Score One for Al Qaeda
From United States of America vs. Zacarias Moussaoui (filed December 2001):
3. One of the principal goals of al Qaeda was to drive the United States armed forces out of Saudi Arabia (and elsewhere on the Saudi Arabian peninsula) and Somalia by violence.
(Emphasis above is mine)
And now, from The New York Times of September 18, 2003:
The last few American combat troops pulled out of the Prince Sultan Air Base here earlier this month, officially closing the Persian Gulf headquarters used by the Air Force during both Iraq wars and concluding a nearly 13-year run of extensive United States military operations in Saudi Arabia…
The Prince Sultan base, which at the height of the war this spring housed 10,000 American troops and 200 planes, has now been supplanted as the Middle East’s main American military air operations center by Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.
This last phase of the American departure from the base occurred with almost no fanfare, attracting only minor mention in the Saudi press. “It was as if they were never here,” a senior Saudi official said. “They left very quietly.”
The drastically reduced American profile could simplify the government’s position among Saudis who espouse Osama bin Laden’s contention that the American military foothold was an affront to the kingdom’s sovereignty. For years, the American presence not far from Islam’s two holiest sites, at Mecca and Medina, has provided Al Qaeda with an important rallying cry.
Partly for this reason, members of Saudi Arabia’s royal family had rarely acknowledged the large number of American troops who used the base as a launching pad for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. About 50 miles southeast of here, the sprawling high-security installation does not appear on most Saudi maps and is marked on a barren desert road by an unassuming Arabic sign.
So, the war in Iraq actually helps al Qaeda achieve what the U.S. government has claimed was one of its primary aims — the ejection of U.S. forces from Saudi Arabia — and they actually achieve it much more easily than they must have ever thought possible. They had planned, after all, to drive the forces out “through violence” — in other words, through the holy sacrifice of their own believers. Instead, though, the U.S. took all the casualties itself! And, as a bonus, they knocked off a secular Arab tyrant (which al Qaeda would otherwise have had to do itself eventually), and look likely to leave behind a confused power vacuum that militant Islam can easily fill (much as it did in the shattered world of post-Soviet Afghanistan). And our troops — those that aren’t getting sniped at in Iraq — can huddle down in Qatar and allow the House of Saud to get back to the business of funneling ungodly amounts of cash to the bad guys without those pesky Americans asking annoying questions.
Not only did bin Laden get away, he scored a hat trick on us. Unbelievable.