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Monday, October 06, 2003

Bush and the Saudis

In the October issue of The American Prospect, Michael Steinberger has an article (also posted on-line) entitled, "Bush's Saudi Connections; And why this is a crucial issue in 2004."

Basically Steinberger weaves a thread through a number of news stories that have appeared over the past couple of years. Some of the anti-Saudi material is familiar:

** Osama bin Laden is a Saudi and 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi (even if Americans mysteriously believe Saddam Hussein was behind the attacks).

** Saudi Arabia is the home of the Wahhabite sect of Islam that "educates" the young men who are recruited into a life of terrorism.

** The Saudi family finances terrorism. This includes direct and indirect payments to al Qaeda and anti-Israel groups, such as Hamas.

Steinberger then turns to the more explosive claim that the President, his family, and the administration are directly connected to the Saudis and have acted to head off investigations or public disclosures that might upset the relationship. Consider:

** Almost immediately after the 9/11 attacks, the Saudi government was allowed to "spirit" two dozen members of bin Laden's family out of the US before the FBI could interview them thoroughly. Byron York of National Review Online previously asked lots of questions about this dubious decision.

** George H.W. Bush is a Senior Advisor in the defense-related Carlyle Group, which also counted wealthy members of bin Laden family among its investors. The right-leaning group Judicial Watch has been harping on the link since 9/11. There are also concerns about conflicts-of-interest given that Carlyle is a defense contractor and Junior Bush is quite friendly to the defense sector.

** As I noted previously, many members of Congress and 9/11 families are dissatisfied because the government failed to release a lengthy section about Saudi Arabia when it last reported on the 9/11 investigation.

** Saudi Arabia bankrolled the Bush Presidential Library, Dick Cheney's old company, Halliburton, obtained many lucrative contracts from Saudi Arabia, and James Baker's Texas law firm has been retained to defend the Saudis against lawsuits brought by 9/11 family members. Even the business press (such as Fortune magazine) has noted some of the odd connections.

It is not controversial to be unhappy with the world's addiction to Saudi oil, with the American tolerance of a corrupt and oppressive regime, and with the apparent link to terrorism. For more information, see Robert Baer's article on "The Fall of the House of Saud" in the May 2003 Atlantic, which is not on-line because the author has a new book on the same topic (of course, a diligent surfer might be able to find it).

In any event, Steinberger's conclusion is much more controversial. He says the Democrats running for President should use this story (and the unanswered questions) to bash Bush on the way to winning the White House in 2004.

Someone posting to one of the John Kerry blogs reproduced the story in late September, but otherwise I haven't seen any evidence that Steinberger's argument is being taken seriously.

Personally, I'm not sure how this story would resonate with voters. Does it sound too much like a wacky conspiracy theory?

The Democrats would almost certainly have to nominate someone squeakly clean on this issue. Does that mean Howard Dean? As I noted oreviously, Dean has been talking about energy a little bit, but that's clearly not the issue that has brought him so much attention and cash.

By contrast, Wesley Clark has ambiguous ties to George Soros (Clark and Soros, for example are on the board of the International Crisis Group, which Soros's Open Society Institute gave $2.5 million), who has ties to the Carlyle Group. I'm not pointing that out to foment some sort of odd conspiracy theory -- just to note that global elites are often closely networked to one another (regardless of political party or nationality), and that trying to play the "Saudi card" might be quite difficult for a Democratic candidate for President given the party's own connections to people with deep pockets.

So I guess today's entry turns out to be a roundabout argument for public financing of political campaigns!

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