Paid subscription site. Stanch One Saudi Flow By Bill Tammeus, The Kansas City Star September 10, 2005 As we mark another 9/11 anniversary, lets look again at Saudi Arabia, from which most of that days hijackers came. Has anything changed in that land of sand and oil? Oh, my, yes. Are all the changes good? Oh, my, no. Is there hope that this Islamic desert country will ever stop producing terrorists, its best-known export outside of oil? Eventually that production might slow, but the country appears even closer to an internal explosion than when I visited in 2002. Three years ago, just months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Saudi authorities worried about a population whose median age had fallen to 17 and an economy in which per capita income had fallen by more than two-thirds in recent decades. (A new book recommendation: Several reviewers call Saudi Arabia Exposed by British journalist John R. Bradley the best work on the country in decades.) Much about Saudi Arabias internal problems are the same as they were in 2001, such as unemployed young people who are ripe targets for extremists and internal religious dissension that is suppressed by leaders of the puritanical Wahhabi form of Islam, which the government forces citizens to follow. And on and on. But things have changed, too. For instance, theres a new king. When King Fahd died last month, Crown Prince Abdullah became monarch. Abdullah has pretty much run the country since a stroke incapacitated Fahd in 1995, but because Abdullah wasnt officially king and because the House of Saud is internally divided over many things, he could not act as full sovereign. Now he can within the limits of the consultative system that marks Saudi governance and with the recognition that Saudi-born extremists such as Osama bin Laden have put him and the whole House of Saud on their hit list. King Abdullah, 13th son of the countrys founding monarch, is now in his early 80s, and, believe it or not, is seen as something of a reformer. Under his guidance, Saudi Arabia in recent years has held its first municipal elections and begun to move toward more political and economic freedoms. But the pace of change is extraordinarily slow and has done little or nothing to undo the arrogant power and privileges of a 25,000-member (thats no typo) royal family, which is simply awash in money, especially since oil has tripled from $20-something a barrel in 2002. Revenue from the nations huge reservoir of oil so important to American SUV owners allows the royal family to keep the lid on dissension by throwing money at problems. Just a few weeks ago, for instance, King Abdullah ordered a 15 percent pay hike for public employees (more than one-third of the labor force). Clearly the move was aimed at pacifying a restless citizenry, though elements of the sycophant Saudi press were quick to point out that the king also raised pensions and paid an extra months salary to the lowest-paid state workers, thus showing his concern for the downtrodden. I suggest, however, that we not start calling him King Mother Teresa Abdullah. The man understands that his power depends on the willingness of the Saudi people (who, in my experience, are charming and engaging) to stomach the royal familys wild opulence that oil money makes possible. As all of this and more goes on, worries mount. America has been a cozy pal of the House of Saud, sometimes for reasons that make internal sense in the goofy, often amoral world of geopolitics. The fact is, Americans need Saudi oil because we have not had the self-discipline to conserve and find alternative energy sources. Its not clear what we would do if extremists captured Saudi Arabia and cut off imports to the United States. Beyond that, as Bradley reports in his book, many Saudi parents have delegated their child-rearing responsibilities to foreign servants, leaving young people on their own and easy prey for al-Qaida and similar radicals. An accurate criticism of American foreign policy is that we havent finished the job in Afghanistan. But its also true that we never really started the job in Saudi Arabia--no, not of bombing and invading it, but of insisting that the Saudis own up to their festering pipelines of faith-based terrorism and stop the flow.