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Saudi Arabia: Friend or Obstacle?; Jesse Jackson and Wall Street

Aired January 16, 2002 - 23:01   ET


JEFF GREENFIELD, HOST: Saudi Arabia, is it our strongest ally in the Arab world or a maddening roadblock to fighting terrorism? We'll debate that question tonight. And later, Jesse Jackson turning up the heat on Wall Street and taking some heat, too. Tonight, on GREENFIELD AT LARGE.

It's a strategic ally of the United States, and the hottest of the world's hot spots. It's a critical source of resources absolutely essential to America's economic health. It is also a country that according to its critics is all too often an obstacle, rather than an ally in the battle against terror.

It is, of course, Saudi Arabia, a Persian Gulf kingdom of some 20 million invariably, if accurately labeled as the oil rich kingdom. That much is clear. But you listen to some of our top public officials, and you can get the feeling that they're talking about two utterly different nations.


(voice-over): First, there's the Saudi Arabia that's been a U.S. ally since the days of Franklin Roosevelt, a nation that stood firmly with the United States during the Cold War, when other Middle East nations flirted with Moscow. The Saudi Arabia that opened its land to U.S. forces during the Gulf War against Iraq. And where 5,000 U.S. troops remained stationed to this day.

It's the nation that sends some 1.7 million barrels of oil to the United States every single day, one in every 10 barrels the U.S. consumes. This is the Saudi Arabia that American officials today say is a valued ally.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who visited the Saudi capital of Riyadh last year.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We are respectful of the circumstance of the countries in the region. We understand that. Our interest is to create a condition, a set of conditions, so that we can engage in a sustained effort against terrorist networks in the region and elsewhere.

GREENFIELD: But then there is this other Saudi Arabia, home of the severe, even intolerant brand of Wahabi Islam, embraced by enemies of the U.S. across the Muslim world. A country that insists American service women cover themselves while in country, that will not let U.S. warplanes based in Saudi Arabia attack Iraq or other Muslim nations, except in self-defense. The Saudi Arabia whose media produces stream a anti-Semitic and anti-American rhetoric.

Indeed, a Saudi Arabia from whose soil 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers, not to mention Osama bin Laden. Some, like former CIA director James Woolsey, have said the Saudis themselves bear some of the blame for what happened last September. And just yesterday, Michigan Senator Carl Levin, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, blasted the Saudis for their lack of real help in cracking down on terror. He publicly suggested -- quote -- "I think we may be able to find a place where we are much more welcome openly, a place which has not seen significant resources flowing to support some really extreme fanatic views."


So which is the real Saudi Arabia and how should the U.S. be dealing with it? Joining us from Washington, Wyche Fowler. He served as a congressman, senator from Georgia, and former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Also with us, the afore-mentioned James Woolsey, former director of the CIA.

Mr. Woolsey, what most troubles you about the Saudis? I mean, the administration seems to think they're doing a pretty good job of being with us. You don't seem to agree?

JAMES WOOLSEY, FMR DIRECTOR OF THE CIA: Well, the problem with Saudi Arabia is that it is both an ally and a problem, Jeff. The problem is a very old one. It really was born in the Wachovia Association with the original bin Saud back in the ah century. And as it's come forward, they have become the place in the world where this very extreme form of Islam, which is closely allied with the Muslim brotherhood, with the Isikoff around the world, who really very much hate the West and infidels, such as Christians and Jews.

Have -- it's become the home of that type of thinking. And it's manifested in the mosques. It's manifested in some portion of the Saudi -- the clerics. It's manifested, to some extent, in the Saudi official newspapers and public statements.

GREENFIELD: But is it more than that? Is it more than just an ideology? Do you -- are you saying also that there are more concrete forms of linkage between the Saud -- some folks in Saudi Arabia and people who have it in for the United States?

