Accuracy in Media

The Hudson Institute’s September 9 conference, “Shifting Sands: The End of the U.S.-Saudi Partnership,” detailed three major elements of that relationship?American attitudes toward it, short and long-term oil strategies, and political relations. The day-long conference ranged from statistical reviews of Saudi oil reserves to heated debates on recent Saudi human rights abuses, and provided a rather comprehensive appraisal of the partnership, post 9/11, in the midst of the war in Iraq, and attempting to forecast the future.

The day began with a report by Dr. Frank Luntz, President and CEO of Luntz Research Companies, on his firm’s findings about American public attitudes toward Saudi Arabia, terror, and oil. Among the most interesting of the findings was that 71% of those surveyed claim that they would prefer a decrease in American reliance on foreign oil rather than cheaper gas prices. Dr. Luntz immediately pointed out that individuals’ assertions to pollsters may not reflect a genuine public commitment to paying more at the pump, but the statistic is indicative of the public’s heightened awareness of the complexity of doing business with the Saudis. Dr. Luntz summarized the findings with the declaration that the public is in a mood to reevaluate the American relationship with the Saudis, but he specified that he preferred not to address the feasibility of such a reevaluation.

A second major section of the conference brought Matthew R. Simmons, Chairman and CEO of Simmons & Company International, Henry Groppe, Partner and Founder of Groppe, Long, and Littell, and Herman Franssen, President of International Energy Associates, Inc. to relate their particular stances on the future of U.S.-Saudi oil strategies. Mr. Groppe, who is widely recognized for his accurate 10-year forecasts of oil supply, price, and demand, lingered on the theme that a higher long-term price level will be required to constrain oil demand sufficiently to put it in line with availability. According to Mr. Groppe, we have plenty of oil for decades to come, but “we’re running out of $25-30 per barrel oil.” Dr. Franssen took a more extreme view of the issue. He asserted that the United States must reduce its demand for oil?not just foreign oil?but all oil. He also related his conviction that changes in oil consumption patterns will require “draconian measures.”

The afternoon panelists were asked to address the political elements of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, and the discussion took on a more heated, and occasionally confrontational, air. Bernard Lewis, Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, Ahmed Al-Rahim, Professor of Arabic Language and Literature at Harvard University, David Pryce-Jones, Senior Editor of National Review, Michael Barone, Senior Writer at U.S. News & World Report, and Ambassador Mark Palmer, Vice Chairman of the Board of Freedom House, outlined very divergent perspectives, ranging from Mr. Pryce-Jones’ statement that the U.S. ought to consider armed occupation of Saudi Arabia to achieve regime change, to Ambassador Palmer’s softer recommendations to encourage democratic reform in the Saudi kingdom. Mr. Barone was most critical of the American elite’s support for the Saudis, especially the acceptance of Saudi patronage of former ambassadors and American politicians as “consultants.”

The breadth and complexity of the U.S.-Saudi relationship impedes any effort to neatly package the conclusions of the experts at this Hudson Institute conference into a concise series of recommendations. These well-informed panels of experts agreed on very little, save the fact that the U.S.-Saudi relationship demands considerable reevaluation.

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