By Amitabh Pal on February 05, 2014

President Obama is debasing his office by making a trip to Saudi Arabia next month to appease the royal family there.

"Saudi Arabia and the United States are longtime allies, having been bound by mutual military interests and Saudi Arabia's oil supplies," CNN explains. "The alliance has been shaken, however, by the U.S. deal with Saudi Arabia's regional rival Iran."

The progress of the U.S.-Iran nuclear agreement has really rattled Saudi Arabia, especially since the rapprochement came not too long after the Obama Administration backed off from attacking Syria. The Saudis despise the Iranian and Syrian regimes largely because both are Shiite, while the House of Saudi is Sunni.

"We believe that many of the West's policies on both Iran and Syria risk the stability and security of the Middle East," Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz al Saud, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Britain, wrote in The New York Times two months ago. "This is a dangerous gamble, about which we cannot remain silent, and will not stand idly by."

Translation: We Saudis are really miffed that you don't view everything in the Middle East through the same sectarian lenses as we do.

Not only would Obama have to modify U.S. foreign policy to mollify the Saudi government, he would also have to continue ignoring the regime's outrageous behavior.

"Saudi Arabia stepped up arrests, trials, and convictions of peaceful dissidents, and forcibly dispersed peaceful demonstrations by citizens in 2013," Human Rights Watch stated in its recently released survey of the year gone by. "Authorities continued to violate the rights of 9 million Saudi women and girls and 9 million foreign workers. As in past years, authorities subjected thousands of people to unfair trials and arbitrary detention."

The Saudi monarchy's extremism is not even confined to the country's borders. It is able to globally propagate Wahhabism, the hard-line brand of Islam, on the basis of its oil money. Then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated in a December 2009 leaked diplomatic cable that entities in Saudi Arabia were the "most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide," including Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The malevolent impact of the Saudis can be seen everywhere from Syria and Bahrain to Egypt and Pakistan.

"I can't think of a more pernicious actor in the region," British-Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid told me. "The House of Saud has exported this very pernicious form of militant Islam under U.S. watch."

Yet cheap oil and lucrative arms deals make the United States keep mum on such irresponsible conduct by a supposed friend. "The United States, a key ally, did not publicly criticize Saudi human rights violations beyond Congressionally mandated annual reports," notes Human Rights Watch.

Obama is following in the path of his subordinates, who have regularly made visits to Saudi Arabia to soothe the monarchy's nerves. In 2010, Hillary Clinton was too busy feasting on lamb and rice and cracking lame jokes with King Abdullah to publicly raise any concerns about the regime's record. Secretary of State John Kerry followed last year and was his usual cautious self. It's hard to believe Obama will be more outspoken.

The President should do the world a favor and cancel his trip.

Photo: Flickr user DonkeyHotey, creative commons licensed.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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