The Misguided U.S.-Saudi Rhetoric

The estrangement between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia has become too deep. The September 11 attacks, perpetrated by 15 Saudi citizens and four others from the Middle East, have created an ugly dynamic in both countries. Americans have legitimate grievances against Saudi Arabia: The Saudis have yet to acknowledge at least an indirect responsibility for the murderous terrorist attacks. In truth, an antiquated Islamic educational system bred intolerance, semiofficial religious charities funded terror groups, and a fearful royal family has looked the other way in recent years as long as organizations like al Qaeda didn't target them directly.

But Americans need to be reminded that September 11 has been as much a wake-up call for Saudi Arabia as for the U.S. Many Saudis are the first to recognize that their country's institutions--the monarchy, the mosques, the universities--desperately need reform. Americans should also remember that Saudi Arabia has been a steadfast strategic U.S. ally for six decades, opposing efforts by radical states such as Libya, Iraq, and Iran to use oil as a political weapon.

The relationship is now being manipulated by extremists on both sides. In the U.S., criticism is increasingly taking the form of ugly rants against Saudi society, the Islamic religion, and Arabs. In Saudi Arabia, this only serves to fuel the rage of the most anti-American and backward elements of a still-powerful religious establishment. Yet those who call for immediate political change should realize that any successor regime would be fundamentalist and viscerally anti-American.

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