Saudi Arabia: The Neocons’ Once and Future Target
By Stephen J. Sniegoski
The Passionate Attachment
August 28, 2012
The American removal of Saddam had seemingly led to Iranian and Shiite ascendancy in the Middle East, with the Shiite demographic majority being able to dominate Iraq’s national government, though an autonomous Kurdish region was created, and the Sunnis threatened a civil war. A new pro-Iran Shiite crescent emerged extending from Iraq to Lebanon, as Hezbollah gained power in the latter country. It should be noted that Assad’s Syria, Iran’s principal ally, has been something of an outlier here since its alliance with Iran has been based on national interest, not on religion or ideology. For Syria is a secular nationalist state, and while its politically dominant Alawites are an offshoot from Shiism, they are regarded as heretics by the orthodox Shiites because of their non-Muslim belief in the divinity of Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law.
Sunni rulers in the Gulf, especially the Saudi leadership, viewed the extension of Shiite/Iranian power and influence with much trepidation. This was greatly compounded by the fact that the “Arab spring” induced their own oppressed Shiite population, in the oil-rich Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia and in neighboring Bahrain, where they constituted demographic majorities, to engage in protests for greater freedom and a more equitable sharing of the wealth. In February 2011, after weeks of largely Shiite pro-democracy demonstrations against the Bahrain monarchy, Saudi Arabia, at the behest of the Bahraini royal family, intervened militarily, along with troops from Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (under the aegis of Gulf Cooperation Council), to effectively crush the protests.
The Saudis also sought to undercut this expanding Iranian influence by aiding the largely Sunni rebels against the Assad pro-Iranian regime. With additional support from the West, Turkey, and, in all likelihood, Israel, this revolt has reached the stage where the fall of the Assad regime has become a real possibility.
The fall of Assad would seriously weaken Iran’s ability to inflict harm on Israel in retaliation against an attack by Israel or the United States. And the goal of Likudnik-led Israel and the neocons is not simply to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, but to so weaken the country as to make it incapable of opposing Israel in any significant way—which most probably would entail the elimination of the Islamic regime. But should Iran fall, the Likudnik-neocon war agenda would still not be complete. It is very likely that Saudi Arabia would be the next target, especially since it has already been mentioned in the neocon war agenda.
The involvement of Saudi nationals in the 9/11 terror attacks had provided grist for the contention that the Saudi government itself bore responsibility for Islamic terrorism. For example, not long after 9/11, neocon David Wurmser claimed in his article “The Saudi Connection: Osama bin Laden’s a Lot Closer to the Saudi Royal Family Than You Think” in the neocon “Weekly Standard” (October 29, 2001) that the Saudi royal family had actually been behind the atrocity.
Max Singer, co-founder of the neoconservative Hudson Institute and a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in Israel, contended in a May 2002 article that the Saudi brand of Islam, “Wahhabism,” constituted the major terror threat in the world. (A dual citizen, Singer has since moved to Israel. He is now Research Director of the Institute for Zionist Strategies in Jerusalem where he resides.) To counter this supposed danger, he claimed that it was essential for the United States to attack and dismember Saudi Arabia itself, liberating the Eastern Province. “It is well within the power of the U.S.,” Singer contended, “to make it possible for the EP [Eastern Province] to become independent from the Wahhabis, a new Muslim Republic of East Arabia.” Singer would reiterate this view in a presentation to the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment in August 2002.
On June 6, 2002, the Hudson Institute, which included on its Board of Trustees not only Singer, but also such prominent neoconservatives as Richard Perle and Donald Kagan, sponsored a seminar, “Discourses on Democracy: Saudi Arabia, Friend or Foe?,” with the strong implication that “foe” was the right answer. Shortly afterwards, on June 19, 2002, the Hudson Institute hosted a discussion of the book “Hatred’s Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism” by Dore Gold, who had served the government of Israel as ambassador to the United Nations and had been an advisor to Prime Ministers Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon.
The American born and educated Gold depicted Saudi Arabia as the main force behind Islamic terrorism. It was not enough for the United States to win military victories over Afghanistan and Iraq, he argued: “But unless the ideological motivation for terrorism is addressed and, indeed, extinguished, then the war on terror will not be won. Saudi Arabia is the breeding ground for Wahhabi extremism and consequently the source of the hatred that impels international terrorist organizations.” (“Hatred’s Kingdom,” 245)
Gold held that the “incitement and hatred emanating from mosques and featured in textbooks or on national television networks” in Saudi Arabia needed to be “monitored and collected” by the international community “because such incitement leads to horrible violence.” (“Hatred’s Kingdom,” 247) In short, it was essential that the international community – meaning Israel, the United States and likeminded nations–determine what ideas could be promulgated in Saudi Arabia.
