Monday, April 28, 2008

What the White House spring intern did

Statement from the White House announcing the next leg of George Bush's Israel-Palestine peace process visits to the region --

The President and Mrs. Bush will travel to Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt from May 13-18, 2008 ... The President's visit to Israel will celebrate Israel's 60th anniversary and our close ties over the past six decades. His visit to Saudi Arabia will also commemorate the 75th anniversary of the formal establishment of U.S.-Saudi relations.

One obvious diplomatic problem has dogged this particular visit from the start -- the fact that its main purpose is clearly the Israel at 60 celebration, something that the Arab peace process partners won't quite feel like celebrating. Hence someone was despatched to the history books to find some other anniversary that could be latched onto the trip.

Lo and behold the 75th anniversary of US-Saudi relations. But any history of Saudi Arabia shows that the key date was not the initial exchange of relations but FDR's 1945 Suez summit with King Abdulaziz (pictured above) in which the key bargain of oil for access and protection was struck. Indeed, reading this account makes for an interesting historical context for Bush's visit --

The king's view was that if the suffering of the Jews had been caused by the Germans, Germans should pay the price for it; let the Jews build their homeland on the best lands in Germany, not on the territory of Arabs who had nothing to do with what happened to them. The most he could get from Roosevelt was a promise that the president would "do nothing to assist the Jews against the Arabs and would make no move hostile to the Arab people." The king taking this as a commitment from the United States and not just from Roosevelt personally, was furious to discover three years later that Harry Truman did not consider himself bound by it.

There is no escaping the cross-currents of European and Middle East history, even (or especially) when people think they're being clever.