi spinmeisters. Although attacks have been trending downward, an increase over the next several months would trigger renewed cries of 'quagmire!'

 

On the domestic front, Saudi—funded think tanks such as the Meridian International Center and the Middle East Institute have been a fount of op—ed writers and experts on cable news channels, who criticize President Bush. The Middle East Institute (headed by ex—Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Edward Walker) is the home of one of President Bush's fiercest critics, Joseph Wilson. Mr. Wilson was at the center of a scandal that plagued the White House when Wilson charged that the White House had leaked to columnist Robert Novak the information that Wilson's wife was a CIA agent, thereby putatively endangering her.

 

Wilson has proudly declared that his goal in life is to destroy George Bush's Presidency. It is telling that this man, who has no campaign experience, was recently hired by the Kerry campaign. Given that Wilson is also a fierce critic of Israel, the Saudis seem to have spent their money wisely.

 

The Saudis require stealth for their plan to succeed. They cannot be seen to be suddenly, openly, and catastrophically retaliating against President Bush, as OPEC did with its 1973 oil boycott in the wake of Israeli victory in war. The American public is in no mood to be pushed around by feudal Arab regimes. Instead, they have opted to quietly tighten the noose on the American economy, hoping to escape public blame.

 

The Bush Administration, which still needs to deal with the Saudis, and many other repressive Arab regimes on the receiving end of Saudi largesse, undoubtedly perceives what is going on, but is constrained by the norms of diplomacy from openly acknowledging the reality of the situation. Voices urging accommodation with the Saudis are still heard within the State Department and elsewhere in the foreign policy apparatus. 

 

Neither the Bush Administration nor the Saudis can afford to have explicit and open conflict disrupt important ongoing common interests. Third parties also depend on the smooth flow of oil to markets. Nobody wants a cessation of Saudi oil exports or any other extreme measures, which could cripple America economically, and disrupt our military readiness, not to mention the disastrous consequences for poorer countries.

 

Nevertheless, it appears to be the case that the Saudis are engaged in a silent slow motion war with George W. Bush's Administration, aimed at limiting his Presidency to a single term. If they continue with this plan, Republicans can take nothing for granted in November.

Saudi Arabia has launched an undeclared war on George W. Bush. This simple fact must be understood by policy and strategy elites, the press, and the general electorate. Otherwise, the Saudis may well succeed in their tacit campaign to sabotage the long term success of America's war on terror, by engineering the electoral defeat of George W. Bush in November.

 

President Bush has provoked this response by proclaiming his intention to encourage democracy and liberalism in the Middle East, liberate the Arab masses from despotic rule, bring peace and prosperity to the region, and halt the spread of militant Islamic terror groups. Unlike past Presidents who, in varying degrees, paid lip service to these ideals, President Bush has acted decisively on them. His politically perilous actions, such as his invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, his conditioning support for a Palestinian state on the cessation of terror, corruption, and dictatorship, and his active promotion and support for liberal groups in the Arab world, have aroused Saudi fears and provoked a quiet counterattack.

 

George W. Bush seriously disrupted the previous cozy relationship that Saudi Arabia historically enjoyed with the Bush family —— and with Washington power brokers, in general. The Saudis feel that their family's absolute rule over the kingdom may be endangered, and that their efforts to spread their virulent brand of Islam, Wahabbism, may be curtailed by the current Administration. The Saudi royals may well feel abandoned, and in their disillusionment have resolved to prevent a second term for George W. Bush.

 

The Saudis traditionally had a symbiotic relationship with the Bush family and with George H.W. Bush's coterie among the policy elites of the Republican Party. The largesse of the Saudi royal family is legendary. The Saudi Ambassador to the United States, Prince Bander bin Sultan, has boasted of his success in cultivating powerful Americans:

 

If the reputation then builds that the Saudis take care of friends when they leave office, you would be surprised how much better friends you have who are just coming into office.

