Blowback in Riyadh

I knew there was something awfully suspicious about the announcement, a few weeks ago, that most U.S. troops were going to be withdrawn from Saudi Arabia. After all, since when does the Empire hail a major retreat? And now my suspicions have been confirmed….

The close, almost symbiotic U.S.-Saudi relationship dates back to the World War II era: FDR was the first American Arabist. American troops have been stationed in the Kingdom since Gulf War I, and the numbers were doubled during Gulf War II. Although the visibility of the U.S. garrison has always been kept low, its presence hardly ever acknowledged, the announcement of the Americans’ imminent departure was carried by Saudi television, an obvious gesture meant to appease Saudi public opinion.

The Americans, for their part, depicted it as a triumph: "It is now a safer region because of the change of regime in Iraq," averred Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The Saudis denied asking the Americans to hit the road. The troops’ mission, declared Prince Sultan, had been accomplished: "There is no need for them to remain. This does not mean that we requested them to leave."

Nor does it mean they won’t be asked to return – a distinct possibility in light of what is portended by the recent attack on an American compound in Riyadh. In retrospect, the alleged American withdrawal seems to have been a tactical retreat – and also an ominous indicator of just how unstable Saudi rule has become.

The presence of the American "infidels" in the sacred land of Mecca and Medina has been the main complaint of the radicals, and Osama bin Laden’s rallying cry: this, above all, justified an anti-American jihad in Islamist eyes. The trumpeting of the American faux-withdrawal on state-controlled television was anti-Ladenite propaganda aimed at the hearts and minds of Saudis, but it’s not as if the GIs were going all that far – they’re headed to Qatar, a small sheikdom on the Persian Gulf. As the International Herald Tribune reported:

"Saudi and American officials said security cooperation would continue, and they noted that American forces and warplanes could return someday if future Saudi rulers faced a new threat. In the huge, air-conditioned hangar at Prince Sultan Air Base, where Rumsfeld thanked several hundred American and allied forces for the efforts in the war, Admiral Nichols said the Pentagon has not decided whether to keep a skeletal crew at the installation to restart it quickly in an emergency. The air command center will be mothballed. ‘Nothing’s going to be torn down,’ Admiral Nichols said. ‘It’ll remain wired, but most of the computers and what not will be taken out.’"

As the consequences of the Iraq war ripple outward from Baghdad, and the swelling ranks of Al Qaeda’s terrorist armies seek vengeance on pro-U.S. rulers throughout the region, the projected "emergency" may already be upon us.

Less than 500 bought-and-paid for Iraqi exiles flown in by the Pentagon for the occasion toppled a statue of Saddam, amid the cheers of our laptop bombardiers: the "Three Week War," as the more deluded of them dubbed it, had been a "cakewalk," just as the neocons had said it would be. The antiwar crowd had been wrong, wrong, wrong, they jeered. Consequences? What consequences?

The answer was not long in coming.

You didn’t have to be Nostradamus to predict a direct threat to Saudi rule as one result of the Iraq invasion: the Riyadh blast was the first manifestation of what neocon ideologue Michael Ledeen gloatingly referred to as "creative destruction."

All this was anticipated by the neocons’ "domino theory" that saw the Iraqi conquest as the catalyst which would send the other Arab regimes reeling, with the Saudis first on the list. Last summer, you’ll remember, neocon "Prince of Darkness" Richard Perle and his Defense Policy Board catapulted themselves into the news by holding a briefing featuring one Laurent Murawiec, who characterized Saudi Arabia as "the kernel of evil, the prime mover, the most dangerous opponent" of the U.S. We ought to seize their assets in the U.S., averred Murawiec, whose long career as a cadre in the cult of Lyndon LaRouche explains the unmistakable tone of hysteria in his anti-Saudi conspiracy theories.

Perhaps taking a leaf from National Review editor Rich Lowry’s book, Murawiec suggested threatening Mecca and Medina if the Saudis didn’t cooperate. Such actions, he recommended to Perle and his fellow Pentagon advisors, would be a prelude to the seizure of the oil fields.

As reported by Jack Shafer in Slate, the last slide in Murawiec’s Power Point presentation, modestly entitled "Grand Strategy for the Middle East," proclaimed:

  • "Iraq is the tactical pivot
  • Saudi Arabia the strategic pivot
  • Egypt the prize"

The calculated instability provoked by U.S. military intervention in Iraq plays right into the Murawiec-Perle scenario. As Al Qaeda garners growing popular support in Saudi Arabia, and the country descends into civil war, one or another wing of the House of Saud asks for U.S. intervention to avert anarchy – and the "strategic pivot" is ours.

As I pointed out ten days into the Iraqi phase of this conflict, we are going for a ride on the Middle East escalator:

"Move over, Caesar. Go hang your head in shame, Alexander. And you – yeah, you, the Little Corporal! – all three of you are about to be dwarfed by Bush the Bold."

