This article is the second of a two-part series. Read Part 1 here.
Roosevelt hoped to mollify the King’s known antipathy to the Jews in their luncheon conversations. FDR began by stressing the marvelous improvements Jewish settlers in Palestine had brought to the barren landscape. They made the desert bloom, he told Abdulaziz. Fleet Admiral William Leahy, the President’s Chief of Staff, would emphasize this cordiality—and the famed Roosevelt charm—in his memoirs:
It was a wonderful privilege to be closely associated at their first meeting with two masters of political leadership, both physically crippled by age, both in a few hours acquiring a lasting friendly appreciation of each other, and both irreplaceable to their people until slow moving time shall again in their countries produce comparable leaders.[i]
For all the surface cordiality, Abdulaziz was well experienced in playing the double game. Although nominally an ally of the British in the Second World War, he had allowed the Nazis to station an agent in his kingdom, one who fomented anti-Allied jihad until the British discovered him and demanded the King expel him.[ii]
Roosevelt had hoped to enlist Abdulaziz in a cooperative effort to develop the entire Middle East. It would be, he doubtless thought, not unlike his own famed Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) at home. He held out his hopes for re-forestation of the arid deserts. Water projects, too.
All this great hope might be theirs if the Arabs were more welcoming to the Jews’ settling in Palestine, Roosevelt told the King.
But the King brought him up short. Arabs, he said, would rather die than give way to the Jews. And they’d rather live in poverty than share prosperity with the Jews.
Roosevelt knew that Arab immigration into Palestine “had vastly exceeded the total Jewish immigration during the period [since 1921].” [iii]
FDR appealed to the King’s humanity. Three million Jews had been murdered by the Nazis in Poland, he said. Abdulaziz was obdurate. If all those Jews had been murdered in Poland, there should now be plenty of room for the survivors. Why make the Arabs pay for the crimes of the Nazis?
Here the King oddly pre-figured the same point that would be made by senior Washington correspondent, Helen Thomas, 65 years later. The much-honored Thomas stood on the White House lawn to say the Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and go back to Germany and Poland. Abdulaziz’s point in 1945, exactly.
There was a congruence of Nazi aims and Saudi views toward the Jews. The Nazis, soon to be crushed under the rubble of Berlin, had worked throughout the war to incite Arabs against Jews. The German military had made extensive use of Muslim soldiers in the Balkans and the Muslim majority Soviet Republics.
As they overran those Muslim majority regions, the Nazis recruited among the local populace. Wehrmacht officials used the Koran and language-specific biographies of the Führer to stoke the fires of anti-Semitism. They always identified Islam as an organizing force for their anti-Jewish warfare.[iv]
FDR was stymied in his attempts to get some concessions from the King. He would begin at this five-hour Valentine’s Day encounter a 70-year relationship between the White House and the Saudi ruling dynasty.
Despite Saudi concessions to America’s growing appetite for oil, the U.S.-Saudi relationship has been an entente not always cordiale. In 1973, the Saudis did not hesitate to slap the United States with an oil embargo because they were displeased with President Nixon’s re-supply of Israel during the Yom Kippur War.
In 1998, under President Bill Clinton, the United States sought access to the head of the al Qaeda finance department, Madani al Tayyib. Al Tayyib was a Saudi national being held, or so we were told, “in custody.”
Clinton sent Vice President Al Gore to Riyadh to press the son of King Abdulaziz, Crown Prince Abdullah, for the right to question Madani al Tayyib. According to the official Report of the 9/11 Commission, the United States “never gained that access.” [p. 122]
Left unresolved is the issue of fifteen of the nineteen hijackers on that day of fire and death. They were Saudi nationals schooled in the Wahabbist doctrines and raised in an atmosphere of Judenhass (Jew hatred) indistinguishable from that of Nazi Germany.
In fact, as German writer Matthias Kunzel informs us, the first man to envision flaming towers collapsing in Manhattan was not the Sunni Muslim Osama bin Laden of Saudi Arabia, but Adolf Hitler himself. The Führer wanted to send suicide bombers in submarine-launched Heinkels to destroy the Manhattan skyscrapers. He had told his followers New York was a refuge of the Jews.
As Franklin Roosevelt departed from his Great Bitter Lake rendezvous with destiny, the ship’s 1-MC speaker announced: “The smoking lamp is lit.” FDR had refrained from smoking for the entire five-hour summit meeting, in deference to Muslim practice.
Lighting up, the President said wearily, “Show’s over.” He would write of the summit to his cousin, Daisy Suckley, “It was a scream.”[v]
In 1945, however, Roosevelt was hardly as “irreplaceable” as his loyal aide, Adm. Leahy, had put it. As Gen. DeGaulle famously said: “The cemeteries are full of indispensable men.” Within two months of his meeting at the Great Bitter Lake, FDR was buried. He had died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the “little White House” in Georgia on April 12, 1945.
The policy pursued by his successor, Harry Truman, included the recognition of the State of Israel just eleven minutes after the Jewish State’s Declaration of Independence on 15 May 1948. Ever since, the United States has been saddled with a two-pronged Mideast policy, one that always takes the imperious requirements of the Saudi dynasty into account. In 2015—seventy years after that fateful encounter on the Great Bitter Lake—the U.S. remains unevenly yoked in the Mideast.
Robert Morrison is a former Reagan official and senior fellow at the Family Research Council who blogs from Annapolis.
Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Defense, Wikimedia Commons. Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta is greeted by the Chief of Royal Protocol Khaled al A’Abed upon his arrival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on June 20, 2012. Panetta is in Saudi Arabia to pass on the condolences of the United States government at the passing of Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.
[i] Adams, Henry H., Witness to Power: The Life of Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Md.: 1985, p. 276.
[ii] Wynbrandt, James, A Brief History of Saudi Arabia, Facts on File, Inc., New York:
2004, p. 196.
[iii] Gold, Dore, The Fight for Jerusalem: Radical Islam, the West, and the Future of the Holy City, Regnery Publishing, Washington, D.C.: 2007, p. 128.
[iv] Motadel, David, Islam and Nazi Germany’s War, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. and London, England: 2014, p. 292.
[v] Hamby, p. 427.