Leading article: The proof of a foreign policy that has failed

Share
Related Topics

President Bush started his visit to Saudi Arabia by presenting his hosts with a very large and very glittery bauble: a sale of super-sophisticated weapons worth a cool $20bn. Even with the US dollar as weak as it currently is, this is still an enormous amount of money and it buys an impressive quantity of hardware.

The deal may face obstruction by the Democrat-controlled Congress; it might even be turned down. But Mr Bush was sending his own message. So far as the White House is concerned, Saudi Arabia is still Washington's No 1 ally in the region. The US may no longer have troops stationed there – their presence proved too inflammatory – but it still regards the Kingdom as a last bulwark against hostile forces, and favours it accordingly.

In almost every respect, the relationship is absurd. It exemplifies the double standards that persist in US foreign policy. When he came to office, Mr Bush made great play about his mission to spread freedom and democracy throughout the world. These were the supposedly universal values for which he invaded Iraq, once the weapons of mass destruction had been proved not to exist.

Saudi Arabia, though, is the exception that proves the rule. There is scarcely a country outside North Korea that enshrines such values less. Constitutional reforms promised almost a decade ago have ground almost to a halt. Political freedoms are heavily circumscribed. Last month saw the arrest of the country's most popular blogger, whose speciality was to attack the corruption of the royal family. The more things change, it might be observed, as brave Saudi bloggers take to the cybersphere, the more they stay the same on the ground.

But has President Bush, or any of his senior officials, ever seen fit to take the Saudi regime to task on its favourite subject of freedom and democracy? Of course not. The only mild criticism voiced by Mr Bush in Riyadh (before he departed for a night at the royal ranch) was of a conspicuously more material nature. Speaking to journalists before meeting King Abdullah, the US President said he would tell him that "high energy prices can affect economic growth because it's painful for our consumers... and could cause the US economy to slow down".

If this is what he did really tell the King (as opposed to what he wanted US reporters to communicate back home), it sounds like special pleading. Why should the Saudis particularly care about the hard-pressed US consumer? With their own economy to consider – and a youthful population with too little money and too few jobs – it is hardly in their interests to increase oil production. This may help to explain why Mr Bush came bearing such an extravagant gift.

Doubtless for the same reason, Saudi Arabia escaped inclusion in the notorious Bush "axis of evil". That the US flew relatives of Osama bin Laden out of the United States soon after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 has never been denied. Nor did it ever highlight how many – 15 out of the 19 named plotters – had their origins in Saudi Arabia. Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran took the rap for protecting individuals liable to launch attacks on the United States, but not Saudi Arabia, the one country that had demonstrably done so.

Cosy relations between the Saudi royal family and the Bush clan preceded Mr Bush's arrival at the White House by many a year. The oil industry was at the heart of those relations. Yet America's growing dependency on Saudi oil has contributed to – if not dictated – its aggressive policies in the region. George Bush had a chance to bring consistency to his sermons about democracy and start a move away from US oil dependency on a near-medieval kingdom. His fawning visit to Riyadh is a measure of how grievously he failed.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Data Warehouse & Business Intelligence Co-ordinator

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Required skills include SQL querying, SSRS, u...

Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, PHP, HTML, JavaScript, CSS

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, HTML...

Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst- Insurance

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst - Insurance ...

Recruitment Genius: Property Manager

£25000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent, growing Sales...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The demise of a Sixties monster

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
A CCTV camera is seen in front of a large poster opposite in central London  

Home Office is creating more powers to turn everyone into suspects – but leave us no safer

Shami Chakrabarti
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?