What is the legacy of the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia?
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What would you say if I told you that a Middle Eastern despot who supported Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda with billions of dollars over several decades had just died?
Well, if you're a liberty-lovin' American like me, you might say something like, "Woo hoo!" or "Good riddance."
If you're the nice kid who cuts my grass, you'd probably say, "That's awesome, dude," since that's pretty much all he ever says anymore.
If you're a second-rate Italian poet with a flair for melodrama, you might say something like, "La mia anima piange con gioia" (My spirit weeps with joy), or "Smetta prego di telefonarlo, voi giornalista americano rude" (Please stop telephoning me, you rude American journalist).
Now, imagine what you would say if you met an American who had the nerve to publicly call this very same dictator a wise man and strong ally of the United States? Try, "Hello, Mr. President."
That's right. After Saudi Arabia's King Fahd kicked the bucket Aug. 1, President Bush issued a statement praising the corrupt, democracy-suppressing, terrorism-supporting despot as a friend of the U.S.
Why would Bush, a man who won't shut up about how he's gonna spread freedom and fight violent extremism, take a short break from that spreadin'-n-fightin' to praise a man who spent his career fighting freedom and spreading violent extremism?
The answer is, of course, oil. For all of his other faults, King Fahd was committed to keeping Saudi oil flowing to the rest of the world. That's not a trait the U.S. takes for granted. One of Fahd's predecessors, King Faisal (who ruled the House of Saud & Fog from 1964 to 1975), sent the world economy into a nosedive in late 1973 when he withdrew Saudi oil from the world market to protest the West's support of Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur war.
King Fahd (who started running the show in Saudi Arabia in 1975 even though he didn't become king until 1982) never withheld or threatened to withhold Saudi oil from the world market.
So Fahd sold us oil for cheap. Thanks. That's great. I appreciate it.
I'm serious. I really appreciate it. I drive a car, I've got Tupperware. I've been known to make tasteless jokes about certain off-label uses of Vaseline petroleum jelly. I understand that cheap oil delivered reliably helped our economy grow rather nicely during the Fahd era. I also understand that every other aspect of Fahd's long reign was a disaster for Saudi Arabia and the world.
I'm not exaggerating. Fahd was a failure.
From 1980 to 2001, Saudi Arabia's per capita income plummeted from more than $20,900 to $12,200. All the while, Fahd and his family looted the Saudi treasury for tens, possibly hundreds of billions of dollars, collecting palaces, jets, and a fleet of yachts the size of cruise ships (just for fun, go to the website of Power & Motoryacht magazine, www.powerandmotoryacht.com, and do a search for "Fahd").
Some people actually refer to Fahd as a modernizer (I read that word in several obits). It's a lie as absolute as the Saudi monarchy. Saudi Arabia is a country with no democracy, no freedom of expression, and no freedom of religion. It's a country where adult women need a note from a male relative to travel. It's a country whose police force killed 15 young women in 2003 by locking them in a burning dormitory. The police wouldn't let the women exit the burning building because they weren't wearing their veils.
While the Saudi economy was tanking, Fahd's Saudi Arabia also invested billions of Saudi dollars to build up Saddam Hussein, fund Islamic schools around the world that preach hatred of non-Muslims, and load up violent groups like al-Qaeda with Saudi cash. Saudi Arabia was and is a near-absolute monarchy. If Fahd doesn't get all the blame for his country's short-sighted policies, he should at least get some.
As far as I can tell, Fahd was good at at least one thing besides selling us oil. Fahd styled himself "custodian of the two holy mosques" in Mecca and Medina. By all accounts he was a great custodian. The mosques have never been cleaner.