WOOLSEY: Well, some folks in Saudi Arabia, yes. What sort of happened is that the Saudis have exported their really bad actors and the very hostile people to being -- setting up MARCHINI:, schools in Pakistan. And some, for example, to this country. Some portion of the mosques in the United States, a rather substantial portion, are Saudi funded and have Saudi trained imams, who say extremely hostile things about the freedom and individualism in the West and us.

And it's not as if all of these people are al Qaeda or terrorists. They certainly aren't, but the Wahabis and the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamists bear sort of the same relationship in a sense to al Qaeda and the terrorists, that let's say German nationalism in the late '20s and early 1930's bore to Nazism. It was the field in which that really totalitarian ideology was planted and grew.

GREENFIELD: Now Mr. Wyche Fowler, you were there for three or four years. Is Mr. Woolsey describing the Saudi Arabia that you knew and lived in?

WYCHE FOWLER, JR., FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SAUDI ARABIA: Well, in all respect to my friend, the former director of the CIA, I think that one of the problems of these discussions is that he painted them with a pretty broad brush. And there were some exaggerations there that I do not think that the facts would substantiate.


FOWLER: For one thing, well for one thing, the -- whether or not you agree or disagree with the most conservative form of religion, the Wahabism, it does teach tolerance for Jews and Christians. They are people of the book, known as people of the Koran. The Crown Prince Abdullah, who is the titular ruler of the country now, has spoken out against terrorism. He has preached himself tolerance for Christians and Jews, as he believes is the interpretation that he must adhere to.

And though certainly we see that there have been some very bad apples developed in and around Saudi Arabia, in that region, who claim Islam as the reason for their terrorist activities, I won't debate Mr. Woolsey's Nazi example, but I would certainly say that you could not use one or two or even 10 of those and condemn all of Islam or the actions of Saudi Arabia even -- any more than you could condemn all of Christianity for the actions of Timothy McVeigh and some of his fundamentalist characters.

GREENFIELD: But truly, Mr. Ambassador, you saw in your time in Saudi Arabia, some pretty rough stuff on what is after all a state- controlled media. This is not a First Amendment country. I mean, they've done everything from report the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," that notorious czarist forgery about Jews, to some cases blaming the United States for committing some of these terrorist acts on itself.

Did you ever raise this with the ruling family in Saudi Arabia, that this was really not helpful?

FOWLER: Well, we had been in discussions, but again, Jeff, and that goes back to your opening piece. There have been, in our urge for them to have a freedom of the press, such as in Guttard (ph) now and the famous al Jazeera. You are now having, for the first time, every kind of viewpoint. Well, not every kind in Saudi Arabia, but there is a loosening under what we would call far more freedom of speech.

And many things are said now on television in Arab stations from Egypt to Guttard to Saudi Arabia, that are not checked. And they speak in what we would consider some kind of wild and woolly and non- factual -- do not have the facts to back it up.

GREENFIELD: Ambassador Woolsey, in your, I'm sorry Mr. Woolsey, don't think -- director Woolsey. I'll have to keep these titles straight. In your time as CIA director, did you see again, apart from ideology, concrete signs that there were financial and other material resources going from Saudis to support terrorism around the world, particularly aimed at the United States?

WOOLSEY: I was director from early '93 to early 1995. And our relations with the Saudis were reasonably good. And we were working on most problems together. And I wouldn't say that this was salient.

You see, during the Cold War, we were on the same side. They were supporting us in our Cold War stances against the Soviet Union. But what's happened now in the aftermath of the Cold War is that we've sort of gotten caught within what some scholars have called a civil war within Islam, a war between the Wahabis and the Islamists, Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, the people on that wing of Islam, which is a very small minority. No one would say it's more than 10 to 15 percent of Islam. And most people would say it's considerably less.

But a kind of a civil war between those people and the vast bulk of tolerant and wonderful Muslims in the world. We've sort of gotten caught in the middle. And the historic roots of Saudi Arabia and the religious strain that is dominant there, really is on the very hard line side of Islam. That's a big part of the problem.

