Maybe you haven't noticed. But Saudi Arabia hasn't at all played according to Barack Obama's script. Now, frankly, that doesn't surprise me. As you already know, I am a skeptic. And especially skeptical about Saudi intentions vis-a-vis Israel. Still, don't count on their intentions towards the Palestinians, either. They do not care a fig, as an Arabic saying has it. Riyadh will be constructive bi-al mish mish. Alas, apricots don't grow in the dessert.
In conversations I had with Obama during his campaign he maintained a healthy doubt as to what they were and were not willing do. No, I am not saying that he agreed with me. Just that he didn't seem smitten, that he had some distance.
I am afraid that he now seems very much smitten by Arab rhetoric and Arab objectives. That is, the president is oblivious to the fact that the Saudis have not been at all responsive to his undignified bowing and scraping, to his mouthing of their own world view and to their intransigent determination to stand still. Asalum aleikum, Riyadh is not a foreign policy.
Some of you might have read an op-ed by Prince Turki bin Faisal in the Sunday Times "Week In Review." Who is this royal? He is a nephew of the present monarch, Abdullah; a son of the late King Faisal (hence Turki's patronymic "bin Faisal"); and a brother of the current foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal. There are around seven thousand princes in the country (and only God knows how many princesses). Not all of them are important and not all of that are that rich. But, then, there are more princes in the country then taxi-drivers.
Faisal is an important prince. For a quarter of a century, he was the director general of the Saudi Al Mukhabarat, a name that strikes certainly more fear in the hearts of dissenters and terrorists alike than the C.I.A. ever did. As head of royal intelligence agency, Faisal "ran" the Taliban account. (Saudi Arabia was one of three countries to recognize the Taliban regime, the others being the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan. Very appropriate company.) For more on Turki, see Steven Coll's book Ghost Wars.
And then for just a year he was ambassador to the United States, succeeding Prince Bandar who served for years and years...and years. Although in the last period he was more than a bit out of sorts. The family of Bush one still loved him. But they love all Saudis: they've certainly made enough money from these intimacies. You see, the Saudis love the Bushes in return.
But back to Turki. He was bounced by his uncle for well, conduct unbecoming. Whatever. He had volunteered a brigade on the foreign front. The question arises: Is there really a brigade that could fight?
The New York Times op-ed is grotesque in two respects.
Turki is a royal hack. But why would any self-respecting newspaper post an opinion piece that surely he did not write himself and cannot be an honest précis of his thoughts. The Times is now specializing in such op-eds. A few weeks ago it published an article by Muammar Qaddafi, a certified gangster and nutcase, certified by his own actions.
Obama announces his emoluments to the world of Islam (about which I will write later). Then Turki makes his demands and his rationales for them, his rationales first:
Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam, the custodian of its two holy mosques, the world's energy superpower and the de facto leader of the Arab and Moslem worlds--that is why our recognition is greatly prized by Israel. However, for all those same reasons, the kingdom holds itself to higher standards of justice and law. It must therefore refuse to engage Israel until it ends its illegal occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights as well as the Shabaa Farms in Lebanon. For Saudis to take steps toward diplomatic normalization before this land is returned to its rightful owners would undermine international law and turn a blind eye to immorality.
This is another reiteration of the Saudi response to the president's. They have told Obama to fly a kite. No, it's much worse.