The whole region has been targeted for conquest. Next stop – Cairo!

It seems like only yesterday that certain "anti-terrorist" experts for the U.S. government were telling us that "Al Qaeda is in an irreversible decline." This sunny optimism reflected the official administration line, enunciated by the President as he stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier, dressed in Top Gun drag: "The war on terror is not over," he declared, "but we have seen the turning of the tide." Perhaps, but, after the Riyadh strike, one has to ask: in whose favor?

Osama Bin Laden, you’ll remember, is supposed to have been dead, or so far deep in a cave somewhere that he might as well be. With the capture of alleged senior cadre, Al Qaeda was supposed to have been on the run, in disarray if not actually defeated. As Rumsfeld put it in February of last year:

"What we do know about him, we may not know where he is and we may not know whether he’s dead or alive, but we do know that he is having trouble functioning and operating. That he’s on the run, that it’s hard for him to raise money, that it’s harder for him to recruit, that his training bases in Afghanistan are gone, that the host government, the Taliban, has been thrown out of the country, and that he’s hiding in caves or tunnels, having difficulty communication with his associates."

Now, it turns out, it was Bin Laden who ordered this latest attack: according to intelligence sources, the leader of the Riyadh cell took his orders directly from the Al Qaeda chief. Not bad for someone "on the run." As for Al Qaeda’s recruitment drive: if it was faltering after the Afghan campaign, the pace no doubt picked up when the bombs began to fall on Baghdad.

Rumsfeld’s portrait of Osama, the dysfunctional terrorist, could not have been more off base. This reflects our strategy in the "war on terrorism." Instead of fighting Al Qaeda, or anything remotely resembling it, the Bush administration went after Iraq because it was "doable," as Paul Wolfowitz is alleged to have remarked.

As for the alleged Al Qaeda-Baghdad alliance: this will go down in history as the tallest in a series of mile-high tales told by the War Party, less credible than Yeti sightings and more improbable than the Hollow Earth theory.

The Bushies tried to pass off some obscure Islamist guerrilla group operating out of Kurd-controlled northern Iraq as the "Al Qaeda connection," but now the real Al Qaeda has reared up in Riyadh, lashing out at U.S. facilities and killing 8 Americans. This barely a week after George the Conqueror stood before his troops, victory emanating from his person like a corona, as the nation did everything but crown him with laurel leaves.

The cries of "Hail Caesar!" had hardly died down, when Bin Laden popped up like some macabre jack-in-the-box, catching the U.S. and its Saudi allies off guard – and provoking recriminations against Riyadh from the U.S.

The Americans are complaining that the Saudis provided insufficient security, a not-so-subtle hint that Uncle Sam may move in to do the job if the local authorities can’t or won’t. The charge of Saudi incompetence, or worse, in failing to prevent the attack is all but out in the open. This is an odd charge, however, coming from the very same clueless U.S. government agencies that failed to foil the 9/11 plotters and prevent the most destructive terrorist attack in American history.

U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia Robert Jordan avers that Crown Prince Abdullah is "sincere" in his desire to crack down on the terrorists, but "execution" is another matter, "and I think there’s some ways to go on that, quite frankly." Jordan claims the U.S. had asked for additional security at the targeted facilities: "But they did not, as of the time of this particular tragic event, provide the security we had requested."

The proper answer to Ambassador Jordan was written by an American, not a Saudi, Garet Garrett by name. He was an editor of the New York Times before the Great War, and later chief editorial writer for the Saturday Evening Post during the New Deal era. In 1955, Garrett wrote a little-known book called The American Story that ended like this:

"How now, thou American, frustrated crusader, do you know where you are?

"Is it security you want? There is no security at the top of the world.

"To think own self a liberator, to the world an alarming portent, do you know where you are going from here?"

That might have been written yesterday. Or five minutes ago. Garrett was a prophet, a libertarian version of Jeremiah – or, perhaps, Cassandra.

Now that I’ve managed to somehow get on to the subject of this rather interesting writer, who seems to be enjoying a bit of a revival….


We ran William Pfaff’s column on Leo Strauss and the neocons the other day as our "spotlight" piece, but I did so with reservations. Pfaff gives a perceptive analysis of the neoconservatives‘ affinity for the arcane insights of Professor Strauss, the influential University of Chicago philosopher who preached a "Platonic truth" accessible only to elites, and taught that one must tell "necessary lies" to the masses – for their own good, of course.

