Follow the Money -- to the Saudi Princes

"In wartime, truth is so precious that she should be attended by a bodyguard of lies."
-- Winston Churchill


As our missiles and cluster bombs fill the air in Afghanistan, the lies of our officials fill the air here at home. The loudest of these lies comes from the lips of President Bush himself, who insists that his is the noblest of wars, that he is the young prince who has set forth on a historic crusade to do nothing less than rid the world of terrorism, swinging his mighty sword in a sweeping arc to -- in the words of a recent pronouncement -- "save civilization itself."

Bless his heart, he might even believe it, for this is what he's been told by Prime Minister Cheney and by Rummy, his Machiavelli. The Bush- Cheney-Rumsfeld axis certainly is right that this is a war triggered by terrorists and that Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network (in Arabic, "the Base") must be stopped. Nothing can ever justify crashbombing crowded jetliners into buildings full of people, nor can we sit around waiting for them to attack us again.

As in many wars, however, there is the political objective, and then there is the business objective, which tends to be less than noble. This is the truth that Bush & Company seek to hide by their loud and glitzy media campaign to keep us commoners focused on the evil face of bin Laden, and on the relentless pounding that the Bushites are administering to Afghanistan's Taliban and the poor people of that impoverished, inhospitable, practically primitive land.

It's time to ask, "Why?" Why have we singled out a country that is already so devastated by decades of invasions and wars that you can't tell the "before" aerial photos from those taken after our bombs explode? We're bombing donkey stables!

Well, yes, we're told, but we've got to get the insane terrorists who attacked us and continue to foment hatred toward America. Fine, but the Afghans are not now and have not in the past been global terrorists. In the whole bloody series of terrorist attacks on America -- the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the Al Khobar Towers military-housing bombing in 1996, the bombing of two of our embassies in Africa in 1998, the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, and most recently the September 11 atrocities -- not a single terrorist was Afghani.

Until very recently, Afghanistan's Taliban rulers were hailed by our government as "freedom fighters," and billions of your and my tax dollars were spent to help repel the decade-long Soviet invasion of their country. And while Bush is now waging a propaganda war against these theocratic thugs for their subjugation of women, it was the U.S. that backed these very extremists when they came to power in 1996, knowing full well their deplorable human-rights record. As recently as last March, George W.'s administration shipped $43 million to the Taliban for being valued partners in the drug war.

Yes, the Taliban has housed Al Qaeda, but the truth is that we are reducing Afghanistan to dust simply because we can. It is a politically weak nation, an easy target. It also has no resources that global corporations drool over -- no oil, no diamonds, no forests, no fields of grain. It does provide the pathway that U.S. oil companies favor to pipe out the oil and gas from Central Asia -- and those oil fields are possibly the biggest in the world. (We'll come back to this in an upcoming Lowdown.) But apart from pipeline passageways, this desolate country's chief crop is caves.

In the economic scheme of things, the Afghani people don't matter.

Bomb them into oblivion, oust our Taliban ex-pals, and install some other nasties (the Northern Alliance) as our preferred government of the moment. Think of Afghanistan as a rundown tenement house in some out-of- the-way part of town. The Taliban are the live-in landlords of the place, allowing a drug ring (Al Qaeda) to operate there, doing dirty deals. You can kill the landlords, but this doesn't stop the dealing. If you really want to stop it, you follow the trail of dollars and go after the money bosses who finance and profit from the ring. But this is the crucial move that Bush-Cheney- Rumsfeld aren't making and don't want you and me even thinking about.

The global family of oil

Bush just recently made a highly publicized fuss about a small-potatoes businessman in Dubai who might (or might not) have funneled some money to bin Laden. This is another feint to keep the public from focusing on the key patrons of Al Qaeda's terrorism: the descendants and wealthy retainers of the royal Saud family, for whom the oil fiefdom of Saudi Arabia is named.

Bush's war council, however, has gone to great lengths to divert any scrutiny of the Saudi rulers. Why? One word: Oil. The Saudi elites happen to be longtime oil-business buddies of the Bush clan, Cheney's Haliburton Corporation, and the giant oil companies of our country. Unless we talk about the politics of oil, we won't begin to know what's going on in this "War on Terrorism," nor can we hope to win it.

What is Saudi Arabia? It began and remains a totalitarian monarchy that was carved out of old Arabia in 1932 by Abdul-Aziz ibn Saud, scion of a family of religious warlords going back to the 15th century. King Saud had the fabulous good fortune of enthroning himself atop a desert land that turned out to hold one quarter of the world's crude oil.

It is the United States that developed and continues to sustain the unfathomable wealth of the Saud family. Franklin Roosevelt's administration decided to tap into and control Saudi Arabia's ocean of oil for our nation's long-term needs, handing the task to a newly created entity called ARAMCO (the Arab America Oil Company), a consortium of the Saudi kingdom and our own oil corporations, including Exxon, Mobil, Chevron, and Texaco.

