Jewish World Review March 20, 2002/ 7 Nisan, 5762

Wesley Pruden

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A great leap forward
on a learning curve | There was bad news yesterday for Laura and George W. Bush. Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia announced that he would finally accept their hospitality, this time an invitation to the ranch.

The Bushes lucked out last summer when Abdullah, the presiding prince of what is described (sometimes without laughing) as "the most important U.S. ally in the Persian Gulf," snubbed them, rejecting an invitation to the White House because the president wouldn't insist on Israeli suicide. Who needs a rube guest, unfamiliar with indoor plumbing, to ruin a perfectly good holiday at the ranch?

The snub last summer was described as a matter of "pique" (sometimes as "exceptional pique"), but last summer was a time of exceptional preparation for certain Saudi Arabians. Fifteen of them were either in the United States or on their way to pick up their assignments for September 11.

Abdullah and maybe a majority of the other princes are, of course, entirely innocent of collusion or even sympathy with the Islamist killers who have such a congenial base in the kingdom. There's nothing anyone in Saudi Arabia could have done to prevent September 11. Assassination comes naturally to little Saudi boys, like stickball to little boys in Brooklyn, football to little boys in Texas, basketball to little boys in Harlem and soccer to little girls everywhere. Even occasional Saudi kings, distracted by begetting princes, get a shiv in the ribs.

The mellowing of Abdullah was presented yesterday as the singular triumph of Vice President Dick Cheney's tour of nine Arab nations, where all he heard were discouraging words about the task ahead of the United States in its campaign to destroy the Islamist terror network. The veep, who set out from Washington to drum up support for toppling Saddam Hussein, was reduced at the end of his trip to insisting that, well, Iraq wasn't really what his trip was about, after all.

"I sense that some people want to believe there's only one issue I'm concerned about or that somehow I'm out here to organize a military adventure with respect to Iraq," he said at a stop in Qatar, a sheikdom notable only for its oil and a missing vowel. "That's not true. The fact is that we're concerned about Iraq. That's one of many issues we're concerned about."

Abdullah greeted him with an announcement that Saudi Arabia opposes doing anything about Saddam Hussein. Nevertheless, the veep said his conversation with Abdullah, which went on after dinner long into the night, was "one of the warmest sessions I've ever had, frankly, in Saudi Arabia." Perhaps the prince thanked him for saving his kingdom from Saddam Hussein a decade ago. Or perhaps not. Mr. Cheney thanked the prince for stepping up and "putting forward" the Saudi suicide plan for Israel "at an important time." We must assume he didn't mean a word of it.

What Mr. Cheney heard from his hosts were hoots of derision. The newspapers, which print what the governments tell them to print, were full of mocking commentary, telling it like it is.

"The Vice President heard the following: America must halt Israeli terrorism and prevent Israel from having arms of mass destruction," warned the daily Al-Watan of Saudi Arabia. "That is the priority for countries of the region and not a military strike against Iraq. America could lose its interests in the Gulf if it continues not to take into consideration the interests of the region, that is to say to force Israel to abide by the peace process."

The daily Al-Raya in Qatar said: "For Gulf countries, the priority is that the US administration halts the Israeli aggression against the Palestinians. The region will not know stability without the granting to the Palestinian people of their legitimate rights, particularly the right to an independent state with Jerusalem as capital. As for outstanding issues between Iraq and the United Nations, they can be solved by dialogue and that has indeed begun in a positive way."

Another Qatar daily, Al-Watan, put it with the bluntness that should have occurred to the White House a week ago (and maybe it did): "The Americans thought they had paid the price in advance with UN Resolution 1397 which mentioned a Palestinian state. They thought that would win the support of the Arab world for any campaign against Iraq. The American carrot did not make any of the Arab states visited by the American envoy salivate."

But the vice president's trip was not the failure that his Arab hosts gloat that it was if it was a leap forward on the learning curve. America has no allies in Arabia, only "friends" of varying loyalty. Some are deceitful, and none is trustworthy. The war on terror is a clash of civilizations. This is a hard and unpleasant truth, but one that we will learn, one way or the other.

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

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