Neocons within the Bush administration were circumspect about their anti-Saudi program, in recognition of Saudi Arabia’s traditional alliance with the United States revolving around oil and the Bush family’s ties to the Saudi regime, but they risked bringing it out in the open on a few occasions. On July 10, 2002, Laurent Murawiec, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, briefed the Defense Policy Board, the advisory panel for the Department of Defense, about Saudi Arabia, at the behest of board chairman Richard Perle. Murawiec described the kingdom as the principal supporter of anti-Americanism. “Saudi Arabia,” Murawiec pontificated, “is central to the self-destruction of the Arab world and the chief vector of the Arab crisis and its outwardly directed aggression. The Saudis are active at every level of the terror chain, from planners to financiers, from cadre to foot soldier, from ideologist to cheerleader. Saudi Arabia supports our enemies and attacks our allies; a daily outpouring of virulent hatred against the U.S. from Saudi media, ‘educational’ institutions, clerics, officials–Saudis tell us one thing in private, [but they] do the contrary in reality.”
Murawiec said that the United States should demand that Riyadh stop funding fundamentalist Islamic outlets around the world; that it prohibit all anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli propaganda in the country; and that it “prosecute or isolate those involved in the terror chain, including in the Saudi intelligence services.” If the Saudi government refused to comply with that ultimatum, Murawiec held that the United States should invade and occupy the country, including the holy sites of Mecca and Medina, seize its oil fields, and confiscate its financial assets.
Although the Bush administration disavowed Murawiec’s scenario as having nothing to do with actual American foreign policy, it was quite apparent that Perle shared Murawiec’s anti-Saudi position. In their “An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror,” Perle and his co-author David Frum, who crafted Bush’s notorious Axis-of-Evil speech, wrote that “The Saudis qualify for their own membership in the axis of evil.” Frum and Perle explicitly rejected the traditional American policy of friendship with the Saudi rulers: “For thirty years, U.S. Saudi policy has been guided by the dogma that, problematic as the Saudi monarchy is, it is better than any likely alternative. September 11 should have dispelled that illusion forever.” (“End to Evil,” 138)
Frum and Perle were especially concerned about the Saudis’ funding of “terrorism,” with “terrorism” interpreted very broadly. Thus it was essential for the United States to “Demand that the Saudis cease the Wahhabi missionary efforts in the United States and elsewhere abroad.” (Frum and Perle, “End to Evil,” 139) Moreover, Frum and Perle stated that the United States should “Warn the Saudis that anything less than their utmost cooperation in the war on terror will have the severest consequences for the Saudi state.” Implied was American support for the severance of the oil-producing Eastern Province from Saudi Arabia. “Independence for the Eastern Province would obviously be a catastrophic outcome for the Saudi state,” Frum and Perle opined. “But it might be a very good outcome for the United States. Certainly, it’s an outcome to ponder.” (“End to Evil,” 139)
The July/August 2002 issue of “Commentary” contained an article titled “Our Enemies, the Saudis” by historian Victor Davis Hanson, in which he wrote: “Saudi Arabia is the placenta of this frightening phenomenon [radical Islam]. Its money has financed it; its native terrorists promote it . . . . Surely it has occurred to more than a few Americans that, without a petroleum-rich Wahhabism, the support for such international killers and the considerable degree of ongoing aid to those who would destroy the West would radically diminish.” To deal with the alleged Saudi menace, Hanson advocated a United States policy “to spark disequilibrium, if not outright chaos” in Saudi Arabia. “Even should fundamental changes go wrong in Saudi Arabia, the worst that could happen would not be much worse than what we have now.”
The leading neoconservative expert on Saudi Arabia (acclaimed an expert even in non-neocon circles, although lacking academic credentials) was Stephen Schwartz, author of numerous articles and a best-selling book, “The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa’ud from Tradition to Terror” (Doubleday, 2002), in which he posited a Saudi/Wahhabist conspiracy to take over all of Islam and spread terror throughout the entire world. Schwartz, the son of a Jewish father and gentile mother, has a rather bizarre history, being at one time a member of a left-wing revolutionary Trotskyite revolutionary group and using the name Comrade Sandalio, and then converting to Islam (becoming a student of Sufism and an adherent of the Hanafi school of Islam since 1997), taking the name Suleyman Ahmed and now often going by the name Stephen Suleyman Schwartz. In fact, Schwartz remained attached to Trotsky, writing in the conservative “National Review” (online, June 11, 2003): “To my last breath I will defend the Trotsky who alone . . . said no to Soviet coddling of Hitlerism, to the Moscow purges, and to the betrayal of the Spanish Republic, and who had the capacity to admit he had been wrong about the imposition of a single-party state, as well as about the fate of the Jewish people.”
