Last week an unnamed Saudi source warned The New York Times (April 25) that Saudi Arabia would use “the oil weapon” against the United States and would demand that strategic American military bases in the region be abandoned “if Mr. Bush does not moderate his support for Israel’s military policies.” Those actions would represent a “strategic debacle for the United States,” the source warned.
By the next day, Saudi spokesmen were denying issuing such warnings, but as suggested by The Times’ columnist William Safire (April 29), the denials were expected. The source, Safire wrote, could have been “acting on Abdullah’s direct instructions to panic the president into one-sidedly denouncing the Israelis and treating Yasir Arafat as victim rather than terrorist.” Alternatively, Safire suggested, the source could have been from Saudi opponents of Crown Prince Abdullah.
Whatever the case, Saudi Arabia has started throwing its weight around Washington. Some of Washington’s top PR firms were hired, and a series of TV and newspaper ads were prepared for cable television. Untold numbers of press backgrounders and briefings were arranged for Saudi spokesmen with the press and political leaders in Washington.
The ads, paid by the Saudi Embassy and part of an estimated $10 million campaign, actually try to promote “Saudi Arabia’s alliance” with the United States in combating international terrorism. Here’s the text of a second ad:
“We’ve been allies for more than 60 years, working together to solve the world’s toughest problems, working together for world prosperity, working together to bring peace to the Middle East, working together to create a better future for us all.”
How do they say “chutzpah” in Saudi Arabia?
Saudi Arabia is desperate to convert Americans who remember that 15 of the September 11 hijackers/mass murderers were Saudis. Saudis want to hide their ambassador to London who published a poem in the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat (April 13) criticizing America and praising suicide bombers. Saudi princes seek to whitewash the support Saudi Arabia gives to fanatical Islamist schools around the world. The danegelt paid by the Saudis to Yasir Arafat, Hamas, al Queida, and “martyrs” telethons places them on the wrong side of President Bush’s “evil axis.”
Representative Tom Lantos of California put it best when he was asked about the ads on CNN’s “American Morning with Paula Zahn” (April 29).
“The notion that we have been allies for 60 years is an absurdity,” Lantos declared. “We have been protecting the Saudi regime, which is an repressive regime living in the Middle Ages. We just had this example of the air traffic controllers [outrage], that women air traffic controllers cannot handle a Saudi plane. Their values, their policies, their attitudes are diametrically opposed to ours. They have oil, we need that oil and that’s why we protect them. That’s the basis of the relationship. Their society is diametrically opposed in values to our society. They have no religious freedom. They have no rights for women. They have no political pluralism. So… to say we share the same values I think is absurd. This is a very clever PR trick and they are pouring millions of dollars into it. I wish they had poured this money into Arab refugee camps. We wouldn’t have the problem that we have today.”
According to advertising trade journals, AMC, Bravo, History Channel, Lifetime, USA Network and The Weather Channel have all turned down the ads, costing them estimated revenues of $300,000-$400,000 each.
You can write to these companies and commend their commitment to “honesty in advertising.”
Will other channels be able to resist the financial temptation of the Saudi whitewash?
HonestReporting encourages members to monitor their local stations for the Saudi distortions. Be prepared to respond to local station managers and producers, using Tom Lantos’ eloquent arguments.