Why is it that George W. Bush gets only a 12 percent favorability rating in Saudi Arabia? Even Osama bin Laden and Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad scored higher in a poll last month by the nonpartisan Terror Free Tomorrow group, which counts both Republican Sen. John McCain and Democrat former Rep. Lee Hamilton on its advisory board. What ingrates those Saudis are. Didn't the Bush family save them twice from Saddam Hussein?
What more can this president do to curry favor with the Saudis? He forgave them for nurturing the Wahhabism that spawned al-Qaida, and he never embarrasses them with the fact that bin Laden and 15 of the19 hijackers who attacked America on 9/11 were born and raised in the kingdom. Nor did Bush let the inconvenient fact that the Saudi government had backed the Taliban until 9/11 intrude on his cozy relations with the royal family. That warmth, displayed at ranching cookouts in both countries, has now been reinforced by $20 billion in U.S. arms sales to the Saudis and their Persian Gulf allies, officially announced by Bush on Monday.
At first, the Bush administration feared that some pro-Israel members of Congress might be able to derail the arms sale deal, but they solved that one by offering Israel $30 billion in new weapons. That's a good deal for the Israelis and for U.S. arms manufacturers, although not for U.S. taxpayers stuck with the tab. No problem-neither the media nor Congress notices the cost to taxpayers of anything carrying the label of "national security." Heck, Iraq's defense minister was just in Washington with his shopping list for new weapons and didn't cause much of a stir when he said the United States will have to defend Iraq for at least a decade more. So much for the impact of the $1 trillion already wasted on the Iraq debacle.
At least the Saudis pay their own way and then some, when you look at how our main banks would now be kaput were it not for the almost daily bailouts from Gulf-based holding companies. It's a good deal all around: The Gulf sheiks get their money by raising oil prices that drive up inflation, thus raising the interest rates on home mortgages, and then, when the banks foreclose on those homes at a loss, the oil money comes pouring in to make the banks whole again. A good deal for everyone, that is, except for the folks who lose the equity in their homes, but they don't have a lobby that Congress or the president has to worry about.
With Bush's imperial fantasy fading into dismal reality, our nation saddled with record debt, an immense trade gap and an American public that has seen through his "What, me worry?" con, the president has bizarrely sought validation through visiting the scene of his foreign policy crimes. Just how bizarre a ploy was summarized in a Wall Street Journal news report predicting, "As President Bush tours the Middle East on his first official visit, he will encounter an Arab public deeply critical of his policies in the region and skeptical that the U.S. means what it says." The WSJ article quotes the editor of a leading newspaper aligned with Lebanon's U.S.-backed government as stating unequivocally: "Democracy in the Middle East is now part of history. Nobody believes Bush anymore. He has turned the Middle East into a big mess, and you can't bring democracy and change with instability."
A big mess! It turns out they hate us not for our success, as Bush once claimed, but for our incompetence, which he has done much to exhibit. The poll of Saudis found that while only 12 percent hold a favorable opinion of Bush, a much more comfortable 40 percent like the United States. That's a lower approval rating than for China-or for Iran, from which Bush now wants to protect them-but it's a start. The problem is that few believe that Bush is the least bit serious about addressing any of the region's problems. As an editorial in the Arab News, a Saudi English-language newspaper, put it on the occasion of Bush's visit: " ... no Palestinian, no Arab believes, he will, or can, deliver. ... Everything he touches turns to dust and ashes. Iraq, Afghanistan, maybe now even Iran."
There they go again, worrying only about themselves. Didn't Bush also touch New Orleans? What about Enron? Things have gotten so tough here that even Halliburton's CEO moved his headquarters to Dubai. The bad news for the Saudis is that Bush broke the United States-but they own it.
Robert Scheer is editor of Truthdig.com and a regular columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.
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