 

The list of ex—office holders who propagate pro—Saudi spin is a long and disgraceful one. Hume Horan is an ex—Ambassador to Saudi Arabia who is a noble exception to the rule. He says this of his former colleagues who are now on the Saudi dole:

 

There have been some people who really do go on the Saudi payroll and work as advisors and consultants. Prince Bandar is very good about massaging and promoting relationships like that.

 

This phenomenon becomes self—evident in charting the history of Bush I and his White House staffers. Former President Bush I traveled the lecture circuit in Arab lands, earning upwards of $100,000 an appearance. Sentiment—tinged gifts to his Presidential Library and $500,000 to fund a scholarship in his name at Phillips Academy Andover (son George W's preparatory school, not coincidentally) are certainly important, but pale in comparison to his profits from participating in the Carlyle Group.

 

The Carlyle Group is a supremely successful merchant bank, which also has James Baker (Bush I consiglieri) and Brent Scowcroft (Bush I National Security Adviser) as partners.  This particular investment group has enjoyed access to investment funds from the Saudi royal family. Undoubtedly, the triumvirate of former officials, none of them previously renowned for investment prowess, has handsomely prospered from the arrangement.

 

One—sided relationships are fleeting and rare in the political world, and one is entitled to ask what the Saudis have received in return for their munificent gestures. Publicly, James Baker and Brent Scowcroft have written editorials critical of the approach Bush II has taken towards the Middle East (particularly his support for Israel and regime change in the dictatorships that rule the Arab world). The New York Times reported in 2001 that Bush I had phoned the Saudis in Bush IIs's presence, and assured them that his son would do the 'right thing' with regard to the Israeli—Palestinian conflict. Presumably, this meant pressuring the Israelis.

 

This sort of arrangement, a comforting one for the Saudis, whose sybaritic lifestyles promoted a level of comfort unknown to all but a few human beings in the history of mankind, began to end as the two Boeing 767s approached the World Trade Center on that fateful morning over two years ago.

 

The terror attacks convinced George W. Bush that America's approach to the Middle East needed to be drastically changed, to ensure America's safety. His campaign to oust the Taliban from theocratic rule in Afghanistan and his defeat of Saddam Hussein sent a message to the Saudis that 'business as usual' was a thing of the past. In calling for liberalism throughout the Arab world and for the acceptance of other religions, Bush challenged the support structure of the Saudi royal family, whose legitimacy is predicated on their role as defender of Islam's holy sites and propagator of the faith.

 

Much more importantly, in severing the ties that once bound, Bush II has declared that the ties of filial duty, which both animate and constrain the dynamics of the Saudi royal family, do not matter so much in his family. Not anymore, at least, no matter what the former appearances. In doing so, George Bush has become an apostate to the Saudis. It is not merely a matter of interests, but rather an issue of deep principle, fundamentally linked to their own way of life, and to their survival.

 

From the vantage point of the Saudis, Bush II is not just unreliable, but also a danger. He is a self—identified born—again Christian, and is closely allied with the religious wing of the Republican Party. In a theocratic nation which forbids the practice of Christianity, a leader linked to rival religion is anathema. In their eyes (as well as those of some of President Bush's most ardent opponents) he may seem to be something of a theocrat himself, but from a longstanding historical rival religion.

 

When the President's Christian moorings are combined with the exaggerated role that Jewish neo—cons supposedly have in the White House (once again the fevered imaginations of the Saudis bear some resemblance to those of the President's most extreme domestic antagonists), trouble of the most fundamental sort looms for their regime. All along, the fanatic Wahabbi wing of the clergy has preached that a holy war exists with the West, and that accommodation with the infidels can only be a tactical pause in the eventual all—out war. From their perspective, it is easy to understand why George W. Bush —— the Christian 'puppet of the Jews,' and thus the embodiment of Wahabbi nightmares —— needs to be removed from office.

