The Corner

Freeman of Arabia

Re Charles Freeman, a truly dreadful appointment, I wrote seven years ago in the British Spectator, in a piece headlined “Down With Saudi Arabia: It’s time to destroy the Arab kingdom” (ah, happy days!):

By now, the ‘Saudis Are Our Friends’ op-ed may even have its own category in the Pulitzers. Usually this piece turns up after the Saudis have done something not terribly friendly – refused to let Washington use the US bases in Saudi Arabia, or even to meet with Tony Blair. Then the apparently vast phalanx of former US ambassadors to Saudi Arabia fans out across the New York Times, CNN, Nightline, etc., to insist that, au contraire, the Saudis have been ‘enormously helpful’. At what? Recommending a decent restaurant in Mayfair?

Charles Freeman, a former ambassador to the kingdom and now president of something called the Middle East Policy Council, offered a fine example of the genre the other day when he revealed that Crown Prince Abdullah, the head honcho since King Fahd had his stroke, was ‘personally anguished’ by developments in the Middle East and that that was why he had proposed his ‘peace plan’. If, indeed, he has proposed it – to anyone other than Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, that is. And, come to think of it, it was Friedman who proposed it to the Prince…

The advantage of this thesis to fellows like Charles Freeman is that it places a premium on their nuance-interpretation skills. Because everything the kingdom does seems to be self-evidently inimical to the West, any old four-year-old can point out that the King is in the altogether hostile mode. It takes an old Saudi hand like Mr Freeman to draw attention to the subtler shades of meaning, to explain the ancient ways of Araby, by which, say, an adamant refusal to arrest associates of the 11 September hijackers is, in fact, a clear sign of the Saudis’ remarkable support for Washington. If the Saudis nuked Delaware, the massed ranks of former ambassadors would be telling Larry King that, obviously, even the best allies have their difficulties from time to time, but this is essentially a little hiccup that can be smoothed over by closer consultation.

Being on the House of Saud’s payroll, directly or indirectly, should render one ineligible for subsequent government service. Matt Welch said it best a few years back: If you listen to former U.S. ambassadors to Saudi Arabia with your eyes closed, they sound like Saudis.

Mark Steyn is an international bestselling author, a Top 41 recording artist, and a leading Canadian human-rights activist.


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