Rumsfeld's Latest Firestorm

Donald Rumsfeld, retired for almost a year, has inadvertently touched off one last firestorm this week with the release in the Washington Post of some staff memos he wrote while in office. In one, he observed that oil billions have shielded Muslims “from the reality of the work, effort and investment that leads to wealth for the rest of the world. Too often Muslims are against physical labor, so they bring in Koreans and Pakistanis while their young people remain unemployed. An unemployed population is easy to recruit to radicalism.”

Predictably, the Council on American Islamic Relations was offended. CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper huffed that Rumsfeld’s remarks indicated a “stereotypical attitude” that had led to the American invasion of Iraq. “Our policy was never based on reality,” opined Hooper. “It was based on the wild ideas of those who wanted to invade the region….It shows you what kind of wrong-headed policymakers we had at the time.”

With a firestorm brewing, the White House quickly disavowed Rumsfeld’s statement: “It’s not in line with the president’s views,” explained spokeswoman Dana Perino. “We are aware that we have a lot of work to do in order to win hearts and minds across the Arab world and the Muslim world. And I can understand why they would be offended by those comments.”

But did they really have reason to be offended? What had Rumsfeld said that was offensive? That many Muslims in oil-rich states such as Saudi Arabia don’t like physical labor, and so they bring in foreign workers? And that young men there with nothing to do can drift into jihad groups? But Saudi Arabia does indeed have a large number of immigrant laborers, as well as a youthful population with a lot of money and time on its hands. Might some of these young men find a purpose in life in the jihad?

In reality, no neutral observer would dispute it. The Times of London reported this week that “an analysis by NBC News suggested that the Saudis make up 55% of foreign fighters in Iraq. They are also among the most uncompromising and militant. Half the foreign fighters held by the US at Camp Cropper near Baghdad are Saudis.”

And the House of Saud has done little to prevent young Saudi men from joining the jihad; in fact, it has been encouraged at the highest levels. The Saudi chief justice, Sheikh Saleh al-Luhaidan, said in 2004: “If someone knows that he is capable of entering Iraq in order to join the fight, and if his intention is to raise up the word of God, then he is free to do so.” The Times also notes that even after 9/11, “despite promises to crack down on radical imams, Saudi mosques continued to preach hatred of America.” And with American troops right next door in Iraq, and nothing much to do at home, all too many Saudis went north to act on that hatred.

Instead of taking offense at Rumsfeld’s statement and deriding it as evidence of a “stereotypical attitude,” CAIR could have taken the release of his memo as an opportunity to explain what they’re doing to prevent young Muslims from being enticed by the jihad ideology that has snared all too many youthful Saudis. Instead, once again the organization, which bills itself as the nation’s leading Muslim civil rights group, chose to take the low road of finger-pointing instead of offering real solutions.

CAIR’s reaction was characteristic; much more disheartening was the White House response, which had the air of an abused wife being afraid to bring up her husband’s drinking problem, for fear he would fly into a rage. The release of the Rumsfeld could have been an occasion for the White House to call the Saudis to account for the double game they have long been playing in regard to jihad terrorism. With the Saudi King Abdullah on a high-profile visit to Great Britain, where he has upbraided the British for not doing enough to fight the war on terror, the timing would have been perfect.

Another opportunity missed.