Laurent Murawiec is a former RAND analyst and member of the Hudson Institute, who produced a 24-slide Powerpoint presentation in 2002 to the Defense Policy Board at the Pentagon. The presentation was not only controversial, calling for the U.S. invasion and occupation of Saudi Arabian oilfields, but was so incorrect in its claims and invalid in its assumptions, that even four years later an overview of the claims versus the facts is important.
Slate magazine kindly provided a copy of the Powerpoint’s 24 slides and 59 points of presumptions and opinion, so that a refutation of the presentation’s many mistakes may be made. Don’t worry, I will not list all 59 points, only the ones which were significantly controversial and significantly wrong. I need to amend that; most of the points were significantly wrong, so I will break them down into general categories instead.
First, to understand Saudi Arabia, you have to understand the history of the Middle East, and in proper context. The statements made by Murawiec demonstrate serious error in that regard. They include:
Slide 4, point 1 - “The Arab World has been in a systemic crisis for the last 200 years."
Point 2 - “It missed out on the Industrial Revolution, it is missing out on the Digital Revolution.”
Slide 5, Point 7. [today we see] “A whole generation of violently anti-Western, anti-American, anti-modern shock-troops”.
Slide 6, Point 8 - “Since independence, wars have been the principal output of the Arab world.”
This is incorrect, because the political model for the Middle East can reasonably be said to have come from two sources; the recent nationalistic push following World War I, or else the traditional Sharia which was established by the Prophet Mohammad. Either way, the claim here ignores fundamental demographics, to say nothing of the effect of communications advances.
Next, while it is true that many Arabs have not embraced urban social planning, this hardly means that the Arab nations are to be dismissed as technologically backward. As for the ‘digital revolution’, Iran has more IP addresses than most European nations, as an obvious proof that this claim is wrong. While it is true that the Arab nations have not properly diversified, and this will cause them trouble in the future, and higher education in the Middle East is all too often no more than rote memorization of Islamic proverbs, the implied inability to interact with Europe and America and Asia is a false claim. As I have noted, the Middle East is highly advanced in its urban centers, and cooperative ventures are constantly being developed which demonstrate a savvy business sense in many Arab companies.
The mobs referenced are hardly the majority mood, much less ubiqitous to the region, and to call them “shock troops” is laughable. They are ill-organized beyond getting their chants in cadence, and represent no military ability worth note. As to wars, Egypt has troubles, but has managed to stabilize since Nasser. Jordan, Kuwait and the U.A.E. have established solid functional ties with other nations, both on the diplomatic and commercial levels. I could go on, but the fact is well-established that this claim is patently false.
Arabs have been in more or less a state of rebellion since the Ottomans ran the region, as anyone familiar with the name “Chinese Gordon” would remember. Frankly, the present “rage” in the Middle East is no worse than any time in a long while, and while it serves various regimes to blame ills on America as “The Great Satan”, in actual practice there is little fervor behind the words, especially as measured in trade and government agreements.
Murawiec even demonstrates a poor grasp of recent history, as the following statements in his presentation showed:
(From Slide 9) Point 19 - “Terror as an accepted, legitimate means of carrying out politics, has been incubated for 30 years ...”
(From slide 14) Point 29 - “1973: Saudi Arabia unleashes the Oil Shock, absorbs immense flows of resources”
Point 30 - “1978: Khomeiny [sic] challenges the Saudi’s Islamic credentials, provoking a radicalization and world-wide spread of Wahhabism in response”
Point 31 - “1979-1989: the anti-Soviet Jihad gives life and strength to the Wahhabi putsch within Sunni Islam ... the Taliban are the result”
(From Slide 15) Point 34 -“Shift from pragmatic oil policy to promotion of radical Islam”
The collective effect of those statements is to paint Saudi Arabia as a primary instigator of all bad things. But those statements are very far from true. For instance, the regular use of terror in the Middle East goes back to the Hashishim from more than a thousand years ago, and in regular practice certainly goes at least as far back as uprisings against the Ottomans.
