“The real blame should fall on us: we the leaders of the Arab nation. Our permanent differences, our refusal to take the path of unity – all of that led the nations to lose their confidence in our credibility and to lose hope in its present and future.” If this statement made by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz was the only thing to come out of the Arab Summit then that alone is enough.
We are in dire need for this self-candor, which surfaced in Riyadh, where pictures depicted leaders who would smile like us rather than pictures of leaders frowning or whose minds are elsewhere and distrustful of those around them.
Have all the issues been resolved? Of course not! However, a black cloud has begun to disperse. Syria has broken its isolation, and hopefully, it will solve the complexes and this is what we will see. We heard the Saudi monarch say that “the streets of Lebanon are transforming into hotels” [A reference to the tents that were set up in the streets of Beirut by the opposition].
Furthermore, the Sudanese rationalized their positions, and we saw the Iraqis in the right places, being told what they needed to hear. The Arab initiative was activated and accepted by the Arabs, welcomed by the US State Department and caused division amongst the Israelis.
But what about the Saudi monarch’s quoted statement about the “illegitimate foreign occupation” in Iraq and the American reaction? The United Nations defined the American presence in Iraq as occupation and who has ever heard of a good or bad occupation?
Instead of praising the Saudi monarch’s words of self-blame for leaders – which we have never heard before – today, we hear people talking about an alleged Saudi attempt to avoid being presented as an ally of Washington in order to lead the region. This is illogical. One cannot lead without allies and outstanding relations with the international community if you seek to observe the interests of your country and people; otherwise it would be a disaster.
There is exaggeration in presenting matters. The best example is King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz’s decline to Bush’s invitation for dinner at the White House in April. The issue was put across as Saudi Arabia fearing Iran and not wanting to appear as an American ally. The truth, however, is that one of Saudi Arabia’s key cards in the region is to have good relations with America and Europe, where Riyadh has credibility that allows it to play the role of a serious mediator. This is what it did, even between Washington and Beijing, which resulted in the release of an American aircrew earlier in Bush’s first presidential term.
I checked the reasons behind the decline to the dinner invitation with a source in Riyadh that stated that the Saudi response was “Mr. President, we have no problem in accepting your invitation, but what will be the outcome of this meeting? Is there something we can present to the people as the outcome of this meeting? We do not want to visit for the sake of a visit; rather we want to achieve results.”
These are realistic words. The Saudi monarch is not a leader who seeks to end his isolation by having his pictures taken at the White House, in contrast to the Qataris. I learnt from a source in Washington that when they were requested to vote for the recent sanctions on Iran, a high-ranking Qatari official in Doha said, “You request things from us and we comply, but you do not comply with our requests. Our Emir has sought to visit Washington for over a year but you refused. Even the foreign minister has been to Washington recently three times, and the White House refused to receive him.”
The problem with Washington is that it wants to attack Iran but it gives it a free hand in Iraq. Furthermore, it wants to break Syria’s back but disregards the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights and the Palestinian suffering.
The Americans did not listen to the advice not to eradicate the Baath in retaliation, because affiliation with the Baath had more to do with a permit to work than an ideology. Nor did they listen to the advice not to dissolve the army and not to rush in holding elections. Therefore, should Saudi Arabia have to remain silent and avoid voicing its concern, especially if the Americans withdrew quickly from Iraq? At that point we would be on the brink of fresh wars and a surge in terrorism that would destroy absolutely everything.
Being candid with Washington does not mean improving the image of the Saudi king nor hostility towards Bush. The Saudi monarch had done the same before with Bill Clinton when he said “Friendship has limits, Mr. President.” In August 2001, he threatened to sever Saudi ties with Washington over the Palestinians.
He who is not sincere and candid does not deserve to be called a leader. Hence we say that the Saudi king’s self-blame and blame upon the Arab leaders in Riyadh proves that the man is not seeking leadership but wants to free the region of its conflicts to which we all fall victim.