Page 2 of the Saudi Gazette, Five 'thinks' about George W. Bush. Photo by Silva
by Mark Silva
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – President Bush has received a royal welcome here – dining on artichokes and more at the Saudi palace last night and dining again tonight at the royal ranch where King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud keeps 150 stallions.
But their confidential conversations are not without strain – with Bush allowing today that he will be tackling the question of high oil prices, and the impact they have on the American economy – in his private talks with the monarch tonight.
And the Saudi Gazette – a leading English language newspaper in Riyadh, and an independent publication which nevertheless has Saudi princes for investors and must submit its appointment of an editor for government approval – welcomed the visiting American today with a Page 2 cartoon of a cowboy-hatted Bush, his boot pressing hard against a lassoed, rocky globe, with the Persian Gulf region foremost in his noose.
“The following are Arab street perceptions, right or wrong, about U.S. President George W. Bush,’’ the newspaper announces in its Five “thinks’ about George W. Bush today, played in a prominent place that the paper reserves for five-things comments each day.
“Bush, a born-again Christian, is the strongest and staunchest supporter of the Israeli state and Zionists in particular,’’ the paper reports. “During his rule, the Israeli Zionist cabal in Washington, or ‘neo-cons,’ as they are also known, managed to influence and command U.S. foreign policy.’’ That’s “think’’ No. 1.
Think No. 2: “Bush is the one U.S. president under whose term Arab-American relations fell to an abysmal low, so also Arab-Muslim relations. His infamous reference to a ‘crusade’ against terrorism rang alarm bells across the world. The singular gaffe – among several now legendary ones that mark his presidency – raised fears that the 9/11 terrorist attacks could spark a ‘clash of civilizations’ between Christians and Muslims, sowing fresh winds of hatred and mistrust.’’
Think No. 3: “Bush’s presidency gave cause for the majority in the Arab Street to believe, rightly or wrongly and for once, that the United States is anti-Arab and anti-Muslim.’’
Think No. 4: “Worse, Bush’s presidency raked up issues for the Arab Street to widely believe that the Arab World’s real enemy is the U.S. government and not Israel.’’
Think No. 5: “Bush’s foreign policy of invasions and threats consumed so much of the world’s energy that oil prices managed to hit $100 a barrel and create for the first time since the first oil spike in 1973 a problem of plenty in the coffers of producing nations.’’
It wasn’t readily known what Bush might think of this, or even if he had read the glossy morning paper at the royal guest palace where he and his entourage spent the night. But this morning, the president was introducing himself at a breakfast of businessmen, and offering a preview of what he plans to take up with the king today, during his second day of talks here.
He held his meeting with 11 entrepreneurs, including a stockbroker and lawyer, at the American embassy in Riyadh.
“I'm George W. Bush, president of the United States,’’ Bush said to laughter in the room – (the White House’s annotation).
“It's important for the president to hear thoughts, hopes, dreams, aspirations, concerns from folks that are out making a living,’’ Bush said here. “And I really appreciate you taking time out of your day to come and visit with me.’’
“One thing that's for certain: The United States benefits when people come to my country,’’ Bush told his hosts. “And one of my concerns was after September the 11th that our visa policy, particularly for Saudis, was tightened to the point where we missed opportunity to show young and old alike what our country is really about. I love the fact that some of you were educated in America.
“We share the same God,’’ Bush told them, “and we share the same aspirations for children and for our futures.’’
The president, who dined with the king last night and then entered both group and private meetings that lasted until 11 pm local time – pretty late for what the White House spokesman calls “our early-to-bed president’’ – reported on those talks today.
“I've got very close relations with His Majesty,’’ Bush said. “We had a good visit last night on a variety of subjects.
“We talked about Palestinian peace; we talked about the security issues of the region,’’ he said. “I talked to the ambassador and will again talk to His Majesty tonight about the fact that oil prices are very high, which is tough on our economy, and that I would hope, as OPEC considers different production levels, that they understand that if their -- one of their biggest consumers' economy suffers, it will mean less purchases, less oil and gas sold.
“So we've got a lot of things to talk about, but I want to assure you it's from the spirit of friendship,’’ Bush told his hosts. “And the hospitality last night was warm, and the conversation was excellent -- just like this one is going to be. ‘’