The Corner

Bush and Saudi Arabia

Matt Yglesias makes an intersting point amidst all the rah-rah about Bush taking on the Saudis and the Egyptians in his State of the Union: Bush has said it before:

The government of Saudi Arabia can demonstrate its leadership in the region by expanding the role of its people in determining their future. And the great and proud nation of Egypt, which showed the way toward peace in the Middle East, can now show the way toward democracy in the Middle East.

But in November 2003 at the National Endowment of Democracy, Bush said:

By giving the Saudi people a greater role in their own society, the Saudi government can demonstrate true leadership in the region. The great and proud nation of Egypt has shown the way toward peace in the Middle East, and now should show the way toward democracy in the Middle East.

But Yglesias doesn’t make a great point. He sees this as an example of Bush’s words not meaning much. I see it as an example of Bush doing what he can where he can when he can. Besides, the context is very different today. We are on the heals of a successful election in Iraq and in the Palestinian territories. Indeed, by signalling out the Saudis Bush is doing what folks like Yglesias always complain he doesn’t do enough. If Bush hadn’t criticized the Saudis who can doubt that Bush would have been criticized for the ommission? Indeed, wasn’t there a chorus after his inaugural saying, in effect, What about the Saudis? And What about Egypt?

By continuing to put rhetorical pressure on our Arab allies, he’s making it clear that he really means what he says, even if he’s got to set realistic priorities.

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