Monday, January 02, 2006

Get a load of this exchange from an interview with Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal:
You became notorious in New York when Mayor Giuliani declined to accept a $10 million donation from you to victims' families after you suggested that the U.S. was too friendly with Israel.

By the way, my check was taken to the bank and cashed. The problem was with my statement. I accepted that. Subject closed.

Subject reopened. The money was returned to you. Have you told Harvard, as you told the City of New York, that the U.S. needs to "adopt a more balanced stance toward the Palestinian cause"?

Let me tell you my position. We need to have good relations between the Arab world and Israel. When I sold my Plaza Hotel in New York, it was sold to Elad, which is an Israeli company.

Doing business with the citizens of a country is not the same thing as believing in that country's right to exist.

We are doing so many things to bridge the gap between Christianity and Islam and Judaism. For example, at my hotel in Paris, George V, you are going to find the Christian Bible, the Jewish Bible and the Islamic Koran in each single room.

That's a wonderful idea, but a luxury hotel in Paris is a long way from Saudi Arabia, where you could surely spend more money on Judeo-Christian studies.

Look. You have to understand that the population of Saudi Arabia has zero Christians.

That's the point. Why shouldn't you should spend your millions educating your own students before you educate kids at Harvard?

Obviously, it could be something we are contemplating.

Are you spending any money in Iraq?

So far, I am investing nothing. Zero.Very simple. I have investments in 150 nations, but I will not invest in Iraq until they have political tranquility and a functioning government.

But where will they get money to rebuild?

Uncle Sam. The United States is spending like hell over there.

Why don't you help us?

If I go there right now and say, "I want to build a hotel," they will laugh at me. You need schools and hospitals and the airport, and then after, you can talk about the hotels.

You find the situation very volatile still?

You have not done a very good job there. After 9/11, the U.S. needed to have a big revenge, and Saddam Hussein was a sitting duck. The U.S., with its huge ego, needed to have something big and dramatic.

That's not what I would call a bridge-building sentiment.

You have to understand. I am a friend of the United States, and these days to be in the Arab world and to be a friend of the United States is a liability. But nevertheless I say it. I am a great friend.
Wow, where to start. First, kudos to the Times for fairly hard-hitting questions. I read this exchange and kept having to remind myself that this guy heads up a country that is supposedly our ally, a country that Bush has been chummy with for many, many years.

Of the several disturbing replies in the interview, I think the most unnerving is the prince's response to the question regarding investing in Iraq. He flatly states, "I am investing nothing. Zero." Lovely. Again, this sentiment coming from a supposed staunch ally. Saudi Arabia has a few gazillion dollars and yet they can't (refuse to) throw a few billion Iraq's way for the sake of imagery and goodwill -- which is obviously the aim with the prince giving $20 mil. to both Harvard and Georgetown to advance the study of Islam. Nope, he will not drop one dime in Iraq until there is "political tranquility" there, a demand that affords him great flexibility and discretion. When will it officially be decreed that Iraq is a tranquil state? Don't odds favor Iraq remaining less-than-tranquil (if not worse) for many years to come?

So he'll sit on the sidelines and allow us to take on the brunt of throwing dollars at Iraq, letting us shoulder the financial risks so that he may then eventually step in at a later date to invest and then, and only then, reap the rewards. Sounds like shrewd investing to me -- can you blame him? He's not feeling or receiving any pressure to do otherwise. Yes, it's an outrage, but it's just the sound of crickets from GW Cheney Inc.

When asked why doesn't he help in the spending of money, he oddly asserts that he'd be the object of laughter, with his ability to give money relegated strictly to hotels -- forget about infrastructure and other base necessities. He then goes on to do what Democrats get lambasted for doing: criticizing the entire Iraq operation. He pointblank states we "have not done a very good job" in Iraq and in addition, he strongly implies that the U.S. attacked Iraq post-9/11 because we needed "big revenge" against something, anything, and Saddam "was a sitting duck." Hmm, that sounds a bit different than the Cheney / neocon view on this topic.

If this were a Dem, he'd be promptly skewered by GOP attack dogs, or if this were an administration lackey he'd at the very least be taken aside, harshly disciplined and force-fed talking points. Yet, in this case, it's an extremely powerful & rich leader of a nation that is in GW's back-pocket. We'll hear nothing.

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