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President Bush yesterday held hands with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah and took him on a stroll through a field of bluebonnet flowers at his Texas ranch in a pitch to get the Saudis to pump more oil. They embraced and traded air kisses on both cheeks after the prince, clad in flowing robes, arrived nearly 30 minutes late for his second visit to the Bush ranch in Crawford.
It would be nice if President Bush remembered this passage from the book he said he was reading a few months ago, Natan Sharansky's The Case For Democracy:
In Saudi Arabia, one can definitely be arrested or imprisoned for expressing one's views. While many people who grew up in liberal democratic societies would regard life in Saudi Arabia as oppressive, can it be said that the people of Saudi Arabia, who appear to agree with the prevailing ideology, live in fear? Aren't the Saudi Arabians simply living according to their age-old traditions? Though no one could claim that Saudi Arabia is a free society, does that necessarily make it a fear society?
This question assumes that the people of Saudi Arabia agree with the policies of their regime. But how do we know that? Because of what Saudis say publicly? Can we assume that what people living in a fear society are willing to say publicly is a true expression of their beliefs? The books of dissidents describing how Saudis flying to Europe hurry to change into their Western clothes while still on the airplane and adopt different modes of behavior when they are abroad are enough to convince me that Saudi Arabia is steeped in doublethink. Even if these stories only refer to the Saudi elite, the process of internal decay, when more and more people are conforming to a world they no longer believe in, is clearly under way. We must always keep in mind that the public statements of those who live in fear societies are motivated by fear. If we fail to recognize this, we will only be deceiving ourselves.
I'd like to think that President Bush isn't going wobbly on us. But we could use a little toughness with Abdullah. So could the Saudi dissidents that we should be counting on to begin democratizing. Oil production really isn't as important -- not at the cost of missed opportunities for those struggling for freedom. That's really expensive oil -- too expensive. As Sharansky writes, any security we buy from tyrants like Abdullah is illusory.