Since the joint congressional committee investigating September 11 issued a censored version of its report on July 24, there's been considerable speculation about the 28 pages blanked out from the section entitled "Certain Sensitive National Security Matters." The section cites "specific sources of foreign support for some of the September 11 hijackers," which most commentators have interpreted to mean Saudi contributions to Al Qaeda-linked charities. But an official who has read the report tells The New Republic that the support described in the report goes well beyond that: It involves connections between the hijacking plot and the very top levels of the Saudi royal family . . .Interesting stuff in between, too. This could bite George Bush in a big way, since our rather, um, nuanced relationship with the Saudis is not something you want to have to explain on the campaign stump. Basically, the administration line goes like this. Wahabbism is the sword of Damocles over the sumptuous banquet of the Saudi royal family -- who walk a fine line between appeasing the Islamists and cozying with Washington. Until Iraq is stable enough to replace the kingdom as our main regional ally and oil-price stabilizer, the Saudis must be kept close and protected from an overthrow of the effete, bloated governing family. That is why we went to war in Iraq. Yeah, wed been dicking around with Hussein for 12 years and it was time for him to go. Yes, the UN provided just enough cover to almost claim international will. But listen to any honest analyst of the mid-East and you'll hear the same thing: If we're determined to stop al-Qaeda, we should have marched South from Kuwait, not North. The Bush administration is pursuing a long-term strategy, long enough, that is, to last beyond Bush's possible second term. The plan is to create a more stable region, one in which we have a few more friends than just Israel, before we confront the Saudis. At any rate, we're faced with a time bomb, since the Saudi regime is destined to collapse sooner or later from corruption, weakness, and financial drain. At this point, they are essentially paying protection money to keep power.
The official who read the 28 pages tells The New Republic, "If the people in the administration trying to link Iraq to Al Qaeda had one-one-thousandth of the stuff that the 28 pages has linking a foreign government to Al Qaeda, they would have been in good shape." He adds: "If the 28 pages were to be made public, I have no question that the entire relationship with Saudi Arabia would change overnight."
If all goes according to the Bush plan (as I read it), Iraq democratize within the next few years, and Iran falls to a secular counter-revolution. This leaves Saudi Arabia as the rump state of an increasingly modernizing Arabian Peninsula. Qatar supported us in Iraq; Oman and Yemen stood, tacitly, with us. Kuwait and UAE, while not exactly wellsprings of the rule of law, further isolate the kingdom by being comparatively moderate, comparatively successful in moving toward a Western-style, market-based culture. Jordan, the only remaining major border country, is, again comparatively, one of the most progressive states in the region. Surrounded by an increasingly secular, increasingly successful region, the Saudi fall, when it comes, could end up being an implosion rather than an explosion. That is to say, a look around the neighborhood could convince the downtrodden of the kingdom that it is the corrupt regime's hold on the oil reserves (and the splendid life it endows) that keeps their country in the middle ages -- not the Great Satan.