ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The dispatch of more than 1/2 million U.S. and allied troops to Saudi Arabia six years ago in the Persian Gulf War reminded Americans how important the kingdom and its neighbors are to the West. The U.S. and allied mission was to liberate Kuwait from occupation by Iraq.
But the first U.S. contingents were hastily flown in to make sure the Iraqis did not cross the Kuwait border and try to seize territory in Saudi Arabia, which has the world's largest supply of oil. Americans had learned after the 1973 Mideast War, when Saudi Arabia and other oil exporters temporarily cut off oil to the United States what a pivotal role the kingdom plays in the U.S. economy.
The deployment of troops in the Gulf War highlighted the importance of the kingdom to the United States, as well as the uneasy relationship between the two countries and cultures. Soldiers from a western democratic nation in an army composed of women, as well as men, were protecting an autocratic Muslim dynasty where women are not even allowed to drive a car, but the deployment was the visible sign of a U.S. and western commitment dating from the Second World War. President Clinton emphasized that continuity yesterday.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: (yesterday) I believe that the United States has been made very welcome there. We have tried not to be an obtrusive presence. We have worked in close partnership with the Saudis for a long time, since the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, and I think it would be a mistake for the United States to, to basically change its mission because of this.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Every U.S. Government since then has maintained and built increasingly powerful ties, military and economic, to Saudi Arabia. Since the end of the Gulf War, the number of troops has remained consistent, some 5,000 on the ground and several thousand more on ships in the fifth fleet. Many of those killed two days ago were part of an international force protecting no-fly zones over Iraq. And the U.S. presence extends way beyond uniformed soldiers. More than 30,000 Americans, many of them in the oil business, live in Saudi Arabia, usually in separate compounds.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We get two views now of the U.S.-Saudi relationship. Edward Djerejian is a former assistant secretary of state and now is the director of the James Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. George McGovern, former U.S. Senator, in 1972 Democratic presidential nominee, is president of the Middle East Policy Council. Thank you both for being with us. Mr. Ambassador, why are our U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia?
EDWARD DJEREJIAN, Baker Institute: U.S. forces are in Saudi Arabia, Elizabeth, because we have vital strategic interests in the Persian Gulf area. This is--the U.S. force presence has been there since the latter 1940s. We've had a fleet presence there to protect the sea lanes, keep them open for the free flow of oil to the industrialized democracies, therefore, our basic interests in economic, commercial, and energy terms are high, and also we have a political relationship with countries such as Saudi Arabia that do date back to FDR and very strong political ties with most of the--and all, actually, of the Arab Gulf states. So our interests are pretty important, and we must not forget that we recently fought a major war in Desert Storm to reverse Saddam Hussein's aggression against Kuwait and to keep the countries of the Gulf free.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Sen. McGovern, does that pretty much summarize, in your view, why we're there?
GEORGE McGOVERN, Middle East Policy Council: Yes. And I think it's a very reasonable statement of American policy. It is a fact. You've got two people on this program, but I don't think I have any quarrel with Amb. Djerejian on this point. We have a rather modest U.S. investment there, security investment, which I think is in our interest, as well as the Saudis, and I think it's generally approved by most people in Saudi Arabia, certainly by the Saudi government, which is the official group we have to deal with.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think that the bombing, which was clearly aimed at U.S. troops, is a sign that there is a fairly large degree of dissatisfaction with our presence?
SEN. McGOVERN: No. I don't. But I think it's a sign that there's a very small group that's dissatisfied with our presence. I think the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City which killed a lot more people is not a sign of widespread hatred of the United States Government. It's a small, dissident, irrational element, and you have groups like that in almost every country around the world. But I don't think it represents Saudi opinion at all.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think about that, Mr. Ambassador?
AMB. DJEREJIAN: I agree with Sen. McGovern in terms that the overwhelming majority of Saudis and population in the Gulf, if we can so generalize, support their very close ties with the United States, and, again, with the industrialized world in general. What we're looking at are extremist groups who do represent a minority, a very militant minority, who I believe in this incident have two targets.
One is the U.S.-Saudi military relationship in the presence of U.S. troops and foreign troops in Saudi Arabia, and secondly is also--this is a period of in political terms in Saudi Arabia where there's a succession underway. And perhaps they feel, and I believe they feel wrongly, that this is a time to strike to help to stabilize the system there. I do not think they will succeed in either front. I think the U.S.-Saudi relationship is a steadfast one, and I also think that the Saudi government enjoys the overwhelming support of its people.
But this, this minority of religious and/or secular extremists have the potential to cause a great deal of trouble.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Ambassador, whether it's a minority or not, it's been very risky for American troops. Many more people have been killed in Saudi Arabia, for example, than in Bosnia. Is the risk worth it?
AMB. DJEREJIAN: I believe so, because of our overwhelming strategic interests which I mentioned earlier, Elizabeth, in the program, but let's try to take it to where it impacts on the average American, if one can speak in that respect. The United States now imports over 50 percent of its oil needs, obviously, from overseas. 20 percent of that comes from Saudi Arabia alone.
