“The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has established a research and essay competition in honor of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz hosted by the National Defense University…. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said the essay competition is a fitting tribute to the life and leadership of the Saudi Arabian monarch.”
—Department of Defense News
Dear General Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
I understand you’ve set up a competition for the best essay in honor of the recently deceased King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, with whom you really hit it off. “In my job to train and advise his military forces, and in our relationship since, I found the king to be a man of remarkable character and courage,” you write. You’re far from alone in your praise: David Cameron spoke feelingly of the king’s commitment to “peace and prosperity” and to “strengthening understanding between faiths.” John Kerry called him “a man of wisdom and vision,” Barack Obama mentioned their “genuine and warm friendship,” and The New York Times called him “a shrewd force who reshaped Saudi Arabia.” (Paging the copy editor: Can a force be shrewd?)
I would love to enter your contest, General. Can you look at my notes and tell me if I’m on the right track?
Four Reasons Why King Abdullah Was the Best
1. King Abdullah was old school, and old school is good. We haven’t had a monarch like him in the West in hundreds of years, and look what a mess we’re in. Some people compare him to Louis XIV, absolute monarch extraordinaire, but I plan to argue that he was more like Henry VIII, because they both enjoyed beheading people and getting married a lot. Actually, most kings back then did the kinds of things Abdullah was famous for: throwing their enemies into dungeons, banning all religions but their own, public executions, torture, tossing ridiculous amounts of money about. The queens were much the same—look at Isabella I, who banished the Jews and Muslims from Spain and let the Inquisition set up shop in her country. In some ways, Abdullah was a lot like her. Not entirely—there was that business with expelling the Muslims (expelling the Jews, good!), plus Isabella had an egalitarian marriage with King Ferdinand, and she thought the world was round, as Columbus said—I wouldn’t want to suggest that Abdullah shared her progressive views on that! But they both ruled medieval, cleric-ridden kingdoms and did their best to keep them that way in a changing world. Do you think it would be an insult to compare Abdullah to a woman?
2. He made America feel good about itself again. In the years before 9/11, he turned a blind eye to Al Qaeda, which became our Enemy No. 1. It’s no accident that fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers, to say nothing of Osama bin Laden himself, were Saudi. Without the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to concentrate their patriotic feelings, Americans might have spent the last twelve years getting really upset about inequality or global warming. War lets people feel virtuous and stout-hearted—especially now that only a small handful of volunteers actually fight in them. So, patriotic Americans, next time you thank a soldier for his or her service, give King Abdullah a mental tip of the hat for making those warm feelings possible.