To assure that the oil boys would have an uninterrupted supply, FDR struck a Faustian bargain with King Saud in 1945: The royal family provides the crude, and the U.S. provides protection for the royals. Fifty-six years later, that's still the deal.

Our relationship is about oil money. Period. Contrary to the contentions of successive American presidents who have pretended that the Saudi regime is an enlightened, moderate monarchy and an ideological ally, these guys share nothing in common with our democratic ideals -- they have no parliament, no free speech (they outlaw all forms of political debate), no political parties, no right of assembly. They, too, repress women and behead heretics.

The royal family of some 6,000 princes (women aren't counted), along with a handful of favored business cronies, gobbles up virtually all of the oil billions (not for nothing are these payments called "royalties"). Theirs is the pampered life of the palace, with chauffeured limousines, private jets, and Western college educations for their children. Not a few of them wallow in conspicuous consumption, which includes drinking, gambling, consorting with prostitutes, and other violations of strict Islamic law that the nation's 22 million ordinary citizens would have their hands chopped off for violating.

The excesses of the royals have left millions of Saudis impoverished, angry, and restive. To keep the lid on and the oil spigots open for the Exxons, our CIA and Pentagon have been directly involved in crushing the economic aspirations and political dissent of the Saudi masses.

The kingdom's internal-security forces were organized, trained, equipped, and even managed by the Pentagon. America, which presently claims to be fighting a world war for freedom, has aggressively and effectively clamped down on freedom in Saudi Arabia, stifling democracy to maintain the monarchy. All because of our oil companies.

If the terrorists responsible for the September 11 attacks do a similar operation in Saudi Arabia, the price of oil could skyrocket to one hundred dollars a barrel -- more than four times what it costs today. That's something oil corporations couldn't tolerate, so presidents since FDR have deployed trillions of dollars' worth of U.S. military might and CIA snoopervision to prevent both internal and external threats to the royal regime.

This includes the Gulf War under Daddy Bush. It was not tiny Kuwait that Bush I was so intent on protecting, as our government propaganda blared at the time, but Saudi Arabia. None other than Dick Cheney, then defense secretary, was dispatched to consult with the Saudi royals, who quickly okayed the placement of U.S. troops on Saudi soil.

This doesn't seem like much to us, for we're used to our troops being based hither, thither, and yon. But not only is it considered an intrusion on their sovereign land by the Saudi people, it also is considered a sacrilege, for Saudi Arabia is the land of Mecca and Medina, the two holiest sites of Islam, the land where Muhammad and the faith itself were born.

Imagine if a Middle Eastern army set up shop at the National Cathedral, Bob Jones University, or the Mormon Tabernacle. Multiply that outrage by 1,000-fold and you get the anger felt by many Muslims.

To this day, at least 5,000 U.S. troops remain in Saudi Arabia -- a raw sore for the millions of people of faith (in a country that uses the Quran as its constitution). This sense of defilement, made worse by the knowledge that our troops are there to prop up the increasingly unpopular monarchy, has emboldened many who want to overthrow the House of Saud -- including one firebrand named Osama bin Laden.

Connections

It's not merely the giant oil corporations that have cozy business relationships with the Saudi elites. Indeed, while Osama directs his holy war from the depths of some cave somewhere, a huge bin Laden corporate empire, which has enriched him and continues to be run by his family, has been doing business with some astonishing partners right here in the USA.

Let's start with the guy who says he wants Osama "dead or alive," George W. Bush himself! In the 1970s, when young George was cutting his none-too-sharp business teeth by starting a West Texas oil company he called Arbusto, among his first investors was a Houston investment banker and Bush buddy named James Bath. He turns out to have been acting on behalf of Osama's brother Salem, who then ran the family's far-flung operations. Salem put $50,000 into Arbusto, but it didn't pay out, for Bush's venture quickly went bust-o.

No sweat for the Bin Laden family, which runs a $5-billion-a-year conglomerate and has the right political connections to get such juicy contracts as building the mosque in Mecca and building support facilities for U.S. troops during the Gulf War. The family is Saudi Arabia's answer to the Rockefellers.

In 1995, Osama's family connected with another Bush -- George I. The Bin Laden Group bought a $2 million ownership share in the Carlyle Group, which is something of a retirement home for former G.O.P. big shots. Former President Bush is a principal in this firm, as is former Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci (Don Rumsfeld's college roommate), former Treasury Secretary James Baker (who directed George W.'s dirty work in the Florida vote recount), and former White House operative Fred Malek.

These political sparklies use their influence to get construction contracts from various governments, ranging from the Pentagon to the Saudi monarchy. The elder Bush was dispatched just last year to meet with the royals in Riyadh and bring home a load of loot for Carlyle.

