Dual Loyalties

My opinion on the people who shape our world

Sunday, January 09, 2005

World Peace Herald

World Peace Herald: "Commentary: Learning from the Saudis
By Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Published January 4, 2005

WASHINGTON -- When Islamists detonated two bombs outside Saudi Arabian security centers last week, within hours three of the leading suspected ringleaders in the kingdom had been killed and others apprehended. Yet when insurgents in Iraq killed 30 government soldiers in attacks on succeeding days, they did so with impunity and many more massacres are feared in the coming weeks.

According to the neo-conservative policymakers who have shaped U.S. Middle East policy in the Pentagon, the National Security Council and the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, it was not supposed to be this way. Indeed, it was supposed to be precisely the opposite: Iraq two years after the toppling of President Saddam Hussein was supposed to already be a pillar of regional stability pumping out enough oil to break the power of the OPEC cartel while Saudi Arabia was supposed to be the dangerous breeding ground for active Islamist terrorists.

Two of the most influential neo-con shapers of U.S. policy in the Middle East, Harold Rhode, adviser on Islamic affairs to Vice President Dick Cheney and David Wurmser, Cheney's favorite Middle East analyst who is a contender to take over the Near East Affairs Bureau at the State Department, have both repeatedly advocated the eventual partitioning of Saudi Arabia and the creation of a Shiite majority, pro-American independent state in the kingdom's oil-rich Eastern region.

More than six times the number of American soldiers has been killed in Iraq since President George W. Bush declared "mission accomplished" on May 1, 2003, than those who died during the first three weeks of occupation. Yet Rhode, Wurmser and their allies still believe Iraq policy is "on track." They believe that the elections for a new National Assembly on Jan. 30 will produce a united Shiite bloc that will look to Washington far more than to Tehran. They also still have faith that their old favorite, Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress and one of the top 10 figures on the united Shiite list of candidates, will steer the new majority in the way they want. Then, they believe, the Sunni Islamist guerrilla insurrection across Iraq will finally be crushed.

Yet, the harsh, unrelenting fact remains that the new Iraqi security forces that were rapidly rushed into existence over the past 20 months to take the burden off the exhausted and undermanned 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq have so far shown no ability to do the job.

Their morale is poor, their equipment miserable and their training derisory. U.S. military analysts fear the new forces are riddled with Islamist and former Baath agents and that in intelligence terms they therefore leak like a sieve. In Washington, many Middle East experts now opine that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld should instead have opted for building slowly and far more carefully, an elite, carefully screened and much smaller Iraqi force.

Even after the Iraqi guerrillas showed their formidable teeth by August 2003, in attacks that killed U.N. special envoy to Iraq Sergio Vieira de Mello and Shiite Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim in the same month, neo-con pundits publicly predicted the insurrection was tiny, unrepresentative, could not last and would not spread. All those predictions have been proven false.

By contrast, the repeated neo-con predictions of catastrophe and doom that they believed would rapidly fall upon Saudi Arabia have been proven completely wrong. Five years ago, with global oil prices down to an historic low of nearly $10 per barrel, there were indeed widespread concerns that the Saudis might be running out of cash to fund the generous and expensive social contract that has bought decades of peace and stability to the desert kingdom. But today, with global oil prices still well above $40 a barrel and an energy-hungry China ravenously seeking new oil supplies from as far away as Canada and Venezuela, the Saudis certainly do not lack for financial resources to fund either their social programs or their security services.

Instead, over the past year, their revitalized security services -- which were always, in reality, far more effective than hostile critics in the American media often painted them -- have scored one success against Islamist insurrectionists after another. Al-Qaida's organization in Saudi Arabia has been reeling with at least three of its directors of operations in succession killed by Saudi security in only 12 months. As a result, the Saudis have done more to dent the image of invincibility that al-Qaida instantly gained across the Middle East from the Sept. 11, 2001, mega attacks in New York City and Washington than 22 months of U.S. military operations in Iraq have managed.

The neo-cons with the enthusiastic support of Rumsfeld, Cheney and President Bush were convinced that they could "drain the swamp" of the Middle East by sweeping away repressive regimes and creating U.S.-style democracies that almost instantaneously eliminate popular support for al-Qaida and its cohorts. Instead, the opposite has occurred.

The most dangerous and effective enemies al-Qaida has had have been the mukhabarat intelligence forces of existing Arab governments, whether they be the extensive network of the Saudi monarchy, the small but highly efficient security forces of King Abdullah II in Jordan, or the intelligence service of Baathist Syria under President Bashar Assad. Indeed, Syria has been an invaluable source of intelligence on al-Qaida to the U.S. intelligence services over the past three years.

At least for the moment, the Saudi security authorities continue to clamp down on their own militants. But in neighboring Iraq, just as we noted in these columns 16 months ago, the insurgents still have the Bush administration by the throat, not the other way round."

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