COLUMNS

This time, let’s finish the war

Barbara Amiel December 3 2001
COLUMNS

This time, let’s finish the war

Barbara Amiel December 3 2001

This time, let’s finish the war

COLUMNS

Barbara Amiel

The Americans do get on with things. The bomb site at the World Trade Center looks like an ordinary construction sight now, except for the smell and the silence. People who work in the area say they can’t eat the food in local restaurants because it smells of. . . something. Not just acrid, not just smoky, something. Only the frieze of wreckage on the north side stands, mutely reminding us of what happened. The starkness of that crazy skeleton looks like a deconstructed de Chirico painting. Some of the surrounding buildings covered in dark brown net have structural problems that can be solved only by demolition. The buildings wait in silence to die, but no one is quite sure how to kill them. Underneath, the fire burns. There are no tourists here at Ground Zero. Two weeks ago, workers discovered an elevator, intact. Inside, it was filled with bodies.

This is the aftermath of terrorism. It is real and terrible. The Americans continue to fight the war with their coalition partners. The Europeans seem staunch, but what of the Arab nations in the Middle East? What are we to do with them?

Some answers are easy. We have to get rid of Saddam Hussein for the same reason we have to get rid of Osama bin Laden. You cannot negotiate with either, and both want to kill us. It is the same reason one has to get rid of a large rat in one’s room-— what else can you do? The Iranians show some signs that they have decided it is better not to irritate the big powers quite so much and they may actually get rid of their own ayatollahs. The Syrians and Egyptians can be dealt with if necessary, but it may not be necessary.

That will be because if the West does the right thing in one or two other areas, the other pieces may fall into place. The Arab street activity seems to follow the pattern of American military success. According to Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, in the first week after the American air strikes in Afghanistan there were nine anti-American demonstrations in Arabic-speaking countries, the second week saw four, the third week one, the fourth week, two. “Then nothing,” says Indyk. “The Arab street is quiet.” As Daniel Pipes wrote in the National Post on Nov. 20: “So long as Americans submitted passively to murderous attacks by militant Islam, this movement gained support among Muslims. When Americans finally fought militant Islam, its appeal quickly diminished.”

Saudi Arabia presents a different problem. The best comment I have read on it was in a Nov. 18 column by Jeff Jacoby for The Boston Globe. It quoted a CNN interview with Prince

Saddam Hussein must go. It is the same reason one has to get rid of a large rat in one’s roomwhat else can you do?

Bandar, Saudi ambassador to the United States, in which he said that his country’s role was “to stand shoulder to shoulder with our friends, the people of the United States ... In 1990, you came through for us. And it’s our turn now to stand up with you.” Alas, as Jacoby points out, the Saudis have done nothing of the sort.

Initially, they were silent on the atrocities of Sept. 11. As the U.S. investigation began, says Jacoby, Riyadh arranged a private jet to fly out scores of Saudi citizens from the U.S., including members of the bin Laden family who might have been useful to the FBI. When Washington asked for information on the 15 Saudi Sept. 11 terrorists, the Saudis stonewalled. A month after the attacks, The Netu York Times reported, “Saudi Arabia has so far refused to freeze the assets of Osama bin Laden and his associates.” Two weeks later, the Saudis relented and reportedly froze some accounts on Washington’s terrorist list. Meanwhile, the Saudis barred the use of their military bases for attacks against the Taliban and refused to see British Prime Minister Tony Blair when he went to the Middle East to build support for the war effort. When a U.S. grand jury indicted 13 Saudis for the 1996 terrorist bombings in Dhahran, which killed 19 American soldiers, Riyadh refused to turn them over. Middle East experts know that the Saudis play it both ways: they talk of friendship to the West while paying off some of the most extreme Islamic elements around the world.

Removing the House of Saud at this time is not in the West’s interests. Bin Ladenism stands in the wings. The best way is to neutralize the country by concentrating as never before on our own energy development. All that oil money not only finances the lavish lifestyle of thousands of Saudi princes and their entourages, it also finances extreme Islamic elements. One of the most important developments for our future took place last week when Russian President Vladimir Putin spent a few days with President George W Bush. At the end of that Texas meeting, Putin made a momentous decision: Russia would maintain nearly full oil production despite pressure from OPEC. Consequendy, the bottom fell out of the oil market. This decision (estimated to mean something like $ 150 billion in savings to America) will probably have more of an effect on the American economy than Bush’s entire tax-cutting stimulus.

Canada can play its part. We have the oilsands, and the means to make extraction less expensive should be a top priority. There are a number of ways to fight a war and not all of them involve brawn. This is one area where mental muscle might win the day. EH