Considering Saudi Arabia: When Realpolitik Yields Dubious Rewards

Considering Saudi Arabia: When Realpolitik Yields Dubious Rewards

Some might say it was just oil and business deals worth billions that prompted President Bush earlier this year to do what it takes: get over his acute dislike for hosting formal state dinners and invite the Saudi King Abdullah as the guest of honor for a lavish White House gala. But oil and big business deals are only the most obvious reasons to court the Saudi king. Given the president's many predicaments in the Middle East, the Saudis are a power well positioned to help a friend in need. However, if the invitation was intended to acknowledge the importance of Saudi Arabia as an America ally, the Saudis apparently felt that they were important enough to be able to decline the invitation.

More recently, at the end of October, it was Britain's turn to court the Saudi king, and this time he accepted. The irony was that while the Americans had been embarrassed because they didn't get to host the Saudis, the British came to feel embarrassed because they did. To be sure, the British have as much respect for the rules of realpolitik as Americans when oil, business and the Middle East are concerned. But the pomp and circumstance of a royal reception -- replete with gilded carriages and an opulent banquet -- highlighted all too uncomfortably how awkward it was to honor the ruler of a country that is ranked by Freedom House among the most repressive in the world.

Refusing to roll out the red carpet, the British media used the Saudi state visit to remind their audience that the desert kingdom is an oppressive theocracy that condemns women to live as lesser human beings, makes a mockery of human rights and has yet to grant its citizens some of the most basic political freedoms. And inevitably, some of the coverage highlighted that Saudi Arabia was not only exporting oil, but also Wahabi-inspired jihadi terrorism.

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