Saudi Love-Fest, Sistani and the Kidnapped Translator
The Saudis, and their bushels of money, are back in full force in Washington DC. The Saudi ambassador, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, has been operating a low-intensity charm campaign for the last year and a half, and this Monday and Tuesday (October 30-31) marks the Grand Coming-Out Party for all those closet "petrosexuals."
They’ve picked the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center as their venue.
Some will misinterpret the sight of Saudis in dishdashas with smooch marks on their behinds as a sort of Halloween gimmick. No it isn’t, but it still quite scary. Anyone taking a close look at Washington’s policy towards the Middle East would be amiss not to factor-in the Saudi influence.
There was a short period of time after 911 when what the Saudis had to say did not matter for all the obvious reasons. But it seems that old habits die hard in this town, and there is an emerging market for benzene-coated, self-serving Saudi “wisdom.”
The Saudi refrain consists of four words: “We told you so.” Their talking points are entitled: “Democracy is Bad,” “The Shi'as are Bad” and “Wahhabis on a Leash.”
Democracy is toxic to any ruling family that fixes its own name unto a nation in the 21st century. The Shi'as live on top of the oil fields, and if they get too uppity and go their own way, then it’s back to camel hair as the nation’s top export. And of course, Wahhabi radicalism, like fire, can be kindled yet harnessed to keep enemies of the state, such as democrats or Shi'as, under control.
I wonder if any journalists in attendance would ask Prince Turki about a certain oil company he was affiliated with back in the late 1990s called Ningharco, which in turn enjoyed good relations with the Taliban. The question should be, “Why was that?”
[The 2-day program of the “15th Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference” is posted in the comments section]
The Washington Post’s Colbert I. King wrote an Op-Ed today titled “The Grand Ayatollah Behind the Curtain.” What King basically says is that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani is a terrible guy for refusing to meet with American officials. And that his recalcitrance is a massive failure for America’s Iraq policy.
Oh, give me a break.
It is despicable how Washingtonians settle their election-season scores with Iraqi lives. Not only has Sistani prevented, through his cool-headedness, a massive wave of reprisals by Shi'as against Sunni provocation, he had also been instrumental in helping Iraq’s democracy stand on its feet—sometimes in contravention of the “strong man” fantasies held by some American policy-makers (I’m looking at you, Warrick) as King himself noted.
To say that Sistani has not met with American officials because “they are non-Muslims and thus he considers them to be kafir, or infidels” is a ridiculous assertion; Sistani has received many Iraqi Christian delegations and managed to charm their socks off. Plus, the founding thesis of the column is flawed, since Sistani had received Emad Dhia Al-Khirsan (an American citizen, and a Shi’a) in the past who, at the time, was technically a U.S. official.
Sistani not deigning to serve up tea and cakes to visiting American officials is the least of Iraq’s—or America’s—worries at the moment. The fact that he has been a maintainer of civil peace, and hence saved American lives, goes unacknowledged by King.
King also takes issue with Sistani forbidding “music for entertainment, dancing and playing chess, and forbids women from shaking the hands of any men other than their fathers, brothers or husbands. His whole purpose is to promote Shiite theology…” Yeah duh, that’s what the turban and beard are there for. That is Sistani’s job description. I don’t like it myself, but last time I checked they weren’t blasting Tupac at St. Peter’s either.
And what’s the big deal anyway? I’ve met Sistani and I didn’t even get a lousy T-shirt.
[The full text of King’s column is posted in the comments section]
The Washington Post got the story on the missing soldier wrong, as did Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki (John Ward Anderson, “Search for U.S. Soldier Spurs Sadr City Battles; Translator's Brother Was Freed, Premier Says,” The Washington Post, October 28, 2006). The translator, since identified as Ahmed Qusay Al-Ta’i (of Ann Arbor, Michigan) by Al-Sharqiya TV [I had known this information earlier due to personal ties to the translator’s family] was abducted alone, not with his brother.
You’d think that Maliki, who is guarded by American soldiers in the Green Zone, would put in some effort to at least get the story straight, let alone picking up the phone and asking Muqtada Al-Sadr to throw his weight around to secure Al-Ta’i’s release.