Oct. 16, 2009— -- Journalist Robert Lacey, who has been living in Saudia Arabia for several years, provides gives readers an insider's look at the country's recent history in "Inside the Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia."
He explores how the aftermath of the 1970s oil boom created a divisive society, with residents struggling to balance the demands of religious law with those of the modern world. His writing winds its way through the Persian Gulf War to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States to the current fluctuations in the oil market.
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As it happened, Bandar bin Sultan had been away from the phone that warm August night—he was taking a break at his home in Aspen—and by the time he got the message it was too late for him to call Riyadh. When uncle and nephew spoke the next day, George W. was on television, handling questions on the Middle East at a news conference. The two Saudi princes, one in Riyadh, one in Colorado, watched the president speaking in Texas—and Abdullah grew angrier than ever at the American's total acceptance of the Israeli point of view.
"If the Palestinians are interested in a dialogue," said the president in the apparently reasonable tone he reserved for his most provocative statements, "then I strongly urge Mr. Arafat to put 100 percent effort into solving the terrorist activity, stopping the terrorist activity. And I believe he can do a better job of doing that."
The disdainful use of "terrorist activity" to describe the battle that Arabs saw as a fight for justice caused Abdullah to explode for the second time in twenty-four hours. He characterized this phrase in the same way as he did "Israel's right to defend itself"—as a disingenuous simplification.
Bandar must get to see Bush at once, instructed the crown prince, and within hours the ambassador had managed to get a message to Colin Powell, the secretary of state, and to Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser.
"We believe," went the message, "there has been a strategic decision by the United States that its national interest in the Middle East is 100 percent based on [Israeli prime minister] Sharon."
If this was America's decision, it was her sovereign right to make it. But it was Saudi Arabia's sovereign right, declared the crown prince, to pursue her own course in response to that.
"Starting from today, you're Uruguay, as they say." This particular phrase was contributed by Bandar, deriving from his version of a knock-knock joke that ended with the punchline, "You go Uruguay, and I'll go mine." He had taken notes while Abdullah spoke to him on the phone, then amplified his uncle's thoughts, as he used to do with Fahd's to craft a message that would, in his opinion, press the particular buttons of his listeners.