The Magazine

Syria Yes, Israel No!

Our anti-terror coalition doesn't distinguish friend from foe

Nov 12, 2001, Vol. 7, No. 09 • By NORMAN PODHORETZ
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Mubarak and the monarchy in Saudi Arabia may wish for various reasons to play ball with us, and we are constantly being assured that they are doing so. Thus, to start with the latter, in the early days of our struggle to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban regime under whose protection Osama bin Laden had long been operating, Phil Reeker, a spokesman for the State Department, announced that the Saudis "have agreed to everything we have asked of them in our campaign against terrorism."

If this were true, all it would have meant was that we had not asked them to do much of anything, especially not to allow us to launch bombers from Saudi bases. But Reeker's statement was a bald-faced lie.

As of late October, 94 countries had complied with our request that airlines entering this country provide U.S. Customs with advance lists of passengers, so that they could be checked for possible terrorists; the Saudis are among a handful (along with other great friends of the U.S. like Egypt, Kuwait, and Jordan) that have said no. The Saudis have also balked at investigating the 15 hijackers of September 11 who identified themselves as citizens of Saudi Arabia and obtained their visas there. And the Saudis have not exactly been enthusiastic about joining the more than 80 countries that are freezing the assets of terrorist cells. (A Treasury official last week praised the Saudis for their "cooperation," while acknowledging that the accounts in question may simply be under surveillance, not frozen.) To be sure, Saudi apologists whisper that, behind the scenes, they are providing us with valuable intelligence. But if so, it has not been valuable enough to help us find bin Laden in the caves of Afghanistan.

Nor has the intelligence we have been getting from that other much-touted bastion of "moderation," Egypt, led us to bin Laden's hideout. Admittedly, unlike the Saudi rulers, Mubarak has granted overflight rights to American warplanes. Perhaps that is why the United States is preparing to supply him with new weapons. Whatever else Mubarak plans to do with these weapons, however, he has repeatedly expressed his determination to refrain from using them -- or the rest of the huge arsenal with which we have supplied him -- against Afghanistan or any other Muslim country. He has in addition particularly cautioned us not to risk offending Islamic "public opinion" either by "widening the battlefield" to Iraq (with which he has been working to improve his relations), or by bombing Afghanistan during the holy Islamic month of Ramadan (even though it was precisely during Ramadan that Egypt itself attacked Israel in 1973).

In interviews with Western journalists like Lally Weymouth of Newsweek, Mubarak attacks bin Laden, deplores suicide bombing, and voices sympathy for America. Yet in his own officially controlled press, not even the relentless assaults on Israel (and Jews in general) are more disgusting than the vitriol directed at America.

HERE ARE ONLY TWO of many dozens of examples. First, shortly after September 11, in Al Akhbar, a daily newspaper sponsored by the Egyptian government, a columnist wrote: "The Statue of Liberty, in New York Harbor, must be destroyed because of...the idiotic American policy that goes from disgrace to disgrace in the swamp of bias and blind fanaticism....[T]he age of the American collapse has begun." Then, after the bombing of Afghanistan had started, the editor of Al Ahram, an even more important government daily, reported that the food we were dropping into Afghanistan "may have been genetically treated....If this is true, the U.S. is committing a crime against humanity by giving the Afghani people hazardous humanitarian products."

This kind of filth could not be published without Mubarak's acquiescence. But very likely he thinks it serves as a safety valve, deflecting opposition to him on the part of a population that shares in such views. Evidently, giving a new twist to an old clich , Colin Powell, and presumably his boss, too, believe that even with friends like these we still need enemies whom we can also cajole and bribe and flatter and whitewash. Which brings me back to the question of why.

The answer usually given is that Powell and Bush are convinced that even lip-service support from some Islamic countries will keep the war against terrorism from being interpreted as a war against Islam, which is how bin Laden and his allies have been trying to portray it.