GREENFIELD: That, Mr. Woolsey, was why Senator Levin suggested that we might try to find a more friendly clime for our troops. Even if that is a good idea, where would we go in that region, if we left Saudi Arabia?

WOOLSEY: Well, I would not move out of Saudi Arabia yet. I think we ought to try to work with the Saudis, I would agree with ambassador on this. I think there are things that we can do to try to encourage them to take a stance that's more similar, for example, to what General Musharraf has taken in Pakistan against some of their own hard-liners.

But I think that we ought to keep an eye peeled for the possibility of moving at some point. And I would say probably Oman and Bahrain are two of the places in the Gulf, where relations are good and where we seem to be welcome.

Bahrain has a really strong strain of liberty moving there now, press liberty and freedom of association.

GREENFIELD: Ambassador Fowler, in terms of the clout, and I'll be very blunt about that, that the United States has, isn't the royal family situation that namely, that there's a fair amount of discontent among a lot of those folks in Saudi Arabia, doesn't that give the United States, with its military power, a lot more clout to press the Saudis for reform, that might otherwise have thought of, because of the issue of oil?

FOWLER: Well, I think again, Jeff, you're overlooking the fact that the Saudis themselves are seeking both economic reform. And the question whether is it will be coupled with what we in the West would identify as political reform.

But I think what needs to be said is that the criticism of the Saudis, that they -- I'm not a theologian so I can't debate Islam, anymore than I've tried to do. But I can tell you what I observed and what are the facts.

The facts are that terrorism first struck in Saudi Arabia in 1995 and 1996. That's what sent me out there. There were not only 19 American servicemen killed in 1996, but many Saudis also died during that blast. That was their September the 11 wake up call.

And at that point, we began, the United States and Saudi Arabia, because it was in both of our interests to find out who these people were, to try to root out cells of terrorists in Saudi Arabia. So to say that they have not been helpful, have not been cooperating is just absolutely wrong.


FOWLER: Also, in this fight, let me just quickly add, about moving bases, I mean, I don't know what was on Senator Levin's mind, I worked with him in the Senate, I have the greatest respect. But as you know, and Mr. Levin knows, we ran this -- we are running this operation against Afghanistan and its terrorists out of a state-of- the-art command and control center in Saudi Arabia.

GREENFIELD: I have to stop you there.

FOWLER: If that is not cooperation, I don't know what it is.

GREENFIELD: All right, I appreciate that, Mr. Ambassador. Sorry to cut you off, but we have run out of time. Thanks to James Woolsey, former director of the CIA. Thanks to Ambassador Fowler.

Still ahead, we will talk to the Reverend Jesse Jackson about his campaign on Wall Street and about what some of his critics are saying about his campaign.


GREENFIELD: For more than 30 years, Reverend Jesse Jackson has been one of the most visible figures in our public life. Twice a candidate for president, founder and president of the Rainbow Push Coalition, he has drawn praise and some fire for his work aimed at opening up some of America's major corporate and financial institutions to minorities.

Reverend Jackson is in New York as part of his Wall Street project, calling on among things for minority-owned firms to receive 10 percent of asset management fees for management corporate pension and retirement funds. The Reverend's with us.

Good to see you.


GREENFIELD: If this were to happen, 10 percent, how much are we talking about?

JACKSON: Well, last year, the firms on Wall Street got $8.5 billion in management asset fees. And so 10 percent would be, you know, the $50 million.

GREENFIELD: To a relative handful of minority firms, right?

JACKSON: Last year, the Wall Street companies got $8.5 billion. And the blacks and browns $14 million, 0.2 percent. So 10 percent is far less in our investment as workers into pension funds and are investments as consumers.

GREENFIELD: You raise a point that I think I'd like to spend some time on.


GREENFIELD: If these firms, these are asset management firms, got this money, they'd still have to manage these pension funds for the benefit of the people in them. They couldn't necessarily make risky loans or loans to people who might not pay back.

