MARK DAVIS: Robert Baer, you’ve been predicting the downfall of the Saudi regime for some time now.
Will this US withdrawal – is it likely to hasten or prevent or delay the demise of that government?
ROBERT BAER, FORMER CIA ANALYST: It’s going to delay the demise. I mean, the average Saudi on the street is happy the United States is leaving. They’re looking at the royal family as saying they’ve finally realised the relationship with the United States isn’t going to work, that the United States is hostile to Saudi Arabia and I think the people are looking at the royal family in a new light now that they’ve asked the Americans to leave.
MARK DAVIS: So this is, in your opinion, helping the royal family, not undermining them?
ROBERT BAER: In the long run it’s not going to do much good, but in the short run it will give a breather. They will be able to survive a little bit longer and, if they make some other reforms – I mean, ultimately they could save their own kingdom but my opinion is that they can’t, they’re just too greedy.
MARK DAVIS: Does America now have any interest in saving the royal family or their kingdom for that matter?
ROBERT BAER: Well, they do because the United States has no idea what’s going to happen afterwards. Is it going to be an Islamic Republic, is it going to be third generation Saudi princes who are going to be hostile to the United States, is it going to be a democracy – they have no idea.
MARK DAVIS: This is the key question, this announcement has come out of the blue. Why would America want to pull out at all and why now in particular?
ROBERT BAER: Well, not being in the government, I can’t tell you with 100% certainty how this came about but my guess is that the Saudis asked us to leave. We saw indications of this in the ‘New York Times’ before the Gulf, the recent Gulf War, and it’s come about as predicted, and it was – and at the time the ‘New York Times’ said it was because Saudi Arabia was very unhappy with the United States, with its policy vis-a-vis Israel and Saddam Hussein.
MARK DAVIS: But is America in such a benign mood that a simple request is sufficient for it to pull out of a strategic location such as Saudi Arabia?
ROBERT BAER: I would guess it wasn’t given much of a choice. It was “Leave, we don’t want you here. It’s risky for us, it’s risky for you” and I’ve heard a lot of rumours – and I emphasise that it’s rumours – that the Saudis told the Americans “We can’t protect your soldiers, your 5,000 soldiers or your bases”, because there’s so much hostility against Americans there’s nothing they can do, including inside the security services and the police.
MARK DAVIS: I won’t dwell on the issue, but it’s hard to imagine that America is in such a state of mind as to really care whether they’re wanted or not, or whether they’re threatened or not. This – Saudi Arabia in particular and the region in general has become a key issue for them.
ROBERT BAER: Well, I think that what the United States worries about is a war in Saudi Arabia or against the Saudi regime or Americans refusing to leave would lead to the sabotage of Saudi oil production or just taking it off the market which, at 25% of the world’s reserves, and really the only swing producer. Unlike Iraq, there’s a real risk that chaos in Saudi Arabia could gravely affect the US economy.
MARK DAVIS: I guess this is all pretty good news to Osama bin Laden. One of his key objectives has been the removal of US forces from the holy land of Saudi Arabia and now he’s achieved it?
ROBERT BAER: Exactly, he’s won – we’re out. The war in Iraq is going to make things worse as well. You cannot impose an American government on the Iraqis long term. They may accept it a year, a couple of years but not in the long term they won’t.
MARK DAVIS: Well, the links between some of the Saudi princes to Osama bin Laden and al-Qa’ida have become clearer. Also their links with senior American political figures are also becoming clear. Is the American public aware of how closely their own political leadership has been associated with Saudi Arabia, and will those relationships continue?
ROBERT BAER: No, I don’t think they’re aware. Look, the Americans still think that Saddam Hussein had something to do with September 11 and there’s no evidence. I can’t tell you whether he did or not. I mean, they take their lead from the White House and, as you know, the White House, this White House in particular, is very close to parts of the Saudi royal family and they just don’t want to talk about the problems, they’re in polite company. So, to answer your question, the Americans don’t really realise what they’re facing in Saudi Arabia.
MARK DAVIS: Is it just a coincidence that America can withdraw from Saudi Arabia now after it’s secured Iraq and secured that alternative oil supply and potential bases?
ROBERT BAER: Well, if you’re Machiavellian, you’d say the Americans have bases in Iraq, they’re there to stay and if the Saudis decided to take their oil off the market or do something else that we disapprove of, we can land on their oilfields and take them, paratroopers.
MARK DAVIS: But that does that timing surprise you? Is this part and parcel of a long-term strategy…given their reliance on oil?
ROBERT BAER: Well, I think now that – we’re pretty sure now that the war against Iraq was not for weapons of mass destruction and it wasn’t to protect human rights, otherwise we’d be at war in Africa. So I think it’s coming down to this, you know, it’s treated like this conspiracy theory but it really is about oil and I think the war in Iraq is about Saudi Arabia ultimately.
MARK DAVIS: So, with Iraq in hand, America can afford to isolate or even undermine Saudi Arabia if it needs to – it’s not so valuable or so precious to it now?
ROBERT BAER: I think in extremis, the United States would surely consider taking oilfields in eastern Saudi Arabia, in eastern provinces, if it came to the point the Saudis took their oil off the market or played with the market to a degree that made the United States go into a depression. I think there’d be no hesitation at all.
MARK DAVIS: Well, you’ve called the Saudi royal family dysfunctional criminals, out of touch, hated by the people they rule. Damning the royal family – whether it’s you or American officials – is one thing, but what is likely to replace them?
ROBERT BAER: Well, that’s the problem. If you let events take their course – and there’s this strong support for Osama bin Laden in the Saudi street, there are polls that have been done on this, which I think are legitimate – if you had democracy in Saudi Arabia you would get a fairly strongly Islamic government. So we don’t want democracy there but, you know, maybe some sort of military government takeover. I mean, the point of what I’m writing about is something needs to be done now to either address the royal family’s concern, clean the royal family up, stop all this corruption which is taking any sort of livelihood for the people and returning the money, the oil revenues to the people. Or you’re going to face a much bigger problem later down the line.
MARK DAVIS: Well, as you say, if an election was held today the Wahabi fundamentalists may well win that election. Is America in the mindset to accept such results, such a power shift, whether it be through the ballot box or via a revolution?
ROBERT BAER: I don’t think so. I think that the United States would come up with a pretext for overthrowing an Islamic government. We can’t afford an Islamic government in Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately we, the West, particularly the United States, is dependent on their oil. You can’t have a hostile government in Riyadh that’s going to manipulate oil to that degree and expect to survive this economically.
MARK DAVIS: If that’s the case, what would America do if such a situation arose?
ROBERT BAER: Drop the 82nd Airborne on the fields in the eastern province. What else can you do? I think we all have to accept the Middle East is a mess. Forget the Iraq war – it’s not a long-term solution. I mean, there’s chaos there now, it’s going to be a long time before this is settled. Will there be wars in Iran and Syria? I think we’ve passed a threshold that anything goes now in the Middle East, including the invasion of Saudi Arabia.
MARK DAVIS: Robert Baer, thanks for joining us.