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Fueling Mideast Fires? It's Still the Oil, Stupid!

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Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, and the chief of its national security, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, met with President Bush in the Oval Office yesterday. The issue at hand was -- no, not the sale prospects of Prince Bandar's Aspen, Colorado, home, very recently placed on the market for $135 million -- but that other crisis worrying the Saudi royal family, the bloody fighting between Israel and Hezbollah.

The Saudis want the United States to make Israel stop bombing Lebanon, and the United States wants the Saudis to make Syria stop egging on Hezbollah. And, if the latest plan for a multinational peacekeeping-policing force on the Lebanese-Israeli border gains traction, the U.S. might expect the Saudis to help make that a reality as well.

While, in public, Saudi Arabia balks at intervening with Syria, its willingness to send top emissaries to the Oval Office so promptly attests to something else: The Saudis, adherents to the Sunni brand of Islam, are deeply concerned about the Shia ascendancy across the Middle East and the demonstrated prowess of Shiite Iran to pull the puppet strings and destabilize the Arab crescent. As Robert Jordan, the former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, succinctly put it on "Fox News" over the weekend, whatever the Saudis decide to do, they "aren't doing this just to help us."

Saudi Arabia feels threatened and, once again, it is looking to the United States as its protector from the growing Shiite menace, much as America was the kingdom's defender in the first Gulf War and has continued in that de facto role ever since. The spin from both sides will be quite different, of course. Any cooperation elicited from the Saudis will be announced by the Bush administration as welcome help from a cooperative ally, not as quid pro quo. Where, exactly, does the truth lie in the ongoing dance between America and Saudi Arabia over oil and terrorism?

A little over a month ago, Afghan President Hamid Karzai called on the international community to rethink its war on terror, saying that current strategies were going in circles. "The situation has deteriorated because we have not addressed the sources of terrorism," he said, ". . . where they are trained, where they are financed, where they are equipped, where they are mobilized, and where they are motivated."

"I am not talking about any country [in particular]," Karzai went on, "I am talking about the sources of terrorism. If they are in Afghanistan, if they are away from Afghanistan, wherever they are, we have to go to the roots of it."

As if to underline President Karzai's dictum, an article appeared a few days later in The New York Times about one Laid Saidi, a shadowy figure who headed a branch of Al Haramain Islamic Foundation in Tanzania before he was kicked out by the government there. Al Haramain, an international charity based in Saudi Arabia that espouses the fundamentalist Wahhabi vein of Islam, was later shut down by the Tanzanian authorities for its suspected role in bankrolling terrorist groups.

According to James R. Woolsey, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Saudis funnel more than $4 billion a year to Wahhabi institutions around the world. One can safely assume that Tanzania is not the only outlet for the sect's message of venom and mayhem. Indeed, the bloody footprint of Saudi-financed Wahhabism can be seen in the madrassas of Pakistan, Indonesia, and in the mosques and Islamic centers of England, France, the Netherlands to name but a few.

In my April 2 posting, "Iraq's Oil Production at Post Invasion Lows. . . ," I postulated that it is the preaching of the Saudi imams backed by the billions of dollars of Saudi oil money that are, in some significant measure, among the root causes of the Iraqi insurgency. Their hate-filled preaching incites a steady stream of "foreign" suicide martyrs who wreak destruction across Iraq and are among those who have maimed and murdered thousands of American and coalition soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians.

And while stirring the pot of hatred, Saudi Arabia has taken the lead among its OPEC brethren in helping to push up world oil prices to their current punishing levels. Prices at over $70 a barrel that give the Saudis wide latitude in supporting Wahhabism's destructive enterprise and that also bankroll Iran's largesse to Hezbollah, a level of support that, according to a piece in Sunday's New York Time, ("In Iran's Streets, Aid to Hezbollah Stirs Resentment") would not otherwise be tolerated by Iran's economically strapped non-Arab majority, which views support of Hezbollah as support of Arab adventurism.

So, yes, we do have a common interest with the Saudis in ending the latest round of Mideast death and destruction. But until we force the Saudis to acknowledge and address the matter of rapacious oil lucre and the unholy uses to which it is being put, any cease-fire or other semblance of peace achieved in the current crisis will be short-lived. The hatreds that grow from state-sponsored fanaticism will erupt again in bloody conflict, and the economic dislocation induced by such upheavals will only worsen.

It's time the Saudis stop treating us as fools, and it's time we stopped behaving like lapdogs. Both parties to this travesty must begin working toward mutual long-term interests -- that is, honestly moving to halt the death spiral of destabilization fostered by fundamentalist fanatics in both camps of Islam. Otherwise, the spiral toward destabilization will count us both, and many others, as victims.