In other words, the beneficiaries of your plan are a relative handful of minority-owned firms, not the broader based community, correct?

JACKSON: Well, those who are handling their resources on welfare, relatively...

GREENFIELD: Precisely.

JACKSON: ... handful of people. The fact is if you expand it to include more women, more Hispanics and more blacks, not only do they -- are they capable of managing the money and deserve the freeze, they also can -- and broaden the base of investment.

We have to somehow green line, red line America.

GREENFIELD: So wait a minute. So these firms that would get the money might be making loans that in traditional Wall Street terms, might be considered relatively risky or paying a lower rate of return, which would hurt the people who are given their money to those firms.

JACKSON: No, the evidence of firms like Arrow Capital and Jim Reynolds, Lou Caplan Chicago, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the evidence says that they have been very excellent and prudent in their investment.

It is Thompson, the city comptroller of New York, robbing the base of pension managers (UNINTELLIGIBLE) comptroller. I mean, let's not assume that blacks and browns and women are any less prudent, because they're not.

GREENFIELD: This is the point that I think is the broader point. And it has to do with a lot of the efforts that you have made, and some of the criticism you've drawn. I want to really give you a chance to answer it.

The charge has been made, I'm sure you know about this, that this is more about benefiting a relatively handful of people, people who are close to Jesse Jackson, maybe friends, maybe associates, political allies, maybe even family, and not efforts at the broader black community. That it's about making a relatively handful of people richer, not making provisions for more jobs and housing.

JACKSON: For example, one thing that we revealed this week is that a partner of mine two years ago was in Appalachia. David Willhammer's (ph) now set up a fund of funds in Appalachia for $40 million. That's Appalachia.

AOL/Time Warner, Bob Pittman made a commitment last year to a venture capital firm called Ideal flow. And they went from 300 companies down to 15. They're now making capital available, where it was not available before.

In each instance, we opened these doors, the money must be held prudently and through some due diligence processes. Never friendship. It's always about a due diligence process.

GREENFIELD: When you saw the stories in "The Chicago Sun-Times" last year, specifically alleging that these were personal connections of yours, family connections, friends, and that that -- and that the negotiations with some of these major corporations benefited this relative group, did you have a response to that? Did you actually answer those charges? Did you think they were diversions?

JACKSON: The reason I didn't dignify and thought it was diversions is because if we convene a very capable Wall Street investment bankers from Wall Street and New York or from Lasalle Street in Chicago or Silicon Valley in the West coast, these very capable people, who could not get access to get the assets to manage.

And they came together and organized a movement to open closed doors. And so, two years ago, three years ago, Mike from AT&T came to a conference. He said, "I have a $6 million offering. In the market we'll get a billion." Well, many applied, I did not choose the person. AT&T went through its own due diligence. They chose (UNINTELLIGIBLE), he is a friend of mine. Why not?

Here success made Pepsico consider John Utendahl. Now you begin to see on tombstones on almost every deal, some woman, some black, some brown, because we're demythologizing the notion that they're unqualified, imprudent, black and brown investors.

GREENFIELD: The argument is that what Jesse Jackson is doing is being, in effect, a power broker, rather than a tribune of the people.

JACKSON: Well, these are people. See, with African-Americans and Hispanics go to Harvard and Yale and Princeton, Columbia and Morehouse, Howard, and they have these skills that cannot get accessed because they're not in the club, because of incest. Why -- if African-Americans and Hispanics are between 20 and 40 percent of a work force and they pay pension funds, then they're that much of a consumer market.

Why can't they be a factor in managing money? If Carl McCarl (ph) can be the sole signature in the largest fund in America, can we not handle money?

GREENFIELD: I don't think that's the issue that people are raising. I mean, you raised Harvard, because it brings to mind this other incident where the new president, Larry Summers, called in a bunch of professors.

JACKSON: Before you deal with that...