Pfaff knows his neocon-ology, but one subject he appears grossly ignorant of is the history of the American conservative movement. Like most liberals, he takes the line that the neocons were the first to give a bunch of misshapen Neanderthals a touch of intellectual class: before that, or so the story goes, right-wing ideology consisted largely of inarticulate grunting and sheer prejudice, summed up by the all-purpose "xenophobia." As Pfaff puts it:

"The trouble with American conservatism during most of the 20th century was that it was not particularly intelligent. The Republican Party was and is a business party, anti-intellectual and to a considerable degree xenophobic. The radical neoconservatives, who appeared in the 1960s, are the first seriously intelligent movement on the American right since the 19th century."

This is utter nonsense. An anti-imperialist conservative such as Garet Garrett, whose insight into the dynamics of the rising American hegemon is far more sophisticated than the "blood for oil" mantra of the Bush-Haters League, saw it all coming at the dawn of the American century:

"Fear may be understood. But a curious and characteristic emotional weakness of Empire is a complex of vaunting and fear. The vaunting is from what may be called that Titanic feeling. Many passengers on the doomed Titanic would not believe that a ship so big and grand could sink. So long as it was above water her listing deck seemed safer than a lifeboat on the open sea. So with the people of Empire. They are mighty. They have performed prodigious works, even many that seemed beyond their powers. Reverse they have known but never defeat. That which has hitherto been immeasurable, how shall it be measured?

"So must have felt who lived out the grandeur that was Rome. So the British felt while they ruled the world. So now Americans feel."

"A complex of fear and vaunting" – could there be any better summary of what we are now living through? Yet Garrett saw it all too clearly more than half a century ago:

"Conversely, the fear. Fear of the barbarian. Fear of standing alone. Fear of world opinion, since we must have it on our side. The fear which is inseparable from the fact – or from a conviction of the fact – that security is no longer in our own hands.

"A time comes when the guard itself, that is, your system of satellites, is a source of fear. Satellites are often willful and the more you rely upon them the more willful and demanding they are. There is, therefore, the fear of offending them, as it might be only to disappoint their expectations."

Pfaff clearly understands the key role played by one particularly willful ally in dragging us into the war on Iraq. The trouble with liberals of his sort, who oppose the rise of an American Empire, is that they are merely repeating – without knowing it, and with far less eloquence – the anti-imperialist sentiments of the Old Right.

Another sort of liberal – the sort that appears in the pages of The New Republic – knows perfectly well the heritage that Pfaff disdains, and how to fight it. In their continuing campaign to deny their own existence, the neocons are now invoking the shade of Richard Hofstadter, who attributed all dissent on the Right to "the paranoid style in American politics." Hofstadter’s 1965 book of that title was the textbook for those ex-leftie liberal mandarins who celebrated "the end of ideology" and sought to marginalize conservative critics of the rising Welfare-Warfare State. Writing in The New Republic, Daniel W. Drezner pulls a very old rabbit out of a rather threadbare hat:

"Conspiracies are all the rage in world politics these days. A majority of Arabs believe that Israel was responsible for the September 11 attacks. Antiwar activists believe that the U.S. government ‘created’ Saddam Hussein. And, of course, there’s endless innuendo surrounding the relationship between prominent neoconservatives and U.S. foreign policy. Critics across the ideological spectrum accuse neocons of being a foreign policy cabal, stealthily fomenting their own conspiracy theories as a way of manipulating the Bush administration. Or are the critics themselves guilty of conspiracy-mongering? Will the real paranoids please stand up?

"Amid all this back and forth, it’s both instructive and eerie to re-read Richard Hofstadter’s classic essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics."

Critics of U.S. policy are not just "anti-American" traitors, as the Fox News-David Horowitz school of character assassination would have it, but also crazy, to boot. Such a rhetorical ploy, which raises the argument ad hominem to a whole new level, is not an argument at all, but a sign of desperation.

If you believe that ideas have consequences, and that the neocons are in a position to impose their agenda on the making of American foreign policy, then you must believe that the Israelis were responsible for 9/11 and that George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein are two aspects of the same malignant persona. Clearly, you are exhibiting the same "symptoms" that were "clinically observed" – as Professor Drezner puts it – by Hofstadter and his fellow smear artists some 40 years ago. Oh, and, by the way, there’s nobody here but us amateur psychologists….

The new edition of The American Conservative (May 19) – sorry, not online yet – with my review of A Story of America First: The Men and Women Who Opposed U.S. Intervention in World War II, by Ruth Sarles (Praeger), is now out. What? They don’t carry TAC at your local news stand? Gee, that’s a shame, since this issue is a real blockbuster, with Correlli Barnett on what lessons British imperialism holds for the American variety, James Bovard on the Surveillance State as brought to you by the "Patriot" Act, and Jack Strocchi on what sort of trouble awaits us in building "democracy" in Iraq. Add to this Pat Buchanan’s case for Colin Powell’s conservatism, plus Taki‘s pithy prose, and you have any number of reasons to subscribe.

– Justin Raimondo

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].