Playing the Indian Card

Friday, August 10, 2018

Chrystia Freeland Frees Saudi Arabia

I am lucky not to be in Saudi Arabia any longer; now that there is a spat between that country and Canada.

Who's to blame?

First of all, the Canadian government was doing some no-cost “virtue signaling,” the same thing I blamed Pope Francis for yesterday. They figured it would cost nothing to complain publicly about Saudi human rights violations, and would make them look good, domestically and internationally. Stupid move that came back and bit them.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Salman is a reformer, who has been making dramatic strides in human rights. In terms of actually improving the rights of real humans, it would probably have been better not to criticise, and thus perhaps undermine him. He didn't need this stick jammed in his spokes.

And there are regimes with worse records than Saudi. But criticising China, for example, could come at a big cost in trade and economic terms.

But I think this move by the Liberal government of Canada gave the Saudi government a chance to “virtue signal” in their turn. And turnabout is fair play. Because he is pushing through reforms, Mohammed bin Salman is vulnerable to domestic criticism that he is giving in to foreign influence and discarding Saudi and Muslim principles. This is a powerful constituency in the Arab world: the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS, al Qaeda.

This tough reaction to Canadian attempts to influence Saudi domestic policy gives Mohammed an opportunity to signal his virtue to this constituency, at little cost. The real fear, in this regard, to this constituency, is of course the US and its immoral pop culture. But Canada is a useful surrogate, letting Mohammed show that he is tough against foreign influence without incurring any significant costs. Abroad, Canada looks just like the US, more so than any other country, but without the power or the economic importance. And it has less power or economic importance than other alternatives: Britain, France, Germany.

The Canadian government has been foolish enough to give MBS an opportunity. Which, fortunately for most concerned, except for Canadians on the ground, and Saudis in Canada, turns out to have been helpful to him.

A Keystone Kops move, but it's all a comedy anyway.

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