LINDA VESTER, GUEST HOST: Good evening, everyone. I'm Linda Vester, in tonight for Greta Van Susteren, and this is ON THE RECORD.
Tonight the president welcomed the Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar to the western White House [in Crawford, Texas]. …
The Crawford meeting begs the question again. Are the Saudis our friends or are they a threat? Daniel Pipes is in Philadelphia tonight. He's the director of the Middle East Forum and author of "Militant Islam Reaches America." In Washington, D.C., we have Ali al-Ahmed, executive director of the Saudi Institute. Gentlemen, welcome to you.
Ali, let me ask you-let's just get-let's strip this meeting down to what it's really all about. You think it's Saudi spin to make Crown Prince Abdullah look good before he goes to the U.N. next month.
ALI AL-AHMED, SAUDI INSTITUTE: Yes, I think the visit wanted to set up for the meeting to make sure that Saudi Arabia is in the good side of the United States. They have been having-Saudi Arabia have been hammered in the U.S. media and public opinion since September 11 because of their involvement in the attack. So they are trying to sort of clear up their image. They've spent at least $20 million on that since the first of the year.
VESTER: So Daniel, what do you think is in it for President Bush? I mean, you know, symbiotic relationship? What does he get out of the meeting today?
DANIEL PIPES, MIDDLE EAST FORUM: It's very interesting, Linda. This American-Saudi relationship has been in place since 1945, and it's always been a very private relationship, where diplomats and politicians in back rooms make deals. And now, since a year ago, it's become public. Questions of abducted children, of Saudi involvement in terrorism and the like, have made this into an issue which we're discussing on television. We didn't used to.
And the meeting today, I believe, was an attempt by our leadership to say, "Don't worry, Saudis. Everything is like it used to be. Don't pay any attention to what President Bush is said to have called 'irresponsible statements' by people out there. We politicians and diplomats, we can handle it."
VESTER: Well, you know, if our relationship is so good with the Saudis, then why, Ali, when President Bush raised the question of a Monica Stowers, who still cannot leave Saudi Arabia because she can't get her father's or her husband's or anybody else's permission, despite the fact the United States has filed this official request, I mean, how good is our relationship if the president can bring this up with the Prince Bandar and we don't get anyone coming out today saying, "OK, Monica Stowers is allowed to leave Saudi Arabia"?
AL-AHMED: I think the United States has not done enough for its people on that question. I think what Saudi Arabia needs to do is just basically allow these women to go and be able to petition in Saudi courts.
VESTER: Well, why can't...
AL-AHMED: They don't have that opportunity.
VESTER: Why do you think-then why do you-why do you think that President Bush wasn't able to prevail on his "good buddy," Prince Bandar?
AL-AHMED: I think because he has not tried. We haven't heard any statement.
AL-AHMED: When you meet-when Bush meets the Chinese, he makes a statement, you know, to try to build pressure. He has not done anything in that regard, unfortunately.
VESTER: Daniel, I mean, what do you think? I mean you would think that, you know, we would have some sort of statement today if the president raised it.
PIPES: You would think.
VESTER: And it's unheard of. It's unprecedented.
PIPES: Well, but it's heard of and precedented in the U.S.-Saudi relationship, which is a very odd one where American leaders, Republican and Democratic, have not stood up in a robust fashion for American national interests but have always had this sort of supplicant attitude that the Saudis must be deferred to. And the Saudi monarchy has its own national interests, which are very, very different from ours.
And so what we find is an American leadership, Republican, Democratic, going back over 50 years, that has not stood up for American interests. And that's been OK with the American population, which has not paid attention. But it's no longer OK. And the government is beginning to feel the heat. And I think it's very important that the media and the think tanks and universities and churches become aware of the problems we have and raise their voices.
VESTER: Ali, in fairness, we should mention that yesterday, the Saudis did arrest several al Qaeda sympathizers, or at least they say they did, including 11 Saudis, 11 of their own people accused of planning to blow up a U.S. military plane. Does that really mean that the Saudis are going to help us crack down on terror?
AL-AHMED: Well, I choose to differ. The person who was arrested, or he handed himself to the authorities last week after the FBI issued a bulletin. He was vacationing in Egypt. He was so relaxed, he was able to come and go. And if Saudi Arabia was working on this, they have-he should have been arrested, for God's sake. They arrest everybody that sneezes in the country, except al Qaeda members, who have been arrested, detained and released, 160 people confirmed released who were in Afghanistan and fought along Taliban and al Qaeda.
VESTER: Daniel, back to the question of are the Saudis our friends or our foes.
PIPES: Great question.
VESTER: Interesting that the Pentagon has just chosen to exclude Saudi Arabia from a list of our allies in the war on terror. Why do you think that is?
PIPES: Well, this government in Saudi Arabia, looked at sensibly from an American point of view, is not our friend. I would say it's not our enemy, either. That's too strong. It is our rival. I think that's the way to see it. The Saudis see themselves as head of an international Muslim community, one billion strong, and they see themselves as promoting the interests of that community in their own very special and rather extremist way. And they see themselves as our rival.
And we should see them as our rival, as opposed to this rather silly notion of friendship, which our politicians keep on repeating, Democratic and Republican.
VESTER: Or perhaps just a mutually symbiotic relationship, Ali. I mean, one wonders if, for all the talk that the Saudis are making now about "No, you can't use the base if you ever attack Iraq," that, you know, when push comes to shove, that they'll just kind of find a way to let us through just because it's pragmatic.
AL-AHMED: I think the relationship is sort of illogical. However, I think America-my opinion is America should not let Saudi Arabia have any role in the Iraqi liberation campaign because if they do, they put their hand in it, it will stink. They are not in favor of free and democratic Iraq, so I think they should not be involved in the Iraq liberation effort.
VESTER: Those are harsh words. This is probably the first time I've heard it from a Saudi. Daniel Pipes, Ali al-Ahmed-gentlemen, thanks to you both.
PIPES: Thank you.