I wanted to read this book for the sole purpose of trying to understand more about the country of origin of fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers. In the aftermath of that terrible terrorist attack, the US sent most high-ranking Saudis home on private jets during the FAA lockdown, later waged war against Afghanistan and Iraq but not Saudi Arabia, and continue to purchase oil in vast quantities from the kingdom.
Robert Baer, an ex-CIA agent, recounts his history and the more recent history in the Middle East to shed light on my main question. Written in 2003, Sleeping with the Devil is still very relevant today. I honestly don’t know how much to believe from some of Baer’s clandestine meetings that are described in the book. They took place after Baer was out of the CIA, but I’ve always heard that “once in the CIA, always in the CIA.”
Either way, the book was enlightening on many fronts and covered many Middle Eastern countries and leaders. My main takeaway in attempting to answer the question of why Saudi Arabia seems to get a pass when 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis (and 2/3rds of Gitmo inmates Saudis) is in the following cycle:
- We purchase oil from Saudi Arabia (they have an estimated 12.5% of all oil in world).
- The money for the oil goes to the Saudi royals (30,000 members of the House of Sa’ud).
- This money makes it possible for most Saudi royals to live a debauched life.
- This debauchery infuriates the Sunni Wahhabis who helped the Saudis come to power. They are inextricably linked.
- To appease the Wahhabis and effectively buy protection, the Saudi royals give them money in the form of worldwide Islamic centers and public works (a number of the public works constructions programs benefitted a construction family with the last name of bin Laden).
- These Wahhabi-infused Islamic centers teach an extremist form of Islam. This leads to acts of terrorism.
- The rest of Saudi money goes to purchase armaments, most purchased from the US. This provides a sick incentive for the US to look the other way at extremism in Saudi Arabia and also keeps Saudi royals protected against the extremists.
Sleeping with the Devil had a number of stories with connections that simply blew my mind. These connections include most of the leaders we are familiar with today.
Baer ends the book on a hopeful note that at least Saudi Arabia is leading to one thing (just kidding):
“Screwing up Saudi Arabia might be the most successful bipartisan undertaking of the last half-century.”
I really enjoyed the book. I tried to take it with a grain of salt, but it definitely helped clarify things for me and enlighten me about current events.
This is book 9 of 52 of Erik’s 2018 Books of Titans reading list.