Review Essay

Shifting Sands

In This Review

Thicker Than Oil: America's Uneasy Partnership With Saudi Arabia
By Rachel Bronson
Oxford University Press, 2006 368 pp. $30.00 Purchase
Saudi Arabia Exposed: Inside a Kingdom in Crisis
By John R. Bradley
Palgrave Macmillan, 2005 224 pp. $22.95 Purchase

Four and a half years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, Saudi Arabia is still under intense scrutiny in the United States. And with good reason. Even as Saudi leaders have struggled to shut off homegrown support for jihad, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Saudi citizens have made the trek to fight in the anti-U.S. insurgency in Iraq. The government's responses -- such as broadcasting the miniseries Deceit in the Name of Jihad -- have smacked of desperation. Saudi Arabia's rulers, it appears, are more frustrated than confident and less in control than they would like to be.

Some observers even question how earnest these efforts have been. Last June, Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and several other senators introduced the Saudi Arabia Accountability Act of 2005, which claims that the kingdom continues to abet international terrorism. Such suspicion runs deep in the United States, not least because the current mujahideen problem in Iraq is partly the result of the Saudi regime's support for jihad in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil producer and home to a quarter of the world's proven oil reserves, has also failed to convince the rest of the world that it is doing all it can to rein in record petroleum prices. High gas prices and burgeoning winter heating bills in the United States have increased the American public's frustration with U.S. reliance on foreign sources of energy. Anti-Saudi opprobrium is now so prevalent among Americans that it supports a cottage industry of television commercials, sensationalist cinema, and best-selling books smearing the kingdom.

Still, it is unthinkable that Washington will seek anything other than smooth relations with Riyadh, because Saudi Arabia will continue to be the world's most important source of oil for at least the next half century. After an April 2005 summit between then Crown Prince Abdullah and President George W. Bush, U.S. officials signaled that they would continue to tolerate the political status quo in Saudi Arabia, at least publicly, even

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