Prince of the Wagging Finger

Prince of the Wagging Finger

By Richard Cohen - June 14, 2011

As best I can recall, I first met Saudi Arabia's Prince Turki al-Faisal at a private home in Washington years ago. I found him stern and humorless, sometimes even bitter. I have seen him since at international conferences and the like -- never in the mood for small talk and exhibiting, sometimes in his glorious robes, not an ounce of Bedouin charm. Still, I was unprepared for the opinion column he published in Sunday's Washington Post. It read like a declaration of war.

Prince Turki is not now in the government. Yet, he is a member of the Saudi royal family and was once the kingdom's intelligence chief and its former ambassador to both London and Washington. The man is solidly credentialed.

He is also angry as hell, and he lets America have it. He starts by citing what he calls President Obama's "controversial speech last month, admonishing Arab governments to embrace democracy and provide freedom to their populations." Saudi Arabia, he wrote, heard what Obama said and took it "seriously," and he noted, of course, that Obama had not demanded the same rights for Palestinians under Israeli occupation. Point taken.

But the same kingdom that has taken Obama "seriously" is an absolute monarchy that, among other things, bans women from driving cars. It is also a country that offers no freedom of religion and, for the occasional criminal, a public beheading. Given that Turki has spent a good deal of time in the West, it's not possible that he was unaware that commentators like me would be picky about the lack of basic freedoms. He doesn't care.

Indeed, that was the point. Turki -- and by implication all of Saudi Arabia -- has had it with the U.S. The kingdom will not be lectured to. It is sick and tired of American favoritism to Israel -- the exuberant congressional reception for Binyamin Netanyahu, for example -- and the administration's decision to oppose any effort in the United Nations to create a Palestinian state. In this matter, America is doing what Israel wants.

"In September, the kingdom will use its considerable diplomatic might to support the Palestinians in their quest for international recognition," Turki wrote. "American leaders have long called Israel an 'indispensable' ally. They will soon learn that there are other players in the region -- not least the Arab street -- who are as, if not more, 'indispensable.' The game of favoritism toward Israel has not proven wise for Washington, and soon it will be shown to be an even greater folly."

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