[2 Parts] @mediafire.com
Robert Fisk: The corrupt, feudal world of the House of Saud
The Saud family is a real House that Jack built. Its thousands of princes are sublimely unworthy of rule.
Poor old Saudis. It takes quite a lot to evoke sympathy for the head-chopping, hand-severing, anti-feminist, misogynist, feudal, anti-democratic Saudis. These, after all, are the folks who bankrolled the Islamist resistance to the Soviet army in Afghanistan. This is the nation whose interior minister used to have cosy chats with Osama bin Laden in the Saudi embassy in Islamabad.
Indeed, this is the country that chose Osama to be its "prince" in the campaign against Soviet atheism – its own, real, princes not having the guts to lead the Arab "legion" against the Russians. And this is the country that provided 15 of the 19 suicide killers of 11 September 2001. And this is the country whose suicide bombers slaughtered yet more Westerners in Riyadh on Monday. If it's more than 90 dead, it will be al-Qa'ida's greatest triumph since 2001.
But after the latest blitz on Iraq, after the illegal (under international law) invasion of Iraq, and after the naive, dangerous mouthings of America's new colonial masters – I am thinking of the new stomach-in, chest-out musings of their most famous flop, Zionist ex-General Jay Garner – you can't help feeling a twinge of sympathy for the Saudis. After all, they were – like Saddam – created by the West.
The British accepted the Sauds once it was clear the Hashemites were out of the Hejaz, and Franklin D Roosevelt sanctified their rule aboard the USS Quincy. Winston Churchill's drinking spree with the Saudi monarch in Egypt brought an end to Britain's imperial adventure in the land of the Two Holy Places. When Churchill announced that "If it was the religion of His Majesty to deprive himself of smoking and alcohol, I must point out that my rule of life prescribed as an absolutely sacred rite smoking cigars and also the drinking of alcohol before, after, and if need be during all meals and in the intervals between them," Ibn Saud was not amused.
The Saud royal family is a real House that Jack built. Its thousands of princes – rakes of a most medieval kind – are sublimely unworthy of rule. They own a third of 60 per cent of the world's oil – they share this global treasure with four other families – and they have produced not only the greediest of sheikhs and the poorest of Gulf slums but the most ferociously Wahhabist, feudal anti-Western institution that has existed since the siege of Vienna. Oil money has corrupted the royal family. Its imams and religious "savants' have long ago decided that the Sauds are western stooges, weaned on prostitution, corruption and US bribes.
But among the neo-conservatives who now drive the Bush administration – the Perles and the Wolfowitzes and the Cohens – Saudi Arabia has long been the financial flip-side of Saddam. Who, after all, bankrolled Saddam's rise to power? Who financed his insane eight-year war with Iran – complete with the chemical warfare of which we are now so appalled? Who, indeed, sent the young Muslims off to fight the Soviet army in Afghanistan? The Saudis. Let us forget – as Messrs Perle, Wolfowitz and Cohen would wish us to forget – they did so with our blessing and encouragement.
And ever since 11 September 2001 – I stress the complete date lest we mix it up with September 1982 (the massacre of 1,700 Palestinians at Sabra and Chatila) or that other 11 September that marked the Kissinger-inspired coup against Salvador Allende – the neo-conservatives in the US administration have been reminding us of the inherent evil of the Saudi regime. It was, after all, Mr Perle, who arranged for a Rand Corporation analyst – the extremely odd Mr Laurent Maurawiec – to tell a Pentagon "advisory board" (heaven knows what they "advise" on) that "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 was "the kernel of evil."
Ever since, there has been a campaign to denigrate the House of Saud. The most recent was an article by an ex-CIA Middle East "field officer", Robert Baer, who wrote a long and detailed article in The Atlantic Monthly about the imminent collapse of the House of Saud. He described, with devastating accuracy, the near-fatal stroke of King Fahd in 1995 – a seizure which left the elderly Crown Prince Abdullah to rule in place of the still-surviving Fahd.
"From all over Riyadh came the thump-thump of helicopters" as the princes converged on the royal hospital bed; even more so when Fahd seemed on the verge of death in Switzerland last year when – in Switzerland myself – I was awoken by the same "thump-thump' and the screech of royal jets as the princes arrived yet again to demand a slice of the royal pudding. In truth, there are now too many princes – £19,000 a month is not enough for a princely lifestyle and the number of princes, at 15,000, is getting too big to manage. Soon there will be 30,000 – 60,000 in another generation.
Isn't this just what Osama bin Laden always talked about? Odd, isn't it, that Osama's hatreds and Baer's cynicism should coalesce in the Saudi royal family? Osama would like to turn Saudi Arabia into a real Islamic nation and some of his descriptions of Saudi corruption – made personally to me – sound remarkably like the bile of Messrs Perle and Baer. Indeed, the most revolting symbol of corruption produced by Baer is the image of King Fahd, recovering from heart surgery, defecating in the royal swimming pool in front of his entire family.
But fear not, I say. For as Baer wickedly points out, American business is locked into the Saudi royal family. The Carlyle group has been a principal benefactor of Saudi largesse. Frank Carlucci (national security adviser and Secretary of Defence under Reagan) was a chairman, James Baker (Bush Snr's Secretary of State) is a senior counsellor, and Arthur Levitt (Clinton's head of the Securities and Exchange commission) is also an adviser. The current chairman of Carlyle is our own dear John Major.
Halliburton – run by Dick Cheney until he became Vice President – is now benefiting from Iraqi "reconstruction", but is also a major beneficiary of Saudi Arabia, taking a $140m contract to develop an oilfield in 2001. Chevron Texaco is a partner with Saudi Aramco in new oil ventures – formerly on the board was Condoleezza Rice, America's favourite National Security Adviser. And so it goes on. And if you think it doesn't, check the roles of Carla Hills (George Bush Snr's trade representative) and Nicholas Brady, his Treasury Secretary, on the board of a company exploiting, along with the Saudis, Azerbaijan's oil wealth.
So here's a guess. No matter what happens in Saudi Arabia, America will go on backing the House of Saud. Unless they collapse. In which case, the US can take over the Saudi oil fields from its nearby bases in Iraq. If it was 12 minutes' flying time to Iraq's oil reserves, it's the same if they take off from Basra to "secure" Saudi Arabia's oil fields, most of them in territory inhabited by Shia Muslims – whose mentors will (so we hope) be in Iran and southern Iraq.
You can see the way the wind is going. We have Iraq. Forget Saudi Arabia. Until we realise that Osama bin Laden may be installed in Mecca and Medina and Riyadh. And then we'll say, but hang on a moment, didn't we beat him in Afghanistan? Either way, we'll keep the oil – however many victims Osama kills along the way.