Connections like this have catapulted Carlyle from nothing a few years ago to being the country's 11th largest military contractor. Among its contracts is one to build the missile-launch systems currently in use aboard our warships firing at the Afghanis. It also owns a company called BioPort Corporation, which happens to have a monopoly on making anthrax vaccine in the U.S.

The Bin Laden Group has profited enormously from its financial ties to Bush et al. in the Carlyle Group, and vice versa. Late last month, however, there were glum faces in both groups, for they agreed to part ways, acknowledging that it was a bit much (and bad for business) to have U.S. mucky-mucks making financial hay with the 49 siblings and other relatives of the world's most wanted villain, who we're told just masterminded the slaughter of thousands of innocent Americans.

Not that the Bin Laden clan has any truck with Osama, you understand.

No, no, they loudly insist, they disavowed him years ago and even changed the spelling of their name to emphasize the separation.

Maybe, but the former chief of counter-terrorism for the CIA says that at least one brother and two sisters continue to actively fund terrorists tied to Osama.

The French daily Le Monde also made a fragrant discovery that brother Yeslam Bin Laden's company, Avcon Business Jets SA, offered pilot-training courses at the same Florida flight school where several of the September 11 kamikazes studied.

Saudi friends of the family are involved, too. Khaled bin Mahfouz, who controls Saudi Arabia's largest bank and is known in Arab circles as "the king's treasurer," was caught with other wealthy Saudis in 1999 funneling millions of dollars into bin Laden's bank accounts, much of it through two Islamic charities. Mahfouz, incidentally, is another investor in the Carlyle Group.

Also in the charity game is the government of Saudi Arabia. U.S. intelligence officials told Newsweek that the government directly funds two charities that, in turn, finance bin Laden. Yet George W. left these two charities off his list of terrorist-support groups to be raided and shunned because, reports Newsweek, the Bushites wanted "to avoid embarrassing the Saudi government."

The kingdom of Saudi Arabia, through its ministry of religious works, reportedly showers $10 billion a year on Islamic organizations "to appease fundamentalists." This payoff, drawn from those royalties they get annually from the oil corporations, is designed to keep the broad rear ends of the royals on their thrones, for it demonstrates their fealty to the mullahs who teach the "true faith" and keeps irate Islamic extremists focused on hating the Israelis, Americans, or others -- anyone but them.

How much of this mullah money goes directly to bin Laden's terrorist network is unknown, since Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld don't ask and the Saudis don't tell.

Why don't they ask? Oil. War is war, and business is business. And in the case of Saudi Arabia, business trumps war.

In the days after September 11, our government even allowed the Saudis to send private jets to whisk 20 members of the Bin Laden family from their luxury homes here in the U.S. back to the homeland and beyond the reach of questioning.

So here we are, unloading our ample national arsenal on penniless Afghans riding donkeys, while the Saudi pipeline of money (oil money in, terrorist money out) goes untouched. In fact, by carpet-bombing hapless Afghans, we are promoting the worst possible outcomes for us and the world at large:

* We're recruiting millions more supporters for the anti-Western, hard- line branches of Islam and making Osama a global hero.

* We're increasing the likelihood that our clients in power in Saudi Arabia will lose their crowns and their control over all that oil.

* And the worst case of all would be that Osama quietly slips out of Afghanistan and rides back into Riyadh on a white camel as the Ayatollah of Arabia.

And then there's Pakistan. The country is seething with resentment against alternately corrupt civil and military governments. It's ripe for righteous religious uprising. Mullahs along the long border with Afghanistan are whipping up crowds with tirades against the Americans who are bombing and invading their brothers to the north.

Pakistanis practice a more tolerant version of Islam, but already there's talk of where to ship the country's nuclear weapons for safekeeping in case a fundamentalist uprising takes power. (The most likely haven for the nukes? China. Oh swell, I feel safer.)

Meanwhile, back at home

This war on terrorism is a dream come true for corporate interests and archconservatives. It's their long-sought replacement for the old Cold War. By shrieking "terrorism," they're able to:

* Get back to looting unlimited billions from the treasury (they've already ripped the lid off our Social Security trust fund) to build more arms and militarize everything from our "homeland" to outer space;

* Expand the CIA, FBI, NSA, DIA, and other tentacles of the police state, stifling our liberties and democratic ideals;

* Squeeze America's domestic agenda (health care, affordable housing, etc.), claiming every dime must go to combating terrorism or to corporate giveaways to "stimulate" the economy; and

* Keep it all up for a long time. Rumsfeld warns that it will take "decades" to vanquish terrorism.

So far, however, Bush & Company aren't waging a war against terrorists, but a war against terrorists who have no oil.

Bush squints into the cameras with practiced solemnity and intones that the world must choose sides -- either with us or against us. Then he winks at Big Oil's partners in the Saudi kingdom, assuring them that a little war won't get in the way of the smooth flow of business.
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