Our Friends, the Saudis

Nina Shea has some sound advice for President Bush concerning our friends, the Saudis:

The Saudi state’s propagation of Wahhabi extremism is more than hate speech; it is a totalitarian ideology of hatred that can incite to violence. The fact that this ideology is being mainstreamed within our borders through the efforts of a foreign government demands President Bush’s urgent attention in today’s conversations with Prince Abdullah. With his remarkable State of the Union address that challenged Saudi Arabia to democratize, the president turned a new page in U.S. policy. Some in American policy circles argue that religious freedom, however, is too sensitive to raise. It’s too important not to; the first topic on the president’s agenda should be the expansion of religious freedom in the kingdom – for Muslims, as well as the captive Christians.

I could not agree more. For years, it has been apparent that Saudi Arabia is not a friend to us. This fact has become all the more obvious in the time since 9/11. From imprisoning reformers and those who dare practice any religion other than Wahhabi Islam, the Saudi royal family has proven itself to be one of the most tyrannical governments on Earth.

There is little doubt that the reason we put up with them is because they control so much oil. If not for this resource, we probably would have cut ties with them long ago. Liberals have long criticized Bush for his close relationship with the ruling family, and for once they are right. There is absolutely no excuse for the Saudi’s actions. Befriending Crown Prince Abdullah is like befriending Charles Manson, except that Abdullah has far more blood on his hands.

Natan Sharansky has argued that promoting democracy in the kingdom is in our best interest. Some pessimists fear that a democratic Saudi Arabia might elect rulers even more hostile to the West. If this happens, it will be because of our own support of the corrupt family. Consider this: the most pro-American civilian populations in the Middle East can be found in nations that are (or were until recently) most hostile to America. There is a strong pro-America and pro-West movement in Iran. Most Iraqis have embraced democracy. Yet nations like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, with more or less pro-West leaders, harbor the most hatred for America among the populace. Coincidence?

The answer, of course, is to condemn the tyrannies and demand that they embrace freedom. If we do so, the hatred of America will dissipate. It won’t happen all at once, but it will happen.

One of the great blunders of Gulf War I was that we did not demand anything from the Saudi and Kuwaiti governments in exchange for help. What if we had demanded that they become democratic constitutional monarchies in exchange for our protection. They would have had little chance but to accept these terms. But then, that would be “meddling” and the “international community” might not appreciate it.

Still, it is not too late to effect change in the Middle East. But President Bush must consistently exercise his demand for freedom among friend and foe alike.

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