Byline: Robert W. Jordan, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Sixty years ago, President Franklin Roosevelt and the founding ruler of Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz ibn Saud, huddled over richly patterned carpets spread across the deck of the cruiser USS Quincy. This meeting in the Great Bitter Lake of the Suez Canal marked the beginning of a unique relationship: The U.S. promised security and technology in exchange for Saudi guarantees of reliable supplies of reasonably priced oil.
Despite inevitable moments of tension and crisis, this deal worked well for both sides: We generally managed to provide the security and technology, and the Saudis generally managed to provide the oil. In Operation Desert Storm, the Saudis provided more than oil, and joined us in combat against Saddam Hussein. In our efforts to liberate Afghanistan and Iraq, the Saudis provided coalition forces the critical use of a state-of-the-art air command center, air clearances for military flights, and other support that saved American lives when other allies, such as Turkey, backed away from our requests.
Yet this week, as President Bush and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah met in Crawford, Texas, we mark the 60th anniversary of this relationship with a sense of unease. In the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks by Saudi terrorists, the loss of American lives to terrorist attacks in Riyadh and elsewhere, the funding of madrassas and charities preaching hatred in the name of Islam, and recent reports of books and pamphlets promoting anti-Western venom in American mosques, many wonder if this relationship is worth preserving.
And in the midst of increasing media criticism and frustrations ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Iraq to our visa and travel restrictions, it is not surprising many Saudis wonder the same thing. So after 60 years, how do we assess and improve such a tangled and contradictory relationship?
For years, our relations have been conducted by government and business elites. The two countries' citizens know little about each other, except for the 30,000 Saudi students who formerly studied here each year or the thousands of Americans who lived and raised their families in Aramco or defense contractor compounds.
Our two countries have learned more about each other since September 11, 2001, but with mixed results. Immediately after the attacks, we struggled to communicate on intelligence and counterterrorism. But we persisted and matters have improved.
The recent convocation of an International Counterterrorism Conference in Riyadh, attended by representatives of 50 nations, heard Crown Prince Abdullah call for setting up an international counterterrorism center, to share methods and information. …