We have become heavily dependent on foreign sources of energy. We have seen in the 1970s when the stability of oil prices has been disrupted what havoc it can cause to our economy and to the economy of the industrialized democracies, especially countries like Japan and in Europe, who are more heavily dependent on foreign energy than we are. So there is a very important economic impact to stability in the Middle East, and again, that's why our whole policy in the Middle East is, is based on making the Arab-Israeli peace process move forward.
That is now in some--we're in a pause on the Middle East peace process. We need to maintain our principal positions on that to move it forward because stability in the whole Middle East and the Persian Gulf depends on part on that, and secondly to maintain our strong bilateral and security ties in the Persian Gulf, especially because of our interest there.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What about that, the risk of it? It is risky, could get riskier, could it not?
SEN. McGOVERN: It could also get very risky in a pullout of American forces there. We have about 5,000 American troops in Saudi Arabia. And that serves as an advance warning to people like Saddam Hussein and Iraq to have any designs that Iran might have on this area that there is an American presence there. Prevention is sometimes a lot safer in the long run than waiting for trouble to develop and then moving. We had to send 500,000 troops into Saudi Arabia in to the help of Kuwait after Saddam Hussein's forces moved across the Kuwaiti border.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Which you had some doubts about, I remember.
SEN. McGOVERN: Well, I wanted us to explore the diplomatic route longer than we did. I was hoping for the possibility of an Arab solution with active American diplomacy, but once that was, was rejected, I supported the effort on the part of the Bush administration to take the action they did.
But here we--with 5,000 forces there, that may be the kind of a warning that's necessary. We haven't had any further intervention from, from Iraq or Iran or anyone else. We've lost 19 young men, and every one of us mourn that, but that may, their presence there may head off something much more serious and much more costly, and a much greater security threat to American interests.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Senator, what about the paradox that the deeper the western intrusion, the deeper our, our commitment, or the number of forces, the economic involvement, the more we upset the traditional way of life there and generate some resentment? It seems to be small, according to you two, but there is certainly some resentment. Isn't that a paradox that we're confronting? And it happened in Iran. It happened in Libya. It happened in Iraq.
SEN. McGOVERN: It is a paradox, and I think we have to be cautious about that. We were probably too heavily involved in Iran at one time, but I think the commitment and the involvement in Saudi Arabia is a modest one, and we need to point out that these 19 young Americans who died were really part of an international force that was not an American force alone, but forces from a number of countries that are enforcing the no-fly zone over Iraq. So that gives it a little more acceptability, I would think, than a purely unilateral involvement by the United States.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Ambassador, what about on the subject of the paradox?
AMB. DJEREJIAN: Well, the paradox is there, Elizabeth, as you stated it, but again, the United States is the remaining superpower. We have global responsibilities. This is an area of strategic interest to the United States.
We have to stand by those interests and also stand by our friends in the region, so there are definite risks to being a superpower, and the tragic loss of life, there's--there's no way you can explain that to the people involved and the families involved, and that's a tragic loss, but the United States has taken stands and has committed its blood and treasure to areas and regions of the world in which we have defended our interests. And that's one of the very high prices of our role in the world. But I think it's important also in, in this situation to look even at the broader picture.
Obviously we have to go forward and move forward on the counterterrorism front and bring these people to justice and find out if and who is behind these acts, but beyond that, dealing with religious and secular extremists is a very complex factor, and there are underlying issues in the whole Middle East region that need to be addressed in our political and strategic approach, and I think we have to start paying much more attention to that.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Very briefly, we're just about out of time, but just tell me what a couple of those are, and then I want to turn to the Senator on that too.
AMB. DJEREJIAN: Well, let me give you a staggering figure. For every dollar spent in the Middle East--that includes Iran and Turkey--for health and education, there's a staggering $166 spent on military hardware and on defense. The Middle East only represents 3 percent of foreign direct investment today. That sort of puts it at a part with the African continent. Economic growth rates, income disparities are large. There are issues of social injustice that the governments and regimes in the Middle East have to start really addressing effectively in order for the extremists to stop exploiting the situation, as they're trying to do in Saudi Arabia, as they're trying to do in Algeria, as they're trying to do in Egypt and elsewhere.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Sen. McGovern.
SEN. McGOVERN: I think one of the mistakes we probably made with Iran was pushing too much expensive military equipment at them through arms sales. I fear that we're doing something of the same kind of thing with Saudi Arabia, probably pushing in arms there that go beyond their capacity to use them effectively and beyond their resources. It's a very tempting thing for arms salesmen from any country to take advantage of the capital that Saudi Arabia has and use that as a market for arms sales. I think we've overdone that in Saudi Arabia. And as I said earlier, I think it's important to keep our commitment there at a modest size so that our presence is not too incendiary. Five thousand troops is in that category that I think of as acceptable, but some of these sophisticated weapons that we have pushed on the Saudis I think go beyond the bounds of reason.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, thank you both for being with us.