A Saudi bomb?

If the Saudis are really nuking up, that’s really bad news. The silence from Washington is deafening.

“If there were an election today for President of Saudi Arabia, Osama bin Laden would win,” says Wesley Clark. In that context, the news that the Saudis are planning to nuke up is, if true, about as bad as news could possibly be.

I’m on record as thinking that Iranian attempts to acquire nukes need to be resisted, violently if necessary. But Iran has a large secular middle class that is (or was, until Iran’s inclusion in the “axis of evil”) pro-reform and pro-American, and there’s reason to hope that in the long run Iran will develop into a friendly democratic power.

There’s no such hope for Saudi Arabia. Today’s religiously fanatic, corrupt, and anti-democratic Saudi regime, with its history of financing terrorist-breeding madrassas and playing footsie with al-Qaeda, is probably the least horrible regime that could maintain itself in power there, and that hold on power is likely to grow more and more tenuous over time.

It’s hard to tell how much substance there is to the latest report. I’m not familiar with Cicero, the German magazine that broke the story, and haven’t seen the text. It seems to be rather thinly sourced, though plausible and detailed. John Pike, who isn’t in the habit of talking through his hat, is quoted as saying that the Saudis helped finance the Pakistani nuclear project in the first place, which makes the current report that much more convincing. Arnaud de Borchgrave report from 2003 was better-sourced; though in general I wouldn’t believe de Borchgrave if he told me the sky was blue, his close ties to the U.S. intelligence community are undeniable.

I keep hoping that at some point the appalling behavior of the Saudi government will stretch George W. Bush’s hereditary fealty to the House of Saud past its breaking point. But the silence from Washington on the Saudi bomb project, by contrast with the noise about the Iranian one, has been deafening.

The key question about going to war with Iraq, in my view at the time, wasn’t its own WMD program but whether toppling Saddam Hussein would increase or decrease U.S. leverage on Iran and Saudi Arabia. It seems to me that we now know the answer to that question.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com