Schwartz endeared himself to neoconservatives not for his apologias for Trotsky, though some neocons once had connections with Trotskyism, but by his bashing of Saudi Arabia. Neocon luminary Bill Kristol wrote that “No one has done more to expose the radical, Saudi-Wahhabi face of Islam than Stephen Schwartz.”
In his “The Two Faces of Islam,” Schwartz argued that there were essentially two fundamentally different types of Islam. Mainstream Islam was basically benign and tolerant of other religions. The Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia, in contrast, allegedly preached hatred and violence toward other religions, including other versions of Islam, and was thus not authentic Islam at all. “The real source of our problem,” Schwartz wrote in the preface, “is the perversion of Islamic teachings by the fascistic Wahhabi cult that resides at the heart of the Saudi establishment.” (“Two Faces of Islam,” xiii)
Schwartz went so far in his polemic against the Saudi government as to claim that Osama bin Laden was not really an enemy of the Saudi regime, but remained “courteous to the Saudi rulers.” (“Two Faces of Islam,” 117-18) Indeed, Schwartz presented Osama as nothing more than a member of the Saudi government’s worldwide Wahhabi terrorist network. In actuality, Osama, in December 2004, called for the overthrow of the Saudi monarchy in a taped message posted on a website, which was followed by a number of terrorist attacks in the kingdom.
In an apparent flight from reality, Schwartz equated the global threat of Saudi Arabia to that of the totalitarian military mega-powers of Communist Russia and Nazi Germany. “With the collapse of the Soviet state,” Schwartz wrote, “Wahhabism effectively replaced the Communist movement as the main sponsor of international ideological aggression against the democratic West.” (“Two Faces of Islam,” 175-76) And in the Saudi regime’s alleged totalitarian social control, Schwartz saw similarities to Stalinist Russia. “In this respect,” Schwartz opined, “Saudi Arabia resembles the Soviet Union at the height of Stalin’s forced collectivizations and famines in the early 1930s; outsiders see only what the regime wants them to see.”(“Two Faces of Islam,” 260)
In Schwartz’s delusional view, the “Wahhabi-Saudi regime . . . embodies a program for the ruthless conquest of power and a war of extermination against ‘the other,’ Islamic as well as Judeo-Christian.” (“Two Faces of Islam,” 179-180). Saudi Arabia had to be annihilated, Schwartz insisted, just as had been the case with Nazi Germany. “The war against terrorist Wahhabism is therefore a war to the death, as the second world war was a war to the death against fascism.” (“Two Faces of Islam,” 180)
As Iran became the primary neocon target for war, Saudi Arabia and its “expert” Stephen Schwartz were relegated to the periphery, even though Schwartz began to equate “political Shiism” as a malevolent danger comparable to Wahhabism. Schwartz, however, has not been forgotten. With neocon Daniel Pipes (who is the founder of Campus Watch, a group that monitors university professors of Middle Eastern and Islamic studies for alleged anti-American and anti-Zionist views), Schwartz founded the Center for Islamic Pluralism (CIP), for which he now serves as Executive Director. He is also currently listed as an adjunct scholar with Middle East Forum, headed by Pipes.
And he has also been a senior policy analyst, and the director of the Islam and Democracy program at the neocon Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Schwartz even appears to have some status in the mainstream liberal community, being a blogger on the popular “Huffington Post.”
The upshot of this is that Schwartz, whom some write off as a nut, retains standing in the neoconservative community and could very likely return to the forefront if there is a move against Saudi Arabia.
It is understandable why neocons would support Schwartz since he expresses deep loyalty to Israel. Although a convert to Islam, Schwartz contends that Israel is “historic, sacred land of the Jews . . . given to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob by the Almighty as their eternal home.” He claims to derive his view from “‘unequivocal statements’ from the Qur’an.” That he is a Muslim intellectual who professes loyalty to Israel makes him a scarce and thus valuable asset in the neocon arsenal.
It is now recognized that the conflict in the Middle East has improved the geostrategic situation for Israel. And this improvement would increase exponentially with the demise, or even the crippling, of the Islamic regime in Iran. Then would be the optimal time to turn to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis, with their total lack of modern liberal democracy and the type of freedom existing in the West, are extremely vulnerable to the vilification that has been successful against Saddam’s Iraq and Assad’s Syria.
Shiites in the Gulf have already become enraged against the Saudis, so this element could serve as an invaluable propaganda instrument to intensify anti-Saudi feeling in the West in order to bring down Israel’s final powerful adversary, whose very existence precludes Israel’s achievement of total regional hegemony.
Stephen J. Sniegoski is the author of The Transparent Cabal: The Neoconservative Agenda, War in the Middle East, and the National Interest of Israel. He contributed this article to The Passionate Attachment.