ADEL AL-JUBEIR, the suave Saudi spokesman, was back in town this week to argue that American perceptions that his government has not been a cooperative partner in the war on terrorism are based on simple misunderstandings -- "a bum rap," as Mr. al-Jubeir put it in his flawlessly colloquial English. Part of the problem, he said, is that Saudi authorities have not publicly explained how much they have been doing to block funding for terrorist organizations; another difficulty is that different parts of the U.S. bureaucracy aren't communicating with one another. "The right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing" goes the Saudi complaint about officials at State, Treasury and the White House, who allegedly bombard Riyadh with demands for information that has already been provided, or for action that has already been taken.
Perhaps there is something to that, and yet the Saudis seem to be having their own problems with internal coordination. Even as Mr. al-Jubeir was broadcasting his "we are in this together" message to every American microphone and camera he could find, his government's interior minister was arguing that U.S. media are controlled by "Zionists" and that Israel, not Osama bin Laden, was behind the 9/11 attacks. "It's impossible" that al Qaeda carried out the assault on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, or that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, the interior minister, Prince Nayef, said in an interview posted on the Internet by a magazine published by the Saudi royal family. "I think they [the Zionists] are behind these events."
So whom are we to believe? The urbane spin doctor who assures us that the Saudi leadership is as committed to stamping out al Qaeda as the Bush administration -- or the prince back home who says Israel, and not the Saudi-born terrorist leader, is the enemy? The slang-friendly spokesman who posits that Osama bin Laden deliberately recruited Saudis for his hijacking teams so as to drive a wedge between otherwise fast friends -- or the police chief who still denies that Saudi citizens were involved? U.S. bureaucrats may not share information; but Mr. al-Jubeir and Prince Nayef would appear not to share the same country. One represents a regime that claims the United States as a close ally and is doing its best to eliminate a common threat it concedes was generated in part by Saudi money and ideology; the other comes from an establishment that sees the United States as an unwelcome intruder in its internal affairs, prompted by a global Jewish conspiracy. One or the other might be dismissed as a fraud, but the more troubling reality is that both are real, and both are part of Saudi Arabia's relationship with the United States. No wonder, Mr. al-Jubeir, that we are confused.