Murawiec gave a 2002 briefing to the Defense Science Board that carried the provocative title "Taking Saudi out of Arabia," in which he advocated extremely tough pressure on the Saudi government concerning the involvement of Saudis in terrorism. When it leaked to the press, the uproar was so loud that President George W. Bush personally called Saudi crown prince Abdullah to emphasize that he rejected the content of the briefing—a remarkable reaction to a think-tank study. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld also weighed in with denunciations. Murawiec was promptly fired by Rand.
With credentials like that, one would hope for much from Murawiec, and he does make some telling points. He nicely captures the Saudi ambition to dominate world Islam, including the depth of the rivalry between the Saudi Wahhabi clerics and Egypt's venerable Al-Azhar University.
But, alas, he is no expert on Saudi Arabia. For example, while many complaints can be made about the Saudi government's encouragement of radical Islam, it is hardly the case that Saudi charitable organizations are under the same degree of government control that the Soviet Union exercised over its pet peace movements, as the author contends. There are many extremely rich Saudis who feel a religious obligation to fund Islamic causes and, while they certainly listen to government guidance, they are acting independently and out of conviction—which was hardly the way that Soviet peace groups worked.
Another problem: Murawiec gets carried away in places, undermining the credibility of his account. It is quite a stretch to say that Saudi Arabia "has modernized nothing." Besides the vast improvement in material living standards, the kingdom has extended education to women and has built a media empire, ignoring objections by obscurantists. And Princes of Darkness suffers from peculiar organization. After 145 pages about contemporary Saudi support for terror groups, we are suddenly transported back 200 years for a history lesson lasting eighty pages. Both the earlier part on support for terror and the later part on history also contain within them abrupt jumps from one topic to another.
After the publicity coup from his Rand firing, Murawiec would have been the logical person to write a definitive book about Saudi connections to terrorism. Sadly, this is not that book.