As disturbing as recent allegations are that money from the Saudi royal family may have found its way into the pockets of the Sept. 11 hijackers, the real value of the ongoing FBI investigation will be to expose Saudi Arabia's two-faced policy of quietly supporting the country's radical Islamic movement in exchange for political calm within its borders.
Reports on the possible transfer of money from the Saudis to the hijackers are troubling enough. Saudi government leaders deny any intentional support for the Sept. 11 terror attacks, but allegations are that the hijackers may have obtained money that Saudi Princess Haifa al-Faisal had given to two Saudi students living in the United States.
The princess is the wife of the Saudi ambassador to Washington, and the Saudi Embassy said the money, totaling tens of thousands of dollars and given in increments of around $2,000 a month, was meant only to help a needy Saudi family.
The report that some of that money may have found its way to two of the Sept. 11 hijackers could well turn out to be false or distorted. But what makes it plausible is that the Saudi government has already made a deal with the devil -- "a Faustian bargain," as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., put it Sunday.
At a minimum, Saudi Arabia's leaders turn a blind eye to the terrorist organizations that operate within the country and, at worst, give them money. They allow radical fundamentalist schools, called madrassas, to thrive, teaching hatred of Israel and the West. Charities are fronts for hostile organizations, possibly including terrorists. The nation has become a virtual petri dish of terrorism, incubating violence that its underground leaders then export. It is not happenstance that 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 terrorists were Saudi Arabian.
Pressure has been building on the Saudis since the attacks to do more to combat terrorism, and with the investigation of indirect financing of the hijackers, it is certain to build. Indeed, McCain's voice was just one in a bipartisan howl on Sunday, in which other Republicans, including Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, joined Democrats such as Sens. Charles Schumer of New York and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut in demanding that Saudi Arabia finally decide if it is going to oppose terrorism or continue to encourage it.
The Saudis have been a mainly reliable partner to the United States for many years, though not really a friend in the way that Britain and Canada are. They have oil that we need, and while that hasn't changed in the past 14 months, almost everything else has about how this country views the political and social corruption that is endemic to much of the Islamic world. When Americans' lives are at stake, the Saudis can no longer expect American leaders to look the other way at their support, tacit or overt, of extremism.
In the immediate matter of the princess's donations, the Saudis need to cooperate completely with American investigators. If they wish to continue making donations to needy Saudis, they need to be able to track the money to ensure it is used for the purposes intended.
More than that, though, they have to choose what side of the terror line they want to inhabit. They cannot continue to keep a foot in each camp, hoping to placate both the terrorists within their borders and their victims around the world.
For years, the Saudi ruling family has bought order -- and insurance for its own continued reign -- with its contemptible policy. But a day of reckoning may be approaching. If calm is what the Saudis have secured, it looks increasingly like the kind that comes before the storm.