US Needs New Approach in Dealing with Saudis, Says Lee Hamilton '52April 10, 2007, Greencastle, Ind. - "At a time when America's standing in the Middle East is shaken, it is not surprising that the Saudis are defining their interests as they see them, not as we do," writes Lee Hamilton in the Indianapolis Star. The retired Congressman, who co-chaired the Iraq Study Group and is a 1952 graduate of DePauw University, writes of a "newly assertive" Saudi Arabia. "We should use this occasion to better understand Saudi concerns, and to move toward a relationship that is deeper and more sustainable than the simple deal that has defined U.S.-Saudi relations all these years," argues Hamilton.
Describing the the U.S.-Saudi Arabian relationship as historically "important, sensitive and opaque," the Democrat notes, "A simple deal has driven U.S.-Saudi relations for decades: The Saudis provide access to affordable oil; the United States provides security for the Saudi royal family. Yet tensions intrude upon this marriage of convenience. Americans have questioned Saudi Arabia's autocratic government, opposition to Israel and financial support for radical Islam. The Saudis have chafed at our lectures on democracy, support for Israel and the war in Iraq." (at right: Hamilton with DePauw student journalists last fall)
A member of the House of Representatives for 34 years, Hamilton declares, "The irony is that the United States has pressed the Saudis to be more assertive. For months, Bush administration officials have spoken of a realignment in the Middle East in which 'moderate Arab states' like Saudi Arabia worry more about a rising Iran than Israel. Yet while the Saudis are very concerned about Iran's growing influence and nuclear program, King Abdullah has hosted talks with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and spoken out against the prospect of a U.S. attack on Iran."
While the American economy is reliant on Saudi oil, Hamilton states, "Saudi Arabia is not a moderate Arab state -- it is an autocracy. While it has cooperated in the war on terror, it denies its people political and economic opportunity. It is no coincidence that 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudis angry at their government, angry at the United States and ensnared by radical Islam. Yet while we press the Saudis to cooperate on counter-terrorism, we do not press them to liberalize their political and economic system. We should not push for dramatic and potentially destabilizing change, nor should we reduce our commitment to the security of Saudi Arabia. But we should press for pragmatic reform so that the seeds of civil society, greater economic equality and political participation have the opportunity to grow."
Read the complete op-ed at the Star's Web site.