Saudi prince asks Obama for action
ITHACA - There is an Arabic saying that a friend is he who tells you the truth, not he who tells you what you want to hear, and Saudi Arabia's Turki bin Faisal Al Saud was more than willing to tell President Barack Obama exactly what was on his mind.
At a lecture in front of hundreds of students and faculty Thursday at Cornell University's Statler Hall, he urged the new U.S. president to stop talking the pretty talk and start walking the mighty walk, to use his power to galvanize other nations and bully world leaders into action.
"All the plans in the world about the Middle East have been presented and dissected already. We know what is needed to make peace. We don't want any more plans. We don't want President Obama to say to King Abdullah, 'What do you want me to do?' We want Obama to come and tell us what he wants," Prince Turki said.
"The leaders in the Middle East, they want to be pushed by this big bear behind their backs to do things, so that they can say to whatever opposition they face in their own governments, 'The big bear made me do it'," he said.
The youngest son of the late King Faisal and nephew of the present King Abdullah, Prince Turki formerly served as Saudi ambassador to the United States, United Kingdom and Ireland, and said he believed President George W Bush did not take enough steps in this direction.
"Although we most appreciate some of the statements he made, nothing was accomplished. The U.S. simply has not pushed enough," the prince said.
He said he was hopeful that Obama is going in the right direction, but warned that all of his beautiful speeches would come to nothing unless he acted on them, and quickly.
"We are holding our breath and waiting. But I think President Obama has exhausted the lead time for things to be done," he added. "I hope that by the middle of summer if not sooner we will see something happen on the ground."
The 64-year-old, who has studied at The Lawrenceville School, Georgetown University, Princeton University, University of Cambridge, and the University of London, started the lecture with a history lesson.
He outlined the development of the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States over the past 81 years, beginning with the first meeting between Chicago philanthropist Charles Crane and Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, who unified the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932. Crane offered the resources of a geologist who spent a year trying to locate a potable water source in the arid region.
"He came back and said, 'Sir, there is no water. But there must be oil in Saudi Arabia.' And, ladies and gentlemen, the rest is history," Prince Turki said.
Through the years, the relationship between the two nations grew stronger, with American leaders continually promising technological, economic and military support in exchange for oil agreements. But it also had its hiccups - after the Second World War over the relocation of Nazi-persecuted Jews, in 1948 over the establishment of Israel and in 1973 over the Ramadan War which led to a Saudi oil embargo.
He said Bush's presidency was marked by a cool but controlled hostility, especially in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 bombings, in which many of the hijackers were identified as Saudi.
"Bush had turned his back to peace in the Middle East and almost abandoned all that Clinton had done. The Crown Prince sent him a letter stating that we were coming to a crossroads and either we go together in the road that we choose or we go our separate ways," he said.
Eventually, they came together and established what Prince Turki described as a preferable institutional dialogue, rather than being subject to the "whim and will" of two heads of state.
He said this more diffused approach has served well as the two nations tackle sensitive subjects like Palestine, Lebanon, Iran "and all the other hot spots."
He went on to outline some specific advice for several of these contentious areas. In regards to Lebanon, Prince Turki said Obama should ask Israel to withdraw immediately from Shebaa Farms, arguing that doing so would also remove Hezbollah's excuse to maintain armed conflict in the area.
He argued that American use of pilotless aircraft in Pakistan should be stopped, as it only galvanizes anti-terrorist sentiments there.
"People blame Pakistan for the Taliban, but they forget that Pakistan is a victim of those same terrorists," he said.
For Syria, where leaders have indicated a willingness to talk, he urged Obama to get on with it.
"Go ahead and talk. You don't need a midwife to bring you together."
He said Obama seemed to be following the right policy in Afghanistan by going after terrorists there, but he urged him to be even more aggressive in soliciting support from other nations around the world, and to pull out as soon as victory was achieved.
And in Iraq, he said it is vital that a U.N. Security Council resolution be passed to guarantee its territorial stability before total troop withdrawal, to prevent civil wars from breaking out and sucking the entire Arab world into a conflict it doesn't want.
He also had some advice for Hamas: Follow the examples of Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr., who used civil disobedience to achieve their objectives.
"You are choosing the wrong weapons," he said. "How can you challenge the Israeli might with a few rockets and suicide bombs? Challenge them on humanitarian grounds, make them out to be the bullies that they are. That's how you win."