Another title for this book could have been "The Big Trough." Steven Emerson, a former member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff and now a first-rate reporter, has documented the Arabian mastery of that old American custom which in politics is sometimes called slopping the hogs.
Since the first big oil crisis in 1973, Saudi Arabia alone has squeezed more than $660 billion from the world's consumers (compared to $35 billion in the 18 years prior to 1973). That's a lot of slop, and our piggies in politics, business and academia, their nostrils quivering, were quick to line up at the trough.
"In the end," writes Emerson, "a vast ripple of petrodollar influence has washed over American society as business and politics have become intertwined," setting in motion "a massive and sometimes uncontrolled domino reaction of surreptitious political manipulation, bigotry, and above all else, advancement of other nations' secret political maneuvering."
Ah, the difference a few hundred billion bucks makes. Opinion shapers who once looked upon Arabs as unwashed barbarians suddenly saw them in a different light. Super-sycophancy became one of the fastest traded commodities on the Washington-Middle East exchange. Emerson profiles Frederick G. Dutton, a pillar of the Kennedy crowd, as an example of the pioneers in selling services to the Arabs. In a letter to a high-ranking official of Aramco, the oil cartel, Dutton thanks him "for the opportunity to meet Yamani (Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani, the Saudi oil minister), who I sensed is about as fascinating an individual as John F. Kennedy, whom I came to think while his Secretary of the Cabinet was about the most interesting political figure (even with his faults) I would ever come to know."
How could the sheiks resist such charming flattery? Before long Dutton was engaged as their agent and, Emerson tells us, his reward has amounted to "over $2 million, including a large expense account."
Those who play this game most successfully know that subtlety is a drawback. Emerson says that former president Jimmy Carter, addressing a conference on Saudi Arabian trade in Atlanta, "fawned over the Saudi hierarchy," expressed deep sorrow for the Palestinians but did not mention "denial of basic human rights in Saudi Arabia" -- and six months later the notorious Saudi sales agent, Adnan Khashoggi, chipped in $50,000 for Carter's presidential library.
In percentage, Arab investments and trade are not all that great; the leverage is obtained by tying a political string to every dollar. U.S. banks that want Arab money must withhold from Congress even information vital to foreign policy decisions. Business firms that want Arab contracts must be willing to violate American traditions and law -- as many did in acceding to Arab demands for an economic boycott of Israel.
One is almost embarrassed by some of these vignettes. Here is Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman William Fulbright pulling strings behind the scenes to help create an Arab lobby and then, when Arkansas' voters voted him out, joining the lobby for a tidy retainer. What a fine catch he was. After all, many in Washington must ask, how much objective leadership had the nation received from Fulbright when he chaired that committee? One might also ask something like that about Secretary of State George Shultz and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, who came to the Reagan cabinet direct from the top jobs at Bechtel Corporation, which has profited more from the Arab connection than any corporation other than the oil giants.
"The revolving door petrodollar community," as Emerson calls it, doesn't include just big names -- William Simon, John Connally, Bert Lance, Richard Kleindienst, Spiro Agnew and the like -- but also "thousands" of others ranging down to CIA station chiefs and customs officials. Still, it is the bigshots we enjoy reading about, fellows like Edmund Muskie, Carter's last secretary of state, who joined a law firm, at $250,000, that has branch offices in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. When Muskie goes up to Capitol Hill for a bit of lobbying against an Israeli program, says Emerson, he sometimes fails to mention his commercial ties with the Arab world.
THERE haven't been many books recently that showed so well what Emerson calls "that quintessential American weakness, the love of money." Here and there, as in the fascinating chapter "The State Department Hoax," that love decays into something quite rancid.
The story, of "wrongdoing, fraud, and corruption committed by Arabists at high levels of the U.S. government working in concert with one former official, exploiting the availability of corporate petrodollar-linked funding," goes like this: In the summer of 1981 the proposed sale of AWACs to Saudi Arabia was in deep trouble in Congress because many members thought they should not let such advanced military technology into the hands of Saudi Arabia's potentially unstable regime.
To relieve Congress' fears, a lengthy report was released by the Georgetown Center for Strategic and International Studies, the prestigious neoconservative think tank, much of whose support comes directly or indirectly from companies having profitable ties with the Middle East. The report, in essence, said that everything was hunky-dory in Saudi Arabia, that the regime was stability itself, and, as Emerson puts it, "Somehow, even after reading references to beheadings, stonings, 'severances of the hand,' lack of habeas corpus, inequality for women, and a 'strong emphasis on obtaining confessions,' one still gets the impression (from the report) that Saudi Arabia is a bastion of democracy."
The chief author was David Long, one of the State Department's top experts on Saudi Arabia. Oddly enough, Long had only five months earlier written another report, this one kept secret by the State Department, in which he described Saudi Arabia as a sinkhole of royal family corruption, creeping disloyalty within the military, and religious turmoil that could prove to be a "major threat . . . within two to five years."
All of this harsh honesty was removed from the Georgetown report, obviously to create propaganda for the sale of the AWACs. Emerson uncovered the sleazy trick only by the most stubborn use of the Freedom of Information Act.
There are a few heroes in The American House of Saud -- several universities that refused to go along with the Jewish boycott; the Public Broadcasting System, which refused to knuckle under to Mobil and petrodollar congressmen on the showing of an anti-Arab documentary; and Senator Howell Heflin, who voted no on the AWACs sale despite heavy pressure from Alabama businessmen on the Saudi payroll -- but I don't recall any heroes in the press. Not many publications were so servile as Reader's Digest, which offered to publish a dozen articles favorable to the oil sheiks for $4.53 million, but many others are cited for opening their pages to petrodollar propagandists without adequately identifying them.
Two complaints: Emerson fails to make clear that the Arabs didn't learn the techniques of corruption overnight, that they had studied for decades at the feet of those masters, the international oil companies. Secondly, when he compares the Israeli lobby with the Arabian lobby, I wish he wouldn't try to argue that political actions taken on the basis of ideology are more natural and more central to the American experience than are actions taken in response to greed -- surely that thesis ignores our history and every day's newspaper.