OpinionMiddle East

Mideast leader flouts democracy, receives American aid anyway

King Abdullah II has been praised, funded and armed by American presidents since he assumed the royal throne 24 years ago.

Portraits of the late King Hussein of Jordan (left) and his son, King Abdullah II. Credit: Amnat30/Shutterstock.
Portraits of the late King Hussein of Jordan (left) and his son, King Abdullah II. Credit: Amnat30/Shutterstock.
Stephen M. Flatow. Credit: Courtesy.
Stephen M. Flatow
Stephen M. Flatow is president of the Religious Zionists of America. He is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995, and author of A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror. (The RZA is not affiliated with any American or Israeli political party.)

For decades, the United States has been pouring billions of dollars of military and financial aid into a Middle Eastern country whose leader has little regard for American-style democratic values and acts as if he is a king.

Oh, wait. He’s acting that way because he is a king.

Jordan’s leader, Abdullah II, was chosen by virtue of his royal bloodline, resides in a royal palace and governs by royal decrees.

So why is America supporting him? Since when does America think that it’s OK for other countries to be ruled by kings instead of democratically elected presidents or prime ministers?

King Abdullah II has been praised, funded and armed by American presidents since he assumed the royal throne 24 years ago. His father, the late King Hussein, was given the same royal treatment by Washington during his own 47 year-reign.

No U.S. president ever refused to invite Jordan’s kings to the White House. No U.S. administration ever criticized them for thumbing their noses at democracy or other American values. And no U.S. officials ever suggested reducing American aid to Jordan. On the contrary: That aid has been steadily increasing over the years, from approximately $125 million annually in the 1960s, to $1.6 billion annually nowadays. And that’s not counting the $700 million in Jordanian debt that the Clinton administration forgave.

Even Jordan’s decision to side with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and Iraq in the first Gulf War had no impact on U.S. aid to Amman. Thomas L. Friedman of The New York Times helped out in that regard. He authored a major “news” article at the time in which he argued that while the Bush administration had no choice but to “review” its aid to Jordan because of King Hussein’s pro-Saddam stance, the United States should “not necessarily slash it” because the king is “the lesser of two evils,” and while U.S. officials “can’t live with King Hussein … they can’t live without him either.”

Yes, that’s the same Thomas L. Friedman who in recent weeks has been promoting the idea that the Biden administration should denounce, harass and pressure Israel over the judicial reform issue.

Friedman has been calling for a “reassessment” of U.S. relations with Israel. That word was not chosen casually. Every Israeli remembers the last time it was used—when former President Gerald Ford and U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger announced a “reassessment” of U.S. policy towards Israel in 1975 because Kissinger felt that Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was not making enough concessions to the Arabs.

That “reassessment” consisted of a cut-off of all U.S. military shipments to Israel until Rabin finally gave in and made the concessions that Kissinger was demanding.

Friedman’s current campaign for more American pressure on Israel has been echoed by former U.S. Mideast envoys such as Daniel Kurtzer and Martin Indyk. They, too, are demanding that America slash military aid to Israel as punishment for Israeli policies.

Isn’t that fascinating? These critics falsely accuse Israel of eroding its democracy and demand that the United States punish it while they praise Israel’s royal next-door neighbor, a regime that flaunts its rejection of democracy.

How can this glaring double standard be explained?

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Friedman, Kurtzer, Indyk or other prominent critics of Israel to explain themselves because journalists almost never ask them uncomfortable questions.

But here are three obvious explanations.

Some of Israel’s critics are simply hostile to Israel and will use any excuse to bash the Jewish state. They don’t genuinely care about Israeli democracy (or Jordan’s lack of democracy). The judicial reform controversy is just a convenient stick with which to beat the Israelis.

Some of Israel’s critics are simply pompous know-it-alls. This group includes ex-diplomats and journalists who dreamed of working on Mideast policy at the U.S. State Department. They are convinced that they alone know how to achieve peace (that is, by trading massive Israeli concessions for unenforceable Arab promises), and they jump at every opportunity to show off their alleged expertise. The fact that they have been proven wrong time and again never slows them down.

And some critics of Israel are simply bigots—but it’s a bigotry of an unusual kind. It’s what former presidential speechwriter Michael Gerson called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” In other words, they don’t believe that Arabs are capable of governing democratically. They’re fine with Jordan being ruled by a king because they think that Jordanians are too unsophisticated to embrace modern concepts such as democracy.

Of course, there are some critics of Israel who sincerely care about Israel’s welfare. Maybe they even (quietly) dislike the idea of America embracing and propping up kings. But it’s becoming harder and harder to spot them among the noisy crowd of those whose motives are far from noble. 

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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