The Devil You Know. . .
Vol: 43 Issue: 27 Wednesday, April 27, 2005
On February 14, 1945, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt met for the first time with King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia. World War Two was practically over, and Roosevelt was turning his attention from wartime victory to peacetime prosperity.
Before 1942, the U.S. government had no official interest in Saudi Arabia, even though an American oil company had struck oil there in 1938 and had created a small community of American geologists, drillers and engineers to deliver the oil to global markets.
No American official of higher rank than minister in the diplomatic service had ever before encountered the bedouin monarch, and the king, in all his 64 years, had ventured no further out of the Arabian peninsula than Basra, in southern Iraq.
His domain was impoverished, isolated and backward; its levels of education, public health and mechanization were among the lowest in the world.
That first meeting is worth recounting. King Saud steamed toward his rendezvous with Roosevelt across Egypt’s Great Bitter Lake aboard the USS Murphy.
On a deck covered with colorful carpets and shaded by an enormous tent of brown canvas, a large black-bearded man in Arab robes, his headdress bound with golden cords, was seated on a gilded throne.
Around him stood an entourage of fierce-looking, dark-skinned barefoot men in similar attire, each with a sword or dagger bound to his waist by a gold-encrusted belt. On the Murphy ‘s fantail, sheep grazed in a makeshift corral.
Aboard the USS Quincy, President Roosevelt watched as King Saud’s throne (with him still sitting on it) was hoisted into the air and transferred from the Murphy to the Quincy where King Saud spent five hours in conference with President Roosevelt. Thus began the strangest US foreign relationship in history.
The strange, one-sided relationship between the House of Saud and US presidents continued through every successive administration from Roosevelt through to George Bush. It is a symbiotic relationship — the US needs Saudi oil, and the Saudis need US money. But there is no love lost between either side.
Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 alleges that there exists a special relationship between the House of Saud and the Bush family, based in large part on a book published by Craig Unger called “House of Bush – House of Saud” that cites some $1.4 billion that he says was funneled to the Bush family, its friends and related businesses.
To arrive at that figure, Unger added together any money paid or contracted to any company that any affiliation with the Bush family or Dick Cheney. To that, he added any money invested by the Saudis in any company affiliated with the Bush family, no matter how remote.
Finally, Unger added together any charitable donations made by the Saudis to any charity affiliated with any Bush interests. Most of the $1.4 billion went to the Carlyle Group, of which the senior George Bush is part owner.
According to Unger (and Moore) the Bush family are just tools of the House of Saud. The facts are a bit different. First, the Bush family is rich — they have extensive holdings in lots of companies.
But at the time the Carlyle Group got most of their money, the Bush family was not yet involved with Carlyle. And Unger was unable to trace a single penny that went directly to any member of the Bush family.
Moreover, even Unger admits that, when it comes to Saudi largesse, the Bushes are amateurs compared to other American political dynasties.
President Clinton, for example, approached Prince Bandar in 1991 for $20 million to launch a Middle East studies program at the University of Arkansas. The request was approved by Prince Bandar during the 1991 election in which Clinton defeated the senior Bush.
Overall, Saudi Arabia contributed about eight times as much money to Clinton ‘charities’ as it has the Bush family.
But the photos of President Bush holding hands with Prince Bandar yesterday gives one pause to wonder.
Successive US administrations have tried hard to represent the Saudi government as a close US ally and a friend. Clearly, they are neither, but nobody in Washington will say it out loud.
There are a couple of reasons for this.
First, there is the principle of the devil you know . Better to deal with the devil you know, than a new devil that could be much worse.
Secondly, there is the politics of oil. Thanks to years of domestic political stupidity that puts the welfare of Alaskan caribou above national security, America is more dependent on foreign oil today than it was during the 1970 s OPEC crisis that crippled our economy for a decade.
US-Saudi relations, far from being that of friends and allies, is more analogous to that of a drug addict and his supplier. No friend is more important to the addict than his drug dealer.
To the addict, who needs what his dealer controls just to make it through one day, the dealer is the Main Man. No insult is too grave, no slight too painful for the addict to break that relationship. The addict just pretends it didn t happen and rationalizes it away.
It is from that relationship that the useful idiots extrapolate that the present US administration is the pocket of Big Oil, and is therefore evil.
It isn t the government this is addicted to oil, it is you and me.
A government that broke the relationship with our suppliers would last just long enough to be impeached by the addicts who put them in office.
Politicians of any party are elected primarily to ensure the free flow of the drug that fuels our oil-dependent economy. All parties of all political stripes, from the Republicans to the Green Party, are equally addicted to oil.
If they own a car, buy groceries, or travel further than they can ride a horse or a bike, they are all part of the oil addiction.
How would Americans react to paying fifteen bucks a gallon for gas at the pumps? What would that do to the price of a banana in Buffalo, NY?
It isn t like the thinkers in Washington are too stupid to figure this out for themselves but it is in America s best interests to pretend they can t.