WASHINGTON – Saudi Arabia provides the United States with almost 17 percent of its crude oil each year. Last year, that sum equaled 1.55 million barrels per day worth about $12.6 billion to the Saudis, according to the Energy Information Awareness office (search) at the U.S. Department of Energy.
The $12.6 billion -- or roughly 18 percent of Saudi exports -- that ended up in the Saudi government's pocket totaled 6 percent of its $210 billion gross domestic product in 2002.
The United States' Strategic Petroleum Reserve (search) contains around 600 million barrels of oil in case of a disruption in supply. It's the largest emergency oil stockpile in the world. The SPR can pump out about 4.3 million barrels per day on the president's order.
The United States uses about 19.7 million barrels of oil per day, so the SPR could supply only about one-fifth of the nation's daily needs and only for the short term.
But it's long enough to cut off Saudi exports to the United States and drive home the point made by President Bush two years ago -- nations are either with us or with the enemy.
When it comes to Saudi Arabia, it's hard to know on which side they fall. Their talk and their actions don't match up. But just who needs whom here?
Saudi Arabia's royal family owns virtually everything in the country, including roughly 98 percent of the oil industry. But the kingdom's Islamic form of governance demands the state provide for its people. With 24 million people and a 3 percent-plus growth rate, that's getting harder and harder to do.
Compound that with the fact that per capita oil export revenue in 1980 was roughly 10 times more than it is now (in part because Saudi Arabia (search) had about 15 million fewer people then), the desert kingdom is having trouble taking care of its own.
The United States has asked Saudi Arabia for help in tracking financial paths to terrorists, ending "charitable donations" to organizations that funnel money to terror groups and looking for the terrorists who detonated three bombs in the Saudi capital of Riyadh (search) in May as well as for other terror cells that may be operating covertly under the royal family's collective noses.
Sure, they say they are willing to help. They have seized assets of some groups suspected of sending money to terror organizations. They have taken into custody dozens of suspects believed to have been involved in the May bombing in Riyadh (search).
But they also talk out of both sides of their mouths.
Last week, Sen. Charles Schumer asked Secretary of State Colin Powell to call for the removal of the kingdom's interior minister, Prince Nayef bin Abdel Aziz (search), who Schumer said has prevented the United States from interviewing detained suspects believed to be planning a poison gas attack on the New York subway system.
According to Schumer, Nayef was also responsible for preventing the trial of 13 suspects believed to be responsible for the Khobar Towers (search) bombing in 1996, which killed 19 Americans.
"[Nayef] oversees the Saudi Committee for the Support of the Al Quds Intifadah (search), which, like Saddam Hussein, has provided families of Palestinian suicide bombers with millions of dollars through specially designated bank accounts. In addition, last November, Nayef told the Saudi newspaper Ain-Al-Yageen that Zionists were responsible for the 9/11 attacks despite the fact that Saudi Arabia has admitted that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis," Schumer wrote to Powell.
According to author Gerald Posner (search), Saudi Arabia, birthplace of Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden (search), is believed to have supplied bin Laden $2 billion in the 1980s to pay for his mujahedin (search) training in Afghanistan. In 1990, bin Laden offered his fighters to ward off Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's encroaching annexation of Saudi Arabia.
The royal family, which intelligence reports say planned bin Laden's father's plane crash in 1966, declined the request, opting instead for U.S. military basing in the kingdom. That burned bin Laden up -- it being an affront to Islam to have the "infidel" (search) on holy land, but he agreed to leave the country as long as Saudi Arabia continued to fund his fighters. In exchange, bin Laden agreed not to have his group attack the kingdom.
When did that money train stop? Well, apparently it hasn't. In 2002, U.S. agents in Bosnia located a document listing bin Laden's top 20 financiers, Posner writes. In March 2003, the U.S. concluded that nine of the top 10 financial backers of terror are Saudis.
Yet, the White House won't do anything. When the Joint Select Intelligence Committee filed its report in July on the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, 19 pages believed to discuss Saudi Arabia's role were redacted.
Administration officials said it would cause embarrassment to the kingdom, which was doing such a great job helping fight the war on terror.
"Saudi Arabia has been very cooperative in our efforts to win the war on terrorism, and we're pleased with the progress we're making and that cooperation," White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters in August on the way to President Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch.
Saudi officials say they are in the same boat as the United States when it comes to fighting Al Qaeda terror since that network is believed to have been responsible for the Riyadh bombing. They also suggest that bin Laden recruited gullible, young Saudi men for the Sept. 11 attacks in order to create a rift between the allies.
But the argument rings hollow. Saudi Arabia asked the U.S. military to leave its land before this spring's Iraq war. The military, finding a more agreeable partner nearby, relocated to Qatar (search).
Saudi Arabia also runs the exact type of government bin Laden desires. It has no constitution, no elected legislature and the judiciary rules based on each individual judge's interpretation of Islamic law (search). Torture has been commonly used on detained suspects, Saudi or foreign.
The royal family gets the royal treatment while the public is allowed no right to free speech, no right to meet in public assemblies and no right to pen articles considered offensive to the country's powerful religious establishment.
On top of it all, the Saudis are well known to be funding Islamic organizations in the United States, and according to Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., have sought to "control Islam in America – from mosques, universities and community centers to our prisons and even within our military."
Sept. 11, 2001, was an eye-opener for the United States, which until then had not clearly recognized the hatred brewing toward it by some extremist groups. While the Bush administration publicly portrays Saudis as partners, one can only hope they are secretly operating on the age-old adage of keeping one's friends close and one's enemies closer.