Discard the drivel and go for a straight shot

The Pentagon briefing that described Saudi Arabia as an adversary of the United States and a backer of terrorism has received extensive international coverage. This briefing to the Defense Policy Board, a Pentagon advisory panel made up of senior officials and retired top military officers, recommended that US officials demand that Saudi Arabia stop “supporting terrorism” or risk seizure of its oil fields and its financial assets invested in the United States.

The report has caused great damage and has had a terribly negative impact during an already turbulent phase in Saudi-American relations. There are a rising number of people in the US media, Congress and other quarters that are very critical of the Kingdom. These people have access to television, radio talk shows and the print media. They are eloquent, charismatic and give the impression that they have knowledge of the dynamics on the ground.

However, when one scratches the surface one discovers that these “experts” are simply talking heads, with a hidden agenda to spoil the image of Saudi Arabia and to create confusion in the Middle East.

In the last two days I have had several interviews with Western broadcast journalists. When asked what was the reaction of people in the Kingdom to this report, I replied that people viewed it as unethical and that it served no purpose.

When read with an open mind, it is easy to see that the report is based on a foundation of shifting sand. The report does not cite empirical or factual evidence. It is devoid of any survey data or research. It does not refer to named sources. When carefully examined, the assertions contained in the report reveal its hollow content.

The other question asked of me during the interviews was whether the report was damaging and whether Donald Rumsfeld or Colin Powell’s reactions and the Bush administration’s distancing may have lessened the damage. My answer was an emphatic “No.” The damage was done as was shown by the large number of hate mails that we received at Arab News.

Even as I write these thoughts, Radio Netherlands is phoning me and asking about the contents of the report. They are not focusing on what Bush administration officials are saying. They are concerned about the report’s negative outlook. In previous articles I had apprised readers of the hawks in the Bush administration, which include Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and others. These people are like the gunslingers in the old Wild West. They are constantly in search of a battle.

In light of all this, it is important that we reach out to the US public and explain our position. Here in Saudi Arabia we have nothing to hide. Let’s admit we have problems and that for many definable reasons we have our own priorities in solving these problems. This last year has been a time of soul-searching at all levels of Saudi society. A review of Saudi newspapers proves that rather than idly continuing in our old ways, there has been much lively debate on how to move forward as a part of the global community while maintaining our Islamic values.

Please let us stop telling Americans how much we love the United States and how strong relations are between our two nations. It is time that they learned the real facts behind such PR drivel so they can draw their own conclusions. And let us not be lured into placing full-page advertisements in US newspapers that in the same edition write horrid untruths about us. It is also time to abandon those fancy public relations firms whose own executives look at us unfavorably, but are doing the job for the dollars.

Instead, let us improvise our own media strategy. There are many Saudis who speak excellent English and dearly love their nation. We must allow them to help us reach out to the American public, who by and large are fair people, and deliver our own message.

Saudi Arabia is a land of peace and a promoter of high values and ideals. It is imperative that we stop tolerating the nonsense that is being spread about us, and start using our own resources to take control of our destiny.

Khaled Almaeena is Editor-in-Chief of the Arab News.