Jewish World Review August 30, 2002/ 22 Elul, 5762

Wesley Pruden

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A president woos,
best not to watch | If there's anything more embarrassing to watch than the pursuit of unrequited love it's the pursuit of a faithless acquaintance that someone is trying to make a "friend."

George W. Bush spent most of the week trying to rally the Saudis, whose toy kingdom was saved by his father a decade ago, to join the West's war on terror. The more ardent the president's wooing, the more reluctant the Saudi guests at his ranch became, demonstrating that the only thing harder than climbing a fence leaning toward you is to kiss someone leaning away from you.

The president took the precaution of keeping the reporters several miles at bay, so nobody could actually watch the awkward attempt at courtship at Prairie Chapel Ranch. George W. stopped just short of changing the name of his ranch - with its connotation of the Christian worship that the Saudis hold in such contempt - but otherwise it was let passion be unrestrained.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador, told Mr. Bush that the United States couldn't expect gratitude for having once saved Saudi bacon, so to speak, and if the Americans insist on removing the Iraqi threat to American security they would do it without Saudi assistance.

The high irony of the moment was starkly underlined when Vice President Dick Cheney delivered a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Nashville making the strongest case yet for a pre-emptive strike against Saddam Hussein. In still another attempt to climb a fence, if not to kiss the object of his love not at all sublime, the president sent his chief flack out to find the reporters to tell them that Mr. Cheney had not really set out a case for striking at Saddam, only that he had set out a "doctrine" for doing so. It was the ultimate distinction without a difference.

It was a week for discovering the fecklessness of friends, some of whom in the past actually have been friends. Gerhard Schroeder, huffing and puffing in the final days of a campaign for re-election as the chancellor of Germany, assailed President Bush for his determination to rid the world of a brutal tyrant who in fact reminds a lot of people of someone in Mr. Schroeder's distant past. Mr. Schroeder thinks "inspections" will punish Saddam severely enough, and besides, if Saddam unleashes bacteria or cyanide or a nuclear weapon it will be against America, not Germany. That's just a risk to American children that Mr. Schroeder and his brave European compatriots are willing to take.

Our dear friends the French, who last came to our aid in the French and Indian Wars, are "moderating" their opposition to George W.'s war plans, not because they want to help, but because they are resigned to war and naturally expect the United States to win, probably quickly, and want to share in the spoils. (This may be the handwriting on the wall for Saddam Hussein.)

The Saudis, who profess not to understand how the average American got their number when George W. didn't, are spending millions on a goofy national television campaign to make friends in America. The royal family - this includes just about everybody in the kingdom except the Filipino chambermaids - is suddenly so terrified of losing the American security blanket that the princes have assigned their lavishly paid lobbyists in Washington to come up with an appropriate "gesture of solidarity" on the anniversary of the September 11 massacre, which would not have occurred but for the Saudi assassins.

The latest hot idea, according to the New York Times, is to present War Emblem, the Kentucky Derby winner owned by the estate of a dead Saudi prince, to the families at a September 11 ceremony at Ground Zero. The idea smells more like manure than a horse, reminiscent of the attempt by a previous Saudi prince to give $10 million to New York City on condition that America sell out its Israeli ally. Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor, told the prince where he could stick his money.

For all their expensive lobbyists, the Saudis have no idea of what America is all about, and it's a pity that somebody at Prairie Chapel Ranch couldn't have told them, explaining that gift horses always run out of the money in America. The American oilmen the Saudis deal with, being immune to oiliness, overlook the differences that divide us, and George W. can hold his nose and make nice at the same time, as presidents sometimes must. But the differences that divide us disgust the rest of us.

Saudi Arabia, as the rest of the world is learning because the rest of the world is paying attention for the first time, is not actually a nation but a bizarre 12th-century satrapy, reeking of corruption, submerged in sand and simmering in sloth, where women are regarded as nothing more than brood sows to produce princes, where a man can be executed for his private beliefs, a free conscience is a crime against the throne, and infractions of a legal code based on a barbaric interpretation of the Koran are punishable by casual amputation of a hand or foot ordered by an illiterate cleric acting in the name of "royalty."

So George W. is right to keep his courtship, vain and misbegotten as it may be, hidden from view. He owes the rest of us that much.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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