JACKSON: ...let me get that. But let me suffice to say, we must remove the assumption that these managers of monies have numbers that are less in their returns. Carmacall (ph) took a firm of $50 billion to $120. He put a billion in the market after September 11. Has now grown another $100 million. These are qualified people, who were not given a chance.

GREENFIELD: The argument is not that these folks are unqualified, it's that you're waging a fight on ground that has radically shifted. And the reason I mentioned Harvard was this new president calls in a whole bunch of scholars which says, "I want to challenge you to be more excellent."

When he calls in a prominent African-American, it's seen as somehow a racial incident. Why?

JACKSON: We do not know what happened in that meeting, that created central grievances between Dr. Summers and Dr. West. Dr. West seemed to have felt that his academic freedom was being infringed upon, that his integrity and judgment has been called into question. That the quality of his scholarship was somehow on trial. Here's a man who is preeminent scholar, who has written 16 books. And he felt that he had been leaned upon. And that was the grievance that seemingly they've done some bridge building there.

GREENFIELD: I guess the question I want to ask, because we're short on time. Have we not now reached the point, and I want to put this bluntly, why white men can say to a black person as he says to white people, "I want to challenge to be more rigorous in your scholarship and not be accused of racism."

JACKSON: Well, I submit to you that if one -- this suggested to Cornel, he had missed classes. Dr. West had missed classes campaigning for Bradley -- that was not true. He's just been more time is academia, than in politics.

He's written 16 books, he's 48-years-old. He is a scholar with the fruits of his labors out there in the market place. And so, that affected him. It was personal, really, between him and Summers.

GREENFIELD: But maybe what Shelby Steele a sense of victim identity. That if somebody says the same think to a white person and a black person, there's an assumption that if it's said in that transaction, there has to be a racial or even racist implication.

JACKSON: Well, it may not have been that in this case, because that's not what Cornel, Dr. West. It was personal, he felt violated as an academician of the mission. So it raises the freedom of association in this academic freedom.

That's what brought other professors into the process. And then, the question about not being as vigorous enough on the Affirmative Action question, is what got Dr. Gates and others involved. Because clearly Affirmative Action, opening doors in that way, is on the tack and they didn't want any equivocation.

GREENFIELD: Okay, Reverend Jackson, we're going to bring you up and have a lengthier conversation. But thank you for joining us. And when we come back, I've got a footnote about the rich in politics and right here in the media.


GREENFIELD: And another thing, after our broadcast last night about whether the rich were about to become political targets, we got a few pointed e-mails asking, "What about you guys in the media? Are you part of the rich?"

Well, yes, some of us are. We make a lot more money than most people do. And if bothers some of us to acknowledge that, too bad. But what is fascinating is -- that like of our most successful political figures, the wealth of some of our most popular media figures really doesn't seem to matter much to people. Now think, in politics, we had John Kennedy, son of wealth and privilege, go up against Richard Nixon, whose family was not well off at all.

Back in 1960, who did voters feel close to? In 1988, George Bush, the first one, born a New England aristocrat, Skull and Bones at Yale, no less, faced off against Michael Dukakis, the son of Greek immigrants.

Dukakis wound up as the elitist. Twelve years later, voters seemed to feel closer on a personal level to George W. Bush, then to Al Gore, whose senator father pulled himself up from a hard scrabble childhood.

And as for the Senate, there are nearly enough multimillionaires there to form their very own caucus. Now look at the media, you know, doubt read about Katie Couric's blockbuster new contract. And there was similar news about CNN's Larry King. But these folks are getting that money in large part, because people identify with them. CNN is someone they feel close to.

And that same sense of identity is what has made Oprah Winfrey the highest paid media figure, bar none. In other words, people, voters or viewers, really don't seem to agree with Randy Newman that it's money that matters. What seems to matter is empathy and attentiveness. And it probably helps if they remember that money is not a sign of moral superiority.

I'm Jeff Greenfield. Thanks for watching. Tomorrow night, I'll be interviewing Hillary Rodham Clinton.




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