Befriending Saudi Princes: A High Price for a Dubious Alliance

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Although the House of Saud, Saudi Arabia'sroyal family, has long leaned toward the West, it isa corrupt totalitarian regime at sharp variancewith America's most cherished values. Despite thewell-publicized ties between the two governments,Saudi Arabia has seldom aided, and often hamstrung,U.S. attempts to combat terrorism.

Even worse is Riyadh's willingness to buy offeven the most unsavory regimes and groups. Bothat home and abroad it supports the extremeWahhabi form of Islam, a movement hostile tomodernity and the West. Saudi money has evengone to the fundamentalist Pakistani academiesknown as madrassahs, which have served asrecruiting grounds for Osama bin Laden.

American support for Riyadh is one of theprime factors motivating bin Laden, who seeksto drive the United States from what he sees asholy Muslim lands. Even if the United States succeedsin eliminating bin Laden, the presence ofAmerican troops will continue to inflameIslamic extremists and encourage future terroristattacks. Yet Washington hesitates to speak ill ofits ally for one reason: oil.

The United States does not need to be deferentialbecause of the oil issue. Although Riyadh possessesthe globe's most abundant reserves, it currently providesonly about 10 percent of production. In theshort term, any supply disruption would cause fairlysignificant harm; the impact would be amelioratedin the long term, however, as new sources werefound and the U.S. economy adapted.

The United States should reassess its relationshipwith Riyadh. Most important, Washingtonshould withdraw its military forces from SaudiArabia. That connection has already drawnWashington into one conventional war, againstIraq, and helped to make Americans targets of terrorism.Although America should not retreat fromthe world, it should stop supporting illegitimateand unpopular regimes where its vital interests arenot involved, as in Saudi Arabia.

Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former special assistant to President Reagan, he is the author of several books.