Landsmen of Saddam Hussein’s sons Uday and Qusay greeted their funeral in their hometown of Tikrit in central Iraq with chants of “Death to America!” and declarations that the dead brothers were martyrs.
But of course. Every successful brute has his coterie. The psychotic who is a pure loner ends his days as a mere serial killer; to harm the world, one must have a base. The neighbors of the late John Gotti will still tell you what a great guy he was, hosting explosive Fourth of July parties and keeping the old home clean. I have been to the Stalin museum in Gori, his hometown in Georgia, where he was still treated, even in the Gorbachev years, as the local boy who made good. Saddam and his feral family came from Tikrit; like the remoras that fasten themselves to the bellies of great white sharks, the Tikritis did well during the Saddam years, even as the rest of Iraq writhed. No wonder these greedy and evil people shed tears now at the loss of two of their champions.
The passing of Uday and Qusay allows us to reflect on the nature of the regime that we took down. Uday, the elder brother, was the head of Iraq’s Olympic Committee. His headquarters was the only Olympic Committee office building known to have a dungeon and torture chamber in the basement. These amenities allowed him to torment Iraqi soccer players who failed to win. And we think George Steinbrenner is tough. Qusay, less flagrant, was perhaps more dangerous: less flamboyant id, more channeled destructive ego.
They and their father were not worse men than Charles Taylor of Liberia. If you search the world for horrors, you will not be disappointed. But the Hussein family and their regime was more dangerous to us. When a handful of thugs can demolish the greatest buildings in our greatest city, letting the Tikrit gang have access to an ocean of oil revenue and the wherewithal of a modern technological state would be demented. They used poison gas when it suited them; they had a nuclear reactor until the Israelis destroyed it; they ignored fistfuls of United Nations resolutions demanding transparency. After 9/11, the time for being patient with them ran out.
That is the justification for our ongoing casualties in Iraq-more now than in the first Gulf War, though still less than those suffered by the FDNY or Cantor Fitzgerald. The volunteers of our armed services grumble at hardship, as what soldier has not. They put themselves at risk, and we are entitled to ask them to do so, if they are pursuing a clear and necessary task.
The task is protecting America from the jihadist menace. The strategy consists of two parts. First is moving against the jihadists themselves. This was accomplished by taking down their hosts and sock puppets, the Taliban, and by operating against their networks worldwide in a variety of overt and covert ways, from freezing assets to arresting suspects to, no doubt, farming out dirty work (a hit in time saves nine). The second part of the strategy is draining the pus from the Middle East. Not all of it-that would be hopeless-but enough to deny jihadists significant aid and comfort.
That is why the report, in Saturday’s New York Times , that information implicating the Saudis in 9/11 has been withheld from the public is so disturbing. This, not any nonsense about uranium from Niger or supposedly looted antiquities, might be reason for thinking that our soldiers, and Uday and Qusay, have died in vain.
A Congressional report said that two Saudi citizens in the United States, Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Bassnan, had links with both the 9/11 hijacking and the Saudi government. Mr. Al-Bayoumi, a student in San Diego, helped two of the soon-to-be hijackers set themselves up in this country. He found them an apartment and paid their first month’s rent and security deposit. Mr. Al-Bayoumi had a contract with the Saudi civil-aviation authority and always seemed to be flush with cash. Nothing yet links Mr. Bassnan to the hijackers, but he was tight with Mr. Al-Bayoumi. Mr. Bassnan also had a friend in the entourage of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, with whom he met when Prince Abdullah came to Houston after 9/11 to meet with President Bush.
All this is very circumstantial, and could be as wispy as those Whitewater charts that we pored over in more innocent days. Why, then, is Mr. Al-Bayoumi in Saudi Arabia, without ever having been interviewed by the F.B.I.? Why was this section of the Congressional report classified and only made public by a Times reporter?
Osama bin Laden hates the Saudi regime. But his quarrel with it is practical, not principled. Both he and the regime subscribe to a brutal and fanatical version of Islam. In his view, the regime gives only lip service, wasting its days in falconry, roulette and prostitution, while he does the hard work of living in caves and killing infidels. How many well-placed Saudis admit the truth of his indictment and, pricked by bad conscience, aid him on the sly?
The perverse bin Laden–Saudi dynamic has been obvious since 9/11. Any American grand strategy that does not address it is incomplete. What then is Mr. Bush doing? A harsh assessment, suggested by suppressing the speculation in the Congressional report, is that Mr. Bush isn’t doing enough. Out of Cold War nostalgia and oil-patch sympathies, he is letting the Saudi regime off the hook. We are still trying to sweet-talk them into helpfulness, as if they were allies, instead of confronting them as the shifty enemies they are.
Defenders of the administration would say that Mr. Bush understands the Saudi problem and knows what he is doing. He is pursuing a hidden-hand strategy, asking for cooperation while quietly cutting our old links to Saudi Arabia, removing our bases and looking for oil in other parts of the world, such as West Africa. If, while doing so, he has to keep an incomplete investigation under wraps, so be it.
Isn’t it possible, though, that the administration and its critics can work on parallel lines? Even if Mr. Bush is as discreet as the Godfather and as relentless as Inspector Javert, it is good to have a noisy and impatient claque reminding us, and the Saudis, what the score is. Congress can be the bad cop; Mr. Bush can be the cop whose goodness or badness the crooks must guess at.
Who would be better as leader of a noisy and impatient claque than Senator Charles Schumer? Sure enough, there he was in The Times : “Keeping this material classified only strengthens the theory that some in the U.S. government are hell-bent on covering up for the Saudis.” Mr. Schumer, in addition to being intelligent and tireless, is not shy. As my mother-in-law would say, he would paint his toches purple to get in the newspaper. Leave the paint home, Senator. You can get in the newspaper for good reason.