Family Ties

Your point is well taken that many Bush administration figures had their Cold War blinders on when they came into office. Condi Rice certainly comes to mind.

But after 9/11? Put yourself in Bush’s shoes. It’s Sept. 13, 2001. Three thousand people are dead. You’re meeting with Prince Bandar on the Truman Balcony at the White House. You both light up Cohibas. You have two possible ways of dealing with this meeting.

On the one hand, Bandar has been friends with your dad for 20 years. Mom just loves it when he drops by Kennebunkport, takes over the kitchen, and cooks up a storm. She calls him Bandar Bush and even allows Bandar—and only Bandar—to smoke those awful stogies in the house. Bar doesn’t do that for just anyone. Bandar stuck by Dad through Iran-Contra, ran covert ops, and even went to war on the same side as him in the Gulf in 1991. He was so great when your dad lost his job to Clinton. James Baker, who gave you your first summer job when you were a cheerleader at Andover, has made many tens of millions off his deals with the Saudis in the Carlyle Group. Your dad regularly traveled to Saudi Arabia for them as well—and the Saudis really came through with investments and contracts—$1.4 billion worth! So one possibility is that you can meet with your old family friend Prince Bandar and ask him to help out.

On the other hand, your counterterrorism analysts—holdovers from the Clinton era who you really never meet with—have said that 15 out of 19 hijackers are Saudi, that Osama Bin Laden is Saudi, and that al-Qaida’s origins and financing are Saudi. The House of Saud is the guardian of Wahhabi Islam, and they’ve let the militant Islamists get completely out of control. They even effectively financed terrorism in hopes of buying off al-Qaida, as they did other terrorist groups. So, based on this information, you could decide to get tough with the Saudis.

As Michael Moore puts it, “Who’s your Daddy?”

I’ve never believed in a conspiracy about the Saudi evacuation. I’ve felt that a “groupthink” about the Saudis emerged from the Bush-Baker crowd, and it was all part of a stew that included crony capitalism and rank incompetence. President Bush owes both his personal and political fortunes to the Saudis. How could he guess that alliances with the Saudis overseen by his father and James Baker failed to take note of the terrorist threat from Wahhabi Islamists? His father and James Baker were giants, the most powerful men on earth. Surely, it was not possible that Prince Bandar and Princess Haifa, such longtime friends of the family, could possibly have been connected to the attacks.

And so, rather than say a word to the Saudis, Bush immediately went after Iraq—which had nothing to do with 9/11. Having knowledge about oil is, as you say, not a bad thing. However, sharing financial interests with the Saudis that blind you to the dark side of Wahhabi terror—that’s disaster.

I also take issue with your unquestioning acceptance of the statements of the 9/11 commission. Sure, their report will be perceived as authoritative and will be said to be reasonably tough on Bush. But the whole concept of bipartisan investigative bodies is wildly overrated. With a few exceptions—Watergate—it’s like teaming up the best oncologists in the world with their esteemed colleagues at Philip Morris to get to the bottom of what causes lung cancer. The real goal of these commissions is to achieve an acceptable political consensus—which is very different from getting at the truth.

The sentence you cite from the commission is a case in point:

[W]e have found no credible evidence that any chartered flights of Saudi Arabian nationals departed the United States before the reopening of national airspace.

Let me explain. I never suggested that the Saudis left the United States before the reopening of airspace. Instead, I reported that the Saudi flights began domestically when there were still restrictions on airspace.

Remember the Sept. 13 flight from Tampa to Lexington? The one that the commission conveniently overlooked. That flight, the first one in the Saudi evacuation operation, required—and got—authorization from the White House. That’s what’s important. Sure, the entire evacuation operation took many days, and during that period restrictions on airspace were lifted. But the larger point is that the White House gave the Saudis a pass to fly when there were still restrictions on airspace and the rubble at the World Trade Center was very much ablaze. That point is absolutely incontrovertible and obfuscated by the commission’s statement. What they write is completely true—but utterly misleading. And worse, it is intentionally misleading. This is exactly the kind of conclusion that you get from a politically compromised investigative body.

Of course, this statement and others like them make their way into the press and become part of the conventional wisdom about how the Saudi evacuation was just another conspiracy theory. By the way, I deal with a number of similar misconceptions in more depth on my Web site, including Newsweek’s error-filled reporting on the subject.

Let me throw the ball back in your court. I don’t know if you share my assessment, but I think 9/11 probably would not have happened had there been no Saudi Arabia. Can you give any examples of Bush being tough on them?

One last note: I think you are being overly generous to Bush by congratulating him for not trying “to stop the constant attacks on the kingdom in the press.” Wow! Bush didn’t tear up the First Amendment. What a great guy! (And be honest, Rachel. Those Pentagon neocons were kvelling over the Saudi-terrorist revelations! Where do you think the leaks came from?)