By Pat Roush
Thursday, May 8, 2003 1:00 a.m.
As someone who has fought “bare knuckles” with the U.S. State Department for almost 20 years for the lives of my daughters – who are still unable to leave Saudi Arabia – I can agree with the recent statements made by Newt Gingrich about the need for a transformation of that bureaucracy.
My daughters would certainly be home right now if State had not given the orders to the American embassy 17 years ago to “remain impartial and neutral.” All my hard work and negotiations with the Saudis went down the drain and the fate of my daughters was sealed by some faceless bureaucrat behind a desk at Foggy Bottom. The State Department not only lost my daughters but pitted me up against all the mighty power of the Saudi government and their Washington retainers for the very lives of my children.
Mr. Gingrich outlines the mistakes in diplomacy the State Department has made concerning their foreign policy in the Middle East. This includes the “Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs’ propensity for appeasing dictators and propping up corrupt regimes.” He also criticizes the recent trip to Damascus made by Secretary of State Powell and his appeal to a “weak, economically depressed dictatorship” which openly supports terrorism. Gingrich says Powell should have taken the present military victory in Iraq as an opportunity to apply diplomatic and political pressure on Syria. It is the old symptom of “clientitis” that State has suffered from for many years.
They have made this mistake over and over again when it comes to the U.S.-Saudi relationship. As Daniel Pipes, author of five books on the Middle East, says, “The Saudis routinely set the terms of this bilateral relationship. For decades, U.S. government agencies have engaged in a persistent pattern of deference to Saudi wishes, making so many unwanted and unnecessary concessions that one gets the impression that a switch has taken place, with both sides forgetting which of them is the great power and which the minor one.”
Gingrich goes on, “Without bold, dramatic change at the State Department, the United States will soon find itself on the defensive everywhere except militarily. In the long run, that is a very dangerous position for the world’s leading democracy to be in.”
Shortly after the war in Iraq was launched, I made to trip to Europe to present the issue of contemporary slavery in Saudi Arabia to the Human Rights Commission at the United Nations in Geneva. I was shocked to find myself in the middle of huge anti-American demonstrations in Switzerland, France and Italy. Ugly graffiti about the president of the United States and U.S. policy was spray-painted on buildings and walls.
Everywhere I went, people would ask me what I thought about U.S. politics and leadership. News reports differed from those I had picked up by the U.S. media. It is a lonely feeling to walk the streets of Europe feeling almost afraid to admit my American citizenship. The eyes of the world are upon us in the U.S. We are the role model that everyone watches. Our history is that of freedom fighters and supporters of truth and justice, but there seems to be a turn now – almost a feeling of a dark spirit that is trying to overcome the world.
In the last 20 years, U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, especially in Saudi Arabia and concerning the Israeli-Palestinian issue has been a disaster. It has placed Americans in jeopardy and lost the respect of the world community. Perhaps one way of getting a fresh start and reconstructing our relationship with foreign countries is the reformation of the State Department as Gingrich has called for.
He says, “America cannot lead the world with a broken instrument of diplomacy.” It’s obsolete and ineffective in the modern world. The leaders have no vision and few morals. Despotic regimes like Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Hussein’s Iraq all know how to play the game – and we allow them to win. Saudi Arabia has been on “life support” for many years and we won’t pull the plug. Wahhabism would have died long ago, if we had not allowed the Saudi regime to refuel it. It is now out of control and has resulted in al-Qaida, etc.
America has lost that “golden touch” that has propelled us to greatness. Perhaps our leaders are making the same mistakes that the ancients made – the Greeks, Persians and Romans – the sin of hubris. It was their downfall … will it be ours?