About a third of the Saudi Arabian population is composed of foreign nationals, and they seem to be the ones who keep that economy functioning. What kind of effect does that have on the society? If Saudi Arabia were ever to find itself in a situation where these workers didn't have jobs or decided to leave en masse, what effect would that have in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Middle East?
If they got up and left, the whole economy would collapse. They're the engineers, they run things. A lot of Saudis are not equipped to run their water-purification plants and things like that. But I think that what we are talking about is the Americans leaving or the British leaving, rather than the Pakistanis, who are Muslims, of course, or the Bangladeshis. If the Americans all left, it would be a catastrophe, but not like if all 6 million foreign nationals left.
You talk about the Washington establishment's proposed solutions: for the royal family to cede part of its authority, support reform-minded princes, set up a model parliament, and co-opt firebrands by giving them political office, etc. Do you think any of these suggestions are enough?
Instant democratic reforms? No. Because the problem is that the country would be like Algeria and would vote in an Islamic government. Everything I've seen suggests that. And it's something we couldn't live with right now, because that would be entirely unpredictable.
According to the Washington establishment, are there any real plans to implement these kind of suggestions, or is it enough to have the suggestions at all?
No, it's not enough to just have suggestions. And it's not enough to pull our troops out. I don't know what you do to fix it now. I would say you're going to have to start by doing something serious about Israel and the Palestinians. The problem is that going into Iraq, the way the Saudi in the street looks at it, was an invasion of an Islamic country. We decided, for whatever reason, to ignore that. Can we turn back this wave by military force? It depends on how bad things are in the Islamic world. But it's a risky strategy.
How long do you think we have before we start to see Saudi Arabia fall apart from all of these tensions?
The smart people tell me that in three or four years we're going to see some big change in Saudi Arabia. Now, it may be a change in succession, an Islamic government, or a complete distancing of the country from the United States.
Any of those changes could radically alter the world.
Yes. We should have contingency plans, if that occurs. If we see an Iranian-style revolution occur there, what do we do about the oil? Can we afford to lose Saudi Arabia's oil production? We can't rule it out that they might just close it down. Or that a completely nutty group might get a hold of the oil facilities and destroy them.
Do you think the most recent events—the withdrawal of troops and the bombings—are going to serve as a wake-up call to either the Saudi family or the Bush Administration?
I think they have. The fact that we've closed the embassy down, it's clear to me that they're saying, "Hey, things are bad there and we have to do something about it."