Rob L. Wagner روب لستر واقنر

Saudi Gazette Editorials

A Human Concept

Saudi Gazette

(Rob L. Wagner)

Tuesday, 06 February 2007
A Saudi not long ago was being driven by his brother along the Corniche in Jeddah while the brother had his 4-year-old son in his lap playing with the steering wheel.

The Saudi complained to his brother that the boy was not safe and should be restrained in the backseat. The driver snapped back that his brother shouldn’t be so concerned with modern Western concepts and continued to keep the boy in his lap as he sped along the roads weaving in and out of traffic.

Never mind the silly notion that the safety of our loved ones is a Western concept. Rather, it’s a human concept to protect the people we love. And if the driver was so concerned about Western influences, perhaps he shouldn’t be driving a Ford Crown Victoria.

Motorists in Saudi Arabia seemed to be blind to the fact that poor driving habits and unrestrained passengers result in serious injury or death.

The Kingdom has a seatbelt law and usually drivers and front passengers observe the law. The same can’t be said for passengers in the backseat and children. A daily scene on the Kingdom’s streets is kids flopping out of windows to wave at passing cars, playing games in the storage area of SUVs or popping out of sunroofs like a Jack-in-the-Box. Infants are cradled in mothers’ laps, making perfect projectiles through the windshield in the event of a collision or sudden stop. Saudi women, apparently our national treasure to be protected and pampered, routinely use taxis that have no seatbelts in the back seats.

It’s difficult to understand why drivers are so indifferent to safety. Few motorists in the Kingdom observe traffic laws. Red lights are ignored. Drivers turn right without stopping. Pedestrians are virtually invisible to drivers and are at peril. Motorists turn left from a far right-hand lane. Turn indicators are rarely used. Common courtesies like allowing another motorist the right-of-way is considered an assault on one’s masculinity.  Travel and tourism experts often say the best way to judge a country’s airline safety record is to consider its traffic laws on the ground. If traffic laws are enforced and obeyed, a traveler can have confidence in the country’s national carrier.

Perhaps we should stop excusing our bad behavior with arguments that we are a developing country or that seatbelts and car seats for children are Western inventions and therefore evil. Maybe we should be thinking about that little guy or girl in the backseat and how we should make sure they grow up to see adulthood.

Condi’s Failure

Saudi Gazette

(Rob L. Wagner)

Monday, 05 February 2007


WHENEVER Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrives in Saudi Arabia, journalists look forward to her news conferences.

Witty, erudite, stylish and all business she is a master at deftly handling the media under the most arduous circumstances.

But it’s becoming increasingly clear that Rice is all style and no substance. This is not to suggest a lack of talent or skill. She possesses the chops to do the job, but she is constrained by the US policy and her almost slavish loyalty to President George Bush.

Her legacy inevitably will be as the most ineffective secretary of state in modern history.

At the heart of the matter is her strident view of refusing to talk to Syria or Iran, tacitly encouraging Fatah to battle Hamas in the hopes that Hamas will be defeated, and standing idly by, if not endorsing, the disastrous Israeli war against Hezbollah.

She has failed to broker peace between Fatah and Hamas, offered no solutions to deal with the crumbling Lebanese government and has been virtually silent on the disaster in Iraq.

In fact, Rice has capitulated her role as a diplomat and peacemaker by asking leaders of the Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, to step in and help mediate peace and minimize sectarian strife in the region.

This is not wholly an Arab view. Even fellow Republicans and former diplomats have begun criticizing Rice’s performance.

Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III is mystified with Rice’s refusal to engage in dialogue with Syria. He recently told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “We practiced diplomacy full time, and it paid off.”

She has avoided the harsh criticism leveled at former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. But now that he has been put out to pasture, her role in Iraq has come to front and center. It’s as if Americans expected more from Rice than from the martinet Rumsfeld.

It may be Bush’s overall foreign policy that will set the stage for a potential regional war in the Middle East, but she is the face of that foreign policy. For all his failures as secretary of state under Bush, at least we know that Colin Powell voiced dissent of the administration’s policy by advocating diplomacy over a military solution. Rice, however, is nothing more than a yes-woman to Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Rice is a good girl. She does what’s she’s told. But in the end she is no friend to the Arab world.


Editorial (Rob L. Wagner)

Not Tough Enough

1 February 2007

Wednesday’s news out of Germany makes us wonder whether we should laugh or cry. Germany, a critic from the beginning of the Iraq war, announced that arrest warrants have been issued for 13 C.I.A. agents involved in the kidnapping and torture of German citizen Khaled El-Masri.

El-Masri, a Muslim originally from Lebanon, was the hapless German tourist, who was abducted in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia in December 2003. He was drugged, beaten, and then flown by the C.I.A. to one of its infamous detention centers in Afghanistan, where he was held for five months.

The US suspected him of being a terrorist

Then – oops! – the US government discovered it mistook El-Masri for somebody else and dumped him in Albania like so much curbside garbage.

El-Masri is suing the United States for damages.

What makes this laughable if it wasn’t so sad is the fact that German authorities, publicly rebuking the United States over its invasion of Iraq, had known all along that C.I.A. agents had abducted El-Masri and did little about it. Germany’s Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was chief of staff for the former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder when the war started, acknowledged he was informed about the abduction after repeatedly denying it. This should prove embarrassing to Steinmeier, but the arrest warrants could possibly prove embarrassing to the German government as well.

President George Bush, who flouts his country’s own domestic laws, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, is likely to pay no heed to the arrest warrants. Rather, he will simply ignore it. We’ve already witnessed the US government’s contempt for countries that don’t play well with the Americans.

A similar case has been moving forward in Italy, where a judge in 2005 ordered the arrest of 13 C.I.A. agents in connection with the abduction in Milan of a Muslim cleric. But there has been little cooperation from the US with Italy. Lawsuits and formal complaints from families of journalists who have been killed by US troops in Iraq also have gone unheeded.

Germany and Italy will have little success with the United States in bringing these 26 C.I.A. agents to justice unless it takes a tougher stand by conducting further investigations into alleged detention centers and secret flights in their countries. Once the flights end and the detention centers are emptied will the US take serious the arrest warrants of their agents.

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