The Message of Saudi Arabia

From the July 2003 Trumpet Print Edition

After the Iraq campaign, the reasons for a continued U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia became nonexistent, according to U.S. officials. The troops were placed there after the 1991 Persian Gulf War “to enforce the UN Security Council resolutions on Iraq,” said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on April 15. At an April 29 news conference, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said it was “now a safer region because of the regime change in Iraq.” This outcome of the war has gone “almost unnoticed—but it’s huge,” according to Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

U.S. policymakers also knew, however, that one of Osama bin Laden’s main objections to the Saudi government was the presence of U.S. troops there—an objection that led to the establishment of al-Qaeda. In fact, the terror organization’s battle cry was to remove the U.S. presence from Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden said in 1996 that there was “no more important duty” than to oust U.S. troops from the country. The presence of American troops was thus fueling the Islamist opposition inside Saudi Arabia.

“It’s been a huge recruiting device for al-Qaeda,” said Wolfowitz. “I think just lifting that burden from the Saudis is itself going to open the door to other positive things.” Riyadh said that with the U.S. presence gone, it would be able to crack down more easily on al-Qaeda. And Washington believed it would have more diplomatic leverage with its troops gone, and be able to press Riyadh to lower the boom more brutally on radical Islam in the kingdom.

But since the U.S. began pulling out, al-Qaeda has not died down—it has not been appeased. Rather, it has come back emboldened.

Just two weeks after the U.S. began to pull out, bomb attacks in Riyadh, the country’s capital, killed over 30 people; other post-pullout incidents also have the fingerprint of fundamentalists in the country. Some of Saudi Arabia’s neighboring countries also felt a surge in radical activity. The al-Qaeda leader has demanded the U.S. withdraw from the entire Arabian Peninsula. Clearly the terror group was not appeased by the troops moving just across the Saudi border to Qatar.

Two problems now exist.

First is the possibility that the U.S. pullout sends the message to Osama and his cohorts that terrorism works—that you can rally a band of radicals behind you, attack three of America’s most significant buildings, and within two years achieve what you originally set out to do: get the U.S. out of Saudi Arabia.

The other problem is that the U.S. believes it has lifted “a burden” from the Saudis by removing American troops—eliminating “a huge recruiting device” for al-Qaeda. But will al-Qaeda suffer a recruitment shortage with the U.S. gone from Saudi Arabia, or even—if it were to come to this—from the entire peninsula? Or will the recruitment only intensify in other countries? Iraq, for example, is now full of increasingly disgruntled, out-of-work soldiers who want to be heard—so much so that they have threatened suicide attacks. These are people ripe for al-Qaeda’s recruitment plan. After leaving Saudi Arabia, will the U.S. actually renew strength in al-Qaeda members and sympathizers in Middle East countries to the point where it increases its presence?

The U.S. has pulled out of Saudi Arabia because of the supposed decrease of the threat in Iraq. But it has not contained the flames of the radical Islamic camp on the Arabian Peninsula. Could any move by the “Great Satan” ever appease this radical mind? No matter what it does in the Middle East, or where it goes, the U.S. will be unable to satisfy the radicals—even if in the minority—who can wreak havoc on the Middle East and the United States itself.

Clearly, America is fighting a war it will not win.