Right wing, Jewish and Saudi-perplexed

What does a small-c-conservative Jew do with the Saudis?

Their latest exercise (or perhaps merely their latest one to draw worldwide attention) in medieval brutality, in which a female rape victim has been “sentenced” for her “crime” (see here for a more precise explanation of what really happened) is already well known on the Web. This regime is not ready for prime time, from the civilization point of view.

Where does that leave us?

Time out, here: By “us” I mean conservatives. And by conservatives, I mean conservatives who are sympathetic to the desire of Jewish inhabitants of the State of Israel not to be murdered. I thus read out of the movement antisemitic paleoconservatives such as Patrick Buchanan; yet I am not a neoconservative or even a Zionist either — just a politically conservative Jew who observes that conservatives are the best political friends of Jews in this country and in Israel.

Now, I find the most strident anti-Saudi voices are not Jewish, or Israeli. This is despite the fact that most of those voices, such as that of my friend Mary Madigan, are fabulously pro-Israel. Many neoconservatives, such as Daniel Pipes, sing much the same tune, and other conservatives, such as Ivan Eland of the Cato Institute, urge only a nominally more “balanced” approach that focuses entirely on the Kingdom’s tyrannical nature — the criticism of neocons being not their blindness to the strategic value of the Saudi relationship but rather their supposed oversensitivity on the importance of oil prices.

The United States should take a middle ground between the confrontational approach championed by neoconservatives and the Bush administration’s policy of appeasing the Saudi regime. The Saudi government is a medieval, despotic regime with an abysmal human rights record on a par with Iraq’s. The United States should withdraw political support from the regime and withdraw the U.S. military forces stationed on Saudi territory. The United States should not pull any diplomatic punches in pressuring the Saudi monarchy on its poor human rights record, its programs to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and its indirect support for terrorism.

Essentially, like the authoritarian “rogue states” (Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Cuba and North Korea), Saudi Arabia should be treated with suspicion, not friendship. At the same time, it should not be targeted for U.S. military attacks unless it is found directly culpable in sponsoring a terrorist attack against a U.S. target.

Putting Saudi Arabia essentially along the Axis of Evil is not a “middle ground,” however, if there is to be any hope of the relationship yielding strategic advantage for the U.S. By and large, conservative opinion in this country wants the Bush Administration to be tougher on the Saudis; and, contrary to what would be predicted by left wing and nativist fantasies about the “Zionist lobby,” this consensus by and large ignores what the primary victims of Islamist terrorism thing about Saudi Arabia’s role in the game: The Israelis, who recognize that Saudi Arabia is probably their last, best hope for a major Arab power that could broker some version of a Mideast “arrangement” that could perhaps give Israel decades more time to wait out some form of evolution in the Arab world away from violence and toward what we in the west regard as civilization — Israeli’s only long-term hope for survival from external threats.

There is no question that, as much as anyone else, the Saudis — by promoting the extremist Wahabi version of Islam — have done more to inflame Muslims to murderous violence than any other group, governmental or otherwise. But it is an error to conflate “the Saudis” into one homogeneous entity with only one agenda, except to the extent that that agenda is the maintenance of their continued power and influence. That bullet point on their “to do” list remains a key one, and that is why it is all but official Saudi policy that the State of Israel is a political and historical reality. That’s why the Israelis were ahead of many of their strongest supporters, who instinctively reject American military support of the Kingdom, and explicitly stated their support of a major U.S. arms sale to the Saudis last summer.

Saudi Arabia is a terrible place to live, but virtually none of us live there. Unlike Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, it is neither warlike in the traditional sense nor genocidal. What it once had in common with Saddam, its support of international terrorism, is clearly a policy that is changing. That does not mean we can expect the House of Saud to hand over its own members who have been supporting, and undoubtedly continue to support, our worst terrorist enemies, but it does mean that, unlike Saddam, there is a toehold of influence that the U.S. has over that process. What other powerful friends — with, or without scare quotes — does the U.S. have in the Arab Mideast?

Cross-posted on Likelihood of Success.

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