Freeman's Blind Spot on the Saudi Question

A few years ago, Chas Freeman, the apparent Obama pick to run the National Intelligence Council, visited the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and had this interesting exchange with its director, Robert Satloff (we're coming in in the middle of the exchange; for the full dialogue, see here):

Freeman:  And what of America's lack of introspection about September 11? Instead of asking what might have caused the attack, or questioning the propriety of the national response to it, there is an ugly mood of chauvinism. Before Americans call on others to examine themselves, we should examine ourselves.
Satloff:  I find it difficult to accept that the people who were on the receiving end of the September 11 attacks should begin by focusing on what they did to deserve it.
Freeman:  My point is that cause and effect work both ways. They exist in both directions, whatever the moral consequences might be.

In this dialogue, Freeman also stated that "I accept that al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden almost certainly perpetrated the September 11 attacks," but never mind this off-putting hesitancy; what's particularly interesting is his desire to see an exploration of 9/11 cause and effect. Let's posit as true that al Qaeda acted against America out of specific grievances (I think it's also true that al Qaeda acted out of Muslim supremacist ideology, but let's put that aside as well). What was the principal political grievance of al Qaeda before 9/11? The stationing of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia at the request of the Saudi government, in order to  protect the kingdom from Saddam Hussein.

 Most experts agree that this was the triggering event.  There were many others, of course -- Bin Laden's generalized grievances against the Saudi royal family, and at number three or four, the Israel-Palestine crisis. But it was the joint American-Saudi decision to place American troops on holy Muslim soil that sent bin Laden around the bend. Freeman, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, and a recipient, as head of the Middle East Policy Council, of funds from the Saudi royal family, should know that Saudi Arabia, the native land of most of the 9/11 hijackers, also provided the raison d'etre for al Qaeda, and our entangling alliance with Saudi Arabia made us a target of al Qaeda rage. Perhaps in his new job as the government's analyst-in-chief, he'll say that.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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