Secretary of State Clinton recently unreservedly praised one of the world's most ruthless tyrants, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah. “I want to salute King Abdullah for his leadership on key regional and global challenges" Clinton said on Saudi National day and following the inauguration of the Kingdom's first co-ed college. "King Abdullah has extended the hand of friendship to people of other faiths. He has provided leadership in developing and strengthening the Kingdom’s institutions, working to diversify the economy, support knowledge-based education, and expand opportunity for women. And he has established a powerful dialogue that seeks to promote the principles of moderation, tolerance, and mutual respect — core values that we all share."
Where to begin?
One has to wonder if Clinton would laud slave owners if they suddenly provided co-ed housing for their slaves, or if she would heartily congratulate mass murderers if they slowed the pace of their killing sprees. Perhaps Clinton should remember that if it were up to Abdullah, she would be forced to wear a burka and would be banned from driving, travelling and attending Church.
I think I've figured out the Saudi secret: It is to set expectations so embarrassingly low that even the slightest ease in the Kingdom's draconian laws brings about near apoplectic glee from the West. That, and they sit atop the world's largest oil reserves.
Lest you think that such comparisons are far-fetched, recall that Saudi Arabia is a ruthless dictatorship where basic freedoms are crushed and dissidents live in fear. It is a nation which bans women from traveling without a man's permission, and detains bloggers such as Hamoud Saleh Al-Amri, Fouad Al-Farhan and Roshdi Algadir who dare to speak out. It is a regime which bans the building of churches and synagogues and whose "Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice" barred the walking of pet cats and dogs in public. Women are forced to wear burkas and are banned from driving.
It takes a particularly noxious mixture of ignorance, appeasement and spinelessness for the most powerful diplomat in the Western world to kiss up to a medieval tyrant.
Here's an idea: How about the Unites States condition all future Saudi arms sales on the right of women to vote and drive? And that a giant Church, and even bigger synagogue, be built so that for the first time in history Saudi Arabians can enjoy a modicum of religious liberty?
Ah, but then our Saudi ally might get offended, and we certainly don't want that .
Rather than praise the unelected and corrupt dictator who sits atop this odious theocracy, let us point to Saudi Arabia as the exact opposite of what is desired in this world. Yes, the Saudis will get mad. And why shouldn't they? Freedom is a direct affront to the imposition and xenophobia that lies at the heart of their regime. But in a test of wills, I'll take liberty over what is offered there any day.
Who’s with me?
David Keyes is the Director of Cyberdissidents.org and the Coordinator for Democracy Programs at the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies.. firstname.lastname@example.org