With Friends Like These

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To judge by Libya’s promise to give up its weapons of mass destruction, President Bush’s get-tough approach in Iraq and Afghanistan has impressed our enemies. But what about our ostensible allies?

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia profess to be cooperating in the war on terror, yet they have done a lot more than Libya to spread terrorism and weapons of mass murder around the world. And, unlike Moammar Kadafi, they have no reason to fear a visit from the 3rd Infantry Division if they don’t mend their ways. After all, the United States doesn’t invade its “friends,” right? But with friends like these....

Both the Washington Post and the New York Times have published investigative articles showing that Pakistan was probably a prime supplier of nuclear technology to Iran. This is quite plausible given the well-documented links between Pakistan and another member of the “axis of evil” -- North Korea. Last year, U.S. spy satellites photographed a Pakistani cargo plane in North Korea loading missile parts. There is widespread suspicion that, in return for this technology, Pakistan shared nuclear know-how with Pyongyang.


Meanwhile, parts of the Pakistani government continue to aid the Taliban insurgency against the U.S.-backed government of Afghanistan. Supposedly outlawed extremist groups like Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba are allowed to openly raise money and spread incendiary propaganda.

Saudi Arabia is equally complicit in helping our enemies. The Saudi government spends billions of dollars supporting madrasas, or Koranic schools, and mosques around the world that preach a virulently anti-American strain of Islam. These institutions churn out jihadists faster than Delta Force can hunt them down, not only in Saudi Arabia but also in places like Pakistan.

Abd al Aziz bin Issa, a leading Al Qaeda member, recently called Saudi Arabia “the primary source of funds for most jihad movements.”

Despite the Saudi establishment’s expensive advertising campaigns to win the goodwill of the United States, the contempt in which it holds this country is evident. Princess Reem al Faisal, a granddaughter of the late King Faisal, was quoted in October as accusing the U.S. of committing “atrocities” that rank among “the worst in human history” -- the latest being the occupation of Iraq.

MEMRI, an invaluable website that translates Arabic publications, is replete with similar sentiments from other prominent Saudis. Many of their comments are aimed at exposing the supposed nexus between “Zionists” and “Crusaders.” Umayma Ahmad Jalahma, a professor of Islamic studies at the state-run King Faisal University, last year repeated the old libel that for Purim “the Jewish people must obtain human blood so that their clerics can prepare the holiday pastries.” This year, for an encore, Jalahma claimed that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was timed for Purim.

The superficially reassuring thing about Saudi Arabia and Pakistan is that the leaders of both countries, Crown Prince Abdullah and President Pervez Musharraf, have disassociated themselves from such extremist rhetoric. Both claim to be allies in the war on terror -- and to some extent they have delivered by detaining some suspects and closing some bank accounts. But neither one has done nearly enough to crack down on the extremists who have penetrated their own governments.


In Pakistan, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, and to a lesser extent the army, is riddled with hard-liners who support jihadist terrorists in Afghanistan and Kashmir. These radical Islamists may have been behind the recent attempts to assassinate Musharraf. In Saudi Arabia, Abdullah has to compete for influence with his half-brother, Prince Nayif ibn Abdulaziz, who runs the powerful Interior Ministry. Nayif has claimed that the 9/11 attacks could not have been committed by Saudis; they had to be the work of Israelis.

After terrorist bombings that rocked Riyadh this year, Nayif cracked down on Al Qaeda cells and some of the mullahs who supported them. But, as Princeton professor Michael Doran argues in the new issue of Foreign Affairs, there are sharp limits to how far he will go in challenging the Wahhabi clerical establishment. To Nayif and others of his ilk, the biggest threat comes not from fundamentalist fanatics but from liberal reformers.

The remarkable thing is that a U.S. president who prides himself on moral clarity has been willing to accept such equivocation for so long. No doubt George W. Bush fears that if the U.S. presses either regime too hard, the unintentional result may be to bring Osama bin Laden’s acolytes to power.

Both Musharraf and Abdullah need the U.S. at least as much as we need them. Neither one can stay in power -- or, most likely, stay alive -- if the radical Islamists prevail. In the long term, we do them no favors by allowing them to coddle our mutual enemies.

Max Boot is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of “The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power” (Basic Books, 2003).