If the outpouring of condolences emanating from the upper echelons of the U.S. government over the death of King Abdullah last week are anything to go by, one could easily be led to believe that the world lost a truly humane, wise, perhaps even visionary leader. In fact, Secretary of State John Kerry tweeted as much, calling Abdullah a “man of wisdom and vision.” President Obama issued a statement calling the deceased despot “a force for stability and security in the Middle East” while the UK’s David Cameron—in addition to ordering flags to fly at half-mast—praised Abdullah’s role in “strengthening understanding between faiths.” The IMF’s Christine Lagarde even went so far as to claim Abdullah was “strong advocate of women.” Gloria Steinem, call your office!
But this really is all a bit de trop.
Making matters worse is the fact that President Obama is rushing off to Riyadh to pay his respects in person. This is all the more egregious since the administration sent no senior officials to the Je Suis Charlie solidarity march in Paris earlier this month, which the ever tin-eared presidential confidante Valerie Jarrett dismissed as a mere “parade.” Further, Mr. Obama, as the New York Times pointed out on Sunday, rarely travels abroad solely to pay his respects to departed foreign leaders, one notable exception being his decision to travel to South Africa on the occasion of Nelson Mandela’s passing. This, it hardly needs pointing out, is not that.
There are two ways of looking at this situation. One is that these fulsome expressions of grief over the loss of this be-robed and bejeweled tyrant are nothing more than ‘the usual hypocrisies’ endemic to the art of diplomacy. The other, worse, is that our own wise, humane, and visionary leaders really are sorry to see Abdullah pass on to his final reward. And if such is the case, it might be worth recalling some unpleasant facts about the king and his nearly decade-long rule.
According to Human Rights Watch, the Abdullah regime beheaded 19 people over the course of 16 days last August; one of the executed was, according to a report issued by Amnesty International, mentally ill, while another was beheaded for the crime of “black magic sorcery.” Meanwhile, a blogger by the name of Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes, while only recently a video emerged of a Saudi policeman beheading a Burmese woman in the middle of a street in Mecca as she screamed for her life. She is one of 10 people beheaded in Saudi Arabia so far this year.
Then of course there is Saudi Arabia’s role in providing material support for the 9/11 atrocity that took the lives of nearly 3,000 Americans. Obama continues to protect the Saudis by refusing to release the 28 pages of the 9/11 Commission report having to do with Saudi Arabia’s funding of and complicity in the attacks. This despite his own promises to the 9/11 families that he would do so. Efforts by U.S. Congressmen Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) to force the administration to release the redacted pages are ongoing. In addition, former senator and Intelligence Committee chairman Bob Graham (D-Fla.) has also called on the administration to release the 28 redacted pages, whose content he says, “points a finger in the direction of Saudi Arabia.”
Meanwhile, the Saudis continue to fund—to the tune of billions of dollars a year—the propagation of the most sinister and violent branch of Islam throughout the world, leading to, among other things, the ritual slaughter of a staff of cartoonists in the very heart of Europe, hostage taking in Sydney, and murderous rampages in Ottawa and Brussels, to say nothing of a series of subway bombings in Madrid, London, and Moscow.
It is by now bindingly clear that the regime in Riyadh will resort to the most medieval of measures towards anyone—within or without its borders—who is not in thrall to the violent tenets of Wahhabi Islam. So the question remains: why does our own government pretend that this is not so?
Meanwhile, we are treated to the spectacle of certain of our own Middle East experts worrying that the Obama administration—because it supposedly has paid insufficient attention to the wishes of the Saudi tyranny—faces “an uphill struggle to regain the full trust of the royal family.” Pardon me, to regain their trust?
The expression of even a modicum of sorrow—even if disingenuous—by Western leaders is far more than the death of King Abdullah deserves.
James W. Carden served as an advisor to the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission at the State Department from 2011-2012.