Saturday, June 19, 2004

The Anonymous Interview 

Spencer Ackerman, ably filling in for the vacationing Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, has posted the first part of an interview with the anonymous author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror. The conversation took place yesterday, roughly an hour after the first news reports of Paul Marshall Johnson's beheading by the Saudi wing of al Qaeda:
TPM: Over the last couple days, a lot of the commentary about the kidnapping has been that it's al-Qaeda’s intent to spare Saudi society and instead inflict pain on foreigners who work on the oil sector. It sounds, though, that you’re saying a more important aspiration of al-Qaeda is to provide a demonstration effect of what the power of its ideology and the steadfastness of its operatives can do for people inside Saudi Arabia.

ANONYMOUS: I think that’s right. I think clearly al-Qaeda does not want to kill Muslims unnecessarily. They’re willing for Muslims to die in an attack on the United States or some other target, when the deaths are part and parcel of an act of war. But within Saudi Arabia I think they're kind of the society's Robin Hood. It's an oppressed society, the Saudi government is a tyranny, and I think they have a tremendous audience in Saudi Arabia. I remember reading in The National Interest in 2002 that a poll taken by the Saudi government showed 95 percent of Saudis between 18 and 40 supported Osama bin Laden. Domestic support is not an issue for bin Laden. He's always wanted to protect the oil industry in the sense of its infrastructure, its natural production of oil. He's found a way through this type of murder to affect the American economy, probably, without destroying the future potential of the energy industry in Saudi Arabia. It makes sense for all of those things he wants to do to follow this sort of practice . . . .

[The Saudis'] efforts to suppress al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda-like people angers as many as it pleases. So their efforts are not and cannot be to eradicate the problem, because it will just aggravate a huge number of people in a very young populace that is very religious. There's a certain point at which they can't trust anti-terrorism efforts without risking a much wider anti-al Saud response.

TPM: Is this just a fatal and unavoidable contradiction of Saudi Arabia?

ANONYMOUS: It's a very difficult issue. It's hard for me, and there's other people far more expert on the kingdom, but I cannot see it reconciled in the near term. The Saudis had a breathing space in the '80s because they exported so much of their young men who were bin Laden-like to Afghanistan. For a decade they kept their unhappy young militants focused on fighting the Soviets. Now they have a problem, because those folks are home--although I would suspect that the Saudis and the Egyptians and the Tunisians and the Algerians and the rest of them are exporting some of their militants to Iraq, with the same idea that they can fight the jihad there and hopefully they won’t come back alive. But to answer your question, there’s a fundamental danger to the existence of the Saudi regime if they press too hard on counterterrorism.

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