The old expression “the pot calling the kettle black” comes to mind this week on learning that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has urged Syrian President Bashar al Assad to stop “the killing machines and end the bloodshed.”
The Saudi monarchy is one of the world’s most repressive, of course, and Riyadh was quick to send forces to help neighboring Bahrain squash a civil uprising there earlier this year. But Abdullah’s public admonition of a fellow Arab autocrat is a sign of Assad’s deteriorating position among his own, and shows concern that the violent repression of citizens in Syria seeking basic freedoms could spell trouble for other leaders in the region.
That is not to say that public criticism from Arab and Western leaders, including the U.S., will convince Assad to ease up in his assault on protestors. He sees himself in a fight for his life, given that he and his fellow Alawites in power are a small minority in a mostly Sunni country, and he is more likely to crush the opposition than institute real reforms.
Perhaps King Abdullah’s statement was intended, at least in part, to draw attention away from new and more substantive reports about how Saudi Arabia appears to have played an active role in supporting the 9/11 hijackers, 15 of whom were Saudi.
A new book, “The Eleventh Day,” by Anthony Summers and Robyn Swan, makes a strong case that top Saudi officials knew of the plot, if not serving as outright supporters, and that, after the attack, the Bush administration used its clout to protect Saudi royals and prevent the evidence from becoming public.
Twenty-eight pages of the exhaustive 9/11 Commission report were removed at the last minute, all part of a section entitled “Finding, Discussion and Narrative Regarding Certain Sensitive National Security Matters.” Numerous sources assert that the section dealt with Saudi support for the hijackers. The order that the pages be removed came from the president, according to the authors, who detail Bush’s cozy relationship with Saudi leaders.
It should also be noted that while the Saudis sought to block post-9/11 investigations on the part of the FBI and CIA, Abdullah’s brother, Prince Naif, blamed “the Zionists” for the terror attack, saying, “We put big question marks and ask who committed the events of September 11 and who benefited from them. I think [the Zionists] are behind these events.”
It is difficult to overestimate the clout that Saudi oil has in the making of American foreign policy. As we prepare to mark the anniversary next month of the mostly deadly terror attack ever on U.S. soil, and as evidence continues to emerge about the Washington-Riyadh “special relationship,” it is fair to continue asking what that term means and whose side our professed allies truly are on.