Hatchet jobs are a tool of all newspapers, but a favorite particularly of the London-based Saudi press. The latest victim is Michael Scott Doran, who may soon be joining the National Security Council as senior Middle East policy-maker to replace Elliott Abrams, who will become deputy national security adviser. (Disclosure: Doran is a friend and someone I will be among the first to congratulate if he is indeed appointed.)
In this case, Jihad al-Khazen of Al-Hayat has taken a knife to Doran, accusing him (in an abysmally translated English version of an Arabic article) of being "not only a supporter of the Israeli Likud party and known for his anti-Arab and anti-Islamic opinion, but also a dedicated member of the opposed side. All his writings reflect a hostile feeling, especially against Saudi Arabia."
We even learn, rather titillatingly, that "his articles, conferences and interviews blend venom and lubricant."
Two things bother the Saudis in Doran: first that he wrote an influential article in the January-February 2004 issue of Foreign Affairs where he argued that the Saudi royal family was divided between Crown Prince Abdullah and Interior Minister Prince Nayef. As Doran put it:
The Saudi state is a fragmented entity, divided between the fiefdoms of the royal family. Among the four or five most powerful princes, two stand out: Crown Prince Abdullah and his half-brother Prince Nayef, the interior minister. Relations between these two leaders are visibly tense. In the United States, Abdullah cuts a higher profile. But at home in Saudi Arabia, Nayef, who controls the secret police, casts a longer and darker shadow. Ever since King Fahd's stroke in 1995, the question of succession has been hanging over the entire system, but neither prince has enough clout to capture the throne.
This hit the Saudis in a particularly sensitive spot, because it demolished the pretense of unity in the royal family (something essential if the regime is to survive against its many foes) and suggested that senior princes were bickering over the succession to King Fahd, who was effectively reduced to the state of a cucumber after suffering a stroke a decade ago. That a family which could once depose a king for incompetence (King Saud) cannot do so another who is utterly incapable of leading his kingdom, suggests there is some truth to Doran's thesis. After all, if Crown Prince Abdullah has been unable to succeed his half-brother, that's because his other half-brothers, including Nayef, have not endorsed it.
Khazen's rebuttal of this argument is so constrained by the official Saudi line that Fahd is in fine form as to be downright hilarious: "Based on my personal knowledge, I can say that the Crown Prince only follows the orders of the King. In turn, the Minister of Defense executes orders received from the Crown Prince. The traditional and well-known hierarchy prevents the establishment of any power centers, as those mentioned by Doran."
A second thing that bothers the Saudis is that Doran, despite his purported hatred of Arabs, has shown particular interest in and sympathy for the fate of the kingdom's Shiites. Saudi Shiites are second-class citizens at home, and Doran has written about this in the past. Indeed, Khazen alludes to this irritating hobby of Doran's in his piece, but apparently doesn't quite know what to do with it.
Doran was set upon last year by another commentator plying the waters of the London-based Saudi press: In a pair of articles in Al-Sharq al-Awsat, Mamoun Fandy, an Egyptian, attacked Doran personally for his Saudi article, albeit less ham-fistedly than Khazen. Nonetheless, like Khazen's screed, it had all the trappings of a contract hit, where the arguments were thin and the insinuations thick.
Doran has become a favorite target of many groups. He was at the center of a furor at Princeton University, where he teaches, because some professors thought he leaned too much to the right. The Saudis can't stand him because he won't toe the official line they have tried so hard to peddle of a kingdom united in its animosity toward Islamist terrorism. Post-colonial academics and those who still weep at the altar of the late Edward Said (particularly his nephew, Usama, whom Doran beat out of a job) dislike Doran because he is close to the conservative Princeton Middle East historian Bernard Lewis and represents what they hate most about the Bush administration.
You know the value of a person by the quality of his enemies, so Doran should be a happy man today.