 

How have the Saudis acted to destroy George Bush's political career? By using the 'oil weapon' to torpedo the American economy over the next eight months, and thereby weaken electoral support for George W. Bush's candidacy in November.

 

The Saudis have traditionally been a swing producer within OPEC, acting to ensure oil prices remain 'just so —— not too high, not too low' by increasing or decreasing their marginal production. Oil prices which are too high may encourage conservation and the development of alternative energy supplies. Prices which are too high also weaken the Western economies where Saudi Arabia's investments must be parked.

 

However, this historical concern seems to have been trumped by Saudi short term desires to inflict as much pain on the American economy as it can, by raising oil prices in the run—up to November.

 

By restricting OPEC output since the end of hostilities in Iraq, the Saudis have forced oil prices up over the past several months. The American economic recovery is being slowly, almost imperceptibly, throttled. From a low of $23.61 per barrel in May, 2003, average crude oil prices have risen rather steadily, to $31.03 last month, up nearly one—third in eight months. If this rate of increase continues over the next eight months, the economic consequences for America will be grim.

 

Jobs are not being created at the expected rate, and increasing voter dissatisfaction with the President is shown in public opinion polling, with jobs and the economy heading the list of concerns. Additionally, the Saudis may have been reducing their holdings of petrodollars and converting them into non—dollar denominated assets. This has hurt the value of the dollar. Money flows are difficult to follow, and currency manipulation may have unintended consequences, but a proxy for the Saudi desire to hurt America may be seen in the increasing number of oil field contracts going to non—US companies.

 

The other factor which may hurt Bush's chances for reelection is the situation in Iraq. Terrorists have been streaming in from Saudi Arabia, to wreak havoc and fund terror groups, despite protestations to the contrary by Saudi spinmeisters. Although attacks have been trending downward, an increase over the next several months would trigger renewed cries of 'quagmire!'

 

On the domestic front, Saudi—funded think tanks such as the Meridian International Center and the Middle East Institute have been a fount of op—ed writers and experts on cable news channels, who criticize President Bush. The Middle East Institute (headed by ex—Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Edward Walker) is the home of one of President Bush's fiercest critics, Joseph Wilson. Mr. Wilson was at the center of a scandal that plagued the White House when Wilson charged that the White House had leaked to columnist Robert Novak the information that Wilson's wife was a CIA agent, thereby putatively endangering her.

 

Wilson has proudly declared that his goal in life is to destroy George Bush's Presidency. It is telling that this man, who has no campaign experience, was recently hired by the Kerry campaign. Given that Wilson is also a fierce critic of Israel, the Saudis seem to have spent their money wisely.

 

The Saudis require stealth for their plan to succeed. They cannot be seen to be suddenly, openly, and catastrophically retaliating against President Bush, as OPEC did with its 1973 oil boycott in the wake of Israeli victory in war. The American public is in no mood to be pushed around by feudal Arab regimes. Instead, they have opted to quietly tighten the noose on the American economy, hoping to escape public blame.

 

The Bush Administration, which still needs to deal with the Saudis, and many other repressive Arab regimes on the receiving end of Saudi largesse, undoubtedly perceives what is going on, but is constrained by the norms of diplomacy from openly acknowledging the reality of the situation. Voices urging accommodation with the Saudis are still heard within the State Department and elsewhere in the foreign policy apparatus. 

 

Neither the Bush Administration nor the Saudis can afford to have explicit and open conflict disrupt important ongoing common interests. Third parties also depend on the smooth flow of oil to markets. Nobody wants a cessation of Saudi oil exports or any other extreme measures, which could cripple America economically, and disrupt our military readiness, not to mention the disastrous consequences for poorer countries.

 

Nevertheless, it appears to be the case that the Saudis are engaged in a silent slow motion war with George W. Bush's Administration, aimed at limiting his Presidency to a single term. If they continue with this plan, Republicans can take nothing for granted in November.