The Magazine

The New Evil Empire?

From the December 13, 2004 issue: Applying Cold War lessons to Saudi global mischief.

Dec 13, 2004, Vol. 10, No. 13 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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(4) The Russian state was eventually severed from the Communist party and its ideology. Only then could it become a more or less normal political structure. President Bush should impress upon the Saudis the wisdom of divorcing their state from Wahhabism.

(5) For decades, the United States brought pressure to bear on the Soviet Union in the name of human rights through such instruments as Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe. We should serve notice on the Saudi authorities that we will assist in every way possible domestic advocates of peaceful modernizing and democratizing reforms in the kingdom (just as the Bush Doctrine dictates we should do in Iran and across the Middle East).

(6) Finally, President Bush and Secretary Rice must remember Soviet history as they resist the blandishments of the détentists--those who insist that all Saudi subjects idolize bin Laden, or that the only alternative to the present regime is chaos, or that the Saudis will change only through slow evolution and discreet pressure behind the scenes, or that direct engagement will simply insult and alienate them. Secretary Rice will recall that all these arguments were offered in the Soviet case--and all proved wrong. It was not détente that brought down the Soviet Union.

Saudi Arabia, with its commitment to promoting Islamic extremism worldwide, remains the key to defeating the terrorists we face. It is also a society in crisis. President Bush can choose to deal piecemeal with Islamist terrorism. Or, like Ronald Reagan confronting the Soviet Union, he can take on the problem itself, directly, carefully, calmly, but firmly, by dealing with its Saudi source. With Condoleezza Rice at his side, the president can apply the lessons of experience to the core challenge of his new term.

Stephen Schwartz is the author of The Two Faces of Islam: Saudi Fundamentalism and its Role in Terrorism.