Posted by Amitabh Pal on February 17, 2010

Did you catch the irony of Hillary Clinton denouncing Iran as a dictatorship during a visit to Persian Gulf monarchies?

Clinton created ripples when she characterized Iran as “moving toward a military dictatorship’’ in front of a student audience in Qatar. Papers such as the Boston Globe commended her “truth-telling” on such an important issue.

Hold on, though. Doesn’t the Globe know that Qatar itself isn’t exactly a model of Jeffersonian democracy? Although it performs better than the dismal norm of the region and is most famous in the West as the home of Al Jazeera, Qatar has a far from unblemished record.

In a submission this month to the United Nations, Amnesty International listed many concerns it has about the state of human rights in that country, including “restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, discrimination and violence against women, exploitation of migrant workers, arbitrary arrest and detention without charge, and arbitrary deprivation of nationality.” The last one is the most interesting, since the Qatari government has apparently deprived thousands of members of unruly tribes the right to be citizens of their own country. Hillary wasn’t very vocal during her visit in denouncing such measures.

From Qatar, Hillary went to Saudi Arabia, whose political system takes the cake. Iran has been in the spotlight for the past year for a wonderfully nonviolent mass movement that has confronted an increasingly repressive government in response to a stolen election. There is no similar struggle going on in Saudi Arabia. That nation is headed by an absolute monarchy in cahoots with the most fundamentalist clergy in the world. There is no civil society in Saudi Arabia. End of story.

“Human rights conditions remain poor in Saudi Arabia,” Human Rights Watch stated in its 2009 overview. “Authorities continue to systematically suppress, or fail to protect, the rights of fourteen million Saudi women and girls, eight million foreign workers, and some two million Shia. Thousands of people have received unfair trials or were subject to arbitrary detention. Curbs on freedom of association, expression, and movement, as well as a pervasive lack of official accountability, remain serious concerns. In May, the government cancelled scheduled municipal elections.”

But Hillary was too busy feasting on lamb and rice and cracking lame jokes about camels with King Abdullah to publicly raise her concerns about any of this.

To make matters more hilarious, Hillary informed a Saudi college audience of the Iranian government’s backing of terrorism.

“Iran has funded terrorists who have launched attacks within other countries,” she said. “Iran is the largest supporter of terrorism in the world today.”

Wait. Did she utter the wrong country’s name by mistake? Someone as smart and well-informed as Hillary knows that Saudi Arabia is the birthplace and global disseminator of Wahhabi Islam, the ideological fountainhead of Al Qaeda. And members of the Saudi ruling elite have been a major source of funding for the organization.

Of course, Hillary’s hosts were delighted at her remarks, targeted as they were at a country that has threatened their monarchies for three decades and is Shiite on top of it.

But we, here at home, shouldn’t let her—or the United States—get away with such hypocrisy.

Amitabh Pal is the Managing Editor of The Progressive magazine. To subscribe for just $14.97 a year, just click here.