Now as to oil embargoes, it should embarrass Mr. Murawiec to be reminded that OPEC announced an embargo to most Western nations after the 1967 Six-Day War, that Libya canceled contracts to many first-world countries after the junta which put Colonel Qaddafi in place in 1968, and that OPEC threatened yet another embargo in 1971, as a level to force across-the-board renegotiation of oil prices with American and European companies. The main instigators were Libya and Iran, more than Saudi Arabia. The notion that the sale of oil was ever anything but tied to religious and nationalistic goals is naive in the extreme.
Next, blaming this group or that country for the rise of the Taliban is easy, but wrong. The reader may remember that the United States aided the mujahadeen in Afghanistan against the Soviet invaders, but that does not mean they helped the Taliban come to power. This is because the tribal nature of Afghan politics meant that rival factions were always looking for a way to increase or maintain control of a territory; the original Taliban played on those rivalries and assassinated their way to power in the vacuum left by the Soviet pull-out. Saudi Arabia quite reasonably did not like the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan one bit, and their sponsorship of many Afghan rebel groups was intended to pursue resistance to the Soviets in the way which best supported Islamic allies while not committing the Kingdom to direct warfare.
Mr. Murawiec goes on like that all through his presentation, a display of false claims and unsupported allegations. Worse, Murawiec seems to think we would do well to turn Mecca and Medina, along with certain territory, to the Hashemites. Real bad idea, but again, Murawiec has not studied his history well enough to understand the tribalism which runs through the region, and the character of the Arab vendetta. For here, I will simply say it surprises me to hear this guy gets paid by a think tank, because this presentation showed some very poor thinking.
Anyway, cut through to the conclusion. What Mr. Murawiec thought the United States should do, was demand the following from Saudi Arabia:
(From Slide 21) Point 49 - “Stop any funding and support for any fundamentalist madrasa, mosque, ulama, predicator anywhere in the world”
Point 50 - “Stop all anti-U.S., anti-Israel, anti-Western predication, writings, etc. within Arabia”
Point 51 - “Dismantle, ban all the kingdom’s ‘Islamic charities’, confiscate their assets”
Point 52 - “Prosecute or isolate those involved in the terror chain, including in the Saudi intelligence service”
These demands are breath-taking in their arrogance and lack of consideration. First off, does anyone really think that the United States could compel the Saudi throne to issue these kinds of laws? And if the Saudis actually did, do you have any idea how repressive their government would have to be to enforce them? The only thing such demands could possibly do, is damage U.S.-Saudi relations and lend credence to other charges of American arrogance.
OK, so events since 2002 have shown that Murawiec was not a big influence in U.S. policy, but this presentation still warns us that this kind of thinking is out there, and one reason we see muddled decisions being made in D.C., is because there’s all kinds of suggestions being thrown around, some of which would be absolute disasters if put into practice. And naturally, when some of these people’s incredibly stupid ideas receive the answer they deserve, some of them become bitter enemies of the Administration, instead of considering their errors. That is why we see books by former State Department and CIA people, whose egos were far better developed than their actual service to the country.
In conclusion for this article, Saudi Arabia is not an ideal ally. Frankly, I do not trust the stability of the Saudi throne, nor the character of the political-religious alliances which feed careers and lead to intrigues and uprisings. But the notion that the United States can simply roll tanks into Riyadh and dictate terms, badly misses the hard-won reputation of the United States as a fair dealer, as well as the reactions of the other countries in the region. Despite the media claims, the United States actually enjoys great respect, because relative to other nations which have made agreements with Middle East nations, the United States does a good job of keeping its word. And despite a low opinion of the rulers of Saudi Arabia, the Middle East considers the country an honorable custodian of the holiest sites in Islam, and no action could be more incendiary than for a non-Muslim nation to invade that country. Accordingly, the most effective U.S. policy regarding Saudi Arabia avoids blatant confrontation, and uses the extant relationships to build cooperative agreements wherever possible. As to force, the fact that the United States hold strong forces in Iraq and Afghanistan sends all the message necessary, while the conduct of Iran’s leadership implicitly reminds the Saudi throne why they need to stay in line with America.