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August 03, 2004

Diamonds Are A Saud's Way In

And, as some of the subordinates of a man-of-war captain are apt to invoke his good wishes and mollify his conscience by making him friendly gifts, it would perhaps have been an excellent thing for him to adopt the plan pursued by the President of the United States, when he received a present of lions and Arabian chargers from the Sultan of Muscat. Being forbidden by his sovereign lords and masters, the imperial people, to accept of any gifts from foreign powers, the President sent them to an auctioneer, and the proceeds were deposited in the Treasury.--from White Jacket, by Herman Melville.

When they attend this year's memorial services for the victims of the 3rd anniversary of the September 11th attacks, I wonder if President Bush and his family will be wearing the some of the almost $130,000 dollars worth of fine jewelry they accepted from Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince in 2003? (login available at bugmenot)

While it's true that the Constitution (Article I, Section 9) prohibits anyone in the US Government from receiving a personal gift from a foreign head of state without the consent of Congress, the First Lady and daughters aren't members of the Government.

So the only thing preventing Laura, Jenna and Barbara from pocketing their blood-covered baubles is the type of moral sense Rudy Guiliani displayed when he told Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal to shove his $10 million dollar check where the sun doesn't shine. Since such an act isn't described in the above article, I can only assume that such a sense is not possessed by the Bush family, and that they accepted the Saudi gifts with all the alacrity of a nest of magpies pouncing upon some scraps of tin foil. Perhaps when W talks about "family values" what he really means to say is "family value," as in the price it takes to buy his.

Somebody should let Kim Jong IL know that the best way back into the good graces of Washington isn't through negotiations, it's via the open palms of the Bush administration. Why should they turn up their noses at his 30 pieces of silver, when they'll happily take those offerered by the equally despotic House of Saud?

Perhaps we're not the policeman of the world after all. Perhaps we're its bellhop instead. No wonder the French are pissed. Accepting money from despots is their main line of business, and now George Bush is crowding their territory.

"I've turned down your bedsheet, Monsiuer Aziz, and some of the staff who object to your presence in the Hotel U.S.A. have been removed from the premises to a free speech zone where they won't bother anyone. Would Monsiuer like a whore? I can have Miss America brought to your room, or perhaps a nice boy?"

Mind you, nothing would make me happier than to be proven wrong, and I'd like to think that if Kerry was President he would have the common sense to throw gifts from despots back in their faces, but I don't think either will happen.

Update: Edited for clarity.

Postscript: Thanks to reader Kevin M, a complete list of the 2003 gifts.

Posted by Bigwig at August 3, 2004 12:27 PM | TrackBack
First time visitor to House Hraka? Wondering if everything we produce could possibly be as brilliant/stupid/evil/pedantic/insipid/inspired as the post you just read? Check out the Hraka Essentials, the (mostly) reader-selected guide to Hraka's best posts, and decide for yourself.

I've heard many criticisms of Kerry, many of which I agree with, but "presumably only waiting to [get into the pockets of the Saudis]" is a first for me. What's your basis for this, out of curiosity?

Posted by: Lex at August 3, 2004 01:17 PM

Hi Lex,

No factual basis, other than my general feeling that most politicians in Washington will sell themselves to the Saudis--blame my memories of Abscam, I suppose.

Should Kerry come out swinging on the question of accepting gifts from despotic rulers, more power to him.

Like I said above, though, it's not something I expect.

Posted by: Bigwig at August 3, 2004 01:51 PM

Ok, I took out that last paragraph. It was easier than explaining why I think Kerry is probably just as bad, especially as it was based on a gut instinct rather than hard evidence to begin with.

Posted by: Bigwig at August 3, 2004 02:11 PM

OK. I just wanted to make sure I hadn't missed something somewhere. Thanks.

Posted by: Lex at August 3, 2004 02:40 PM

Here's the list of what the prez DID get:

Posted by: Kevin M at August 3, 2004 03:09 PM

Dear Bigwig,

Sorry, could not figure out how to reach you at Siddall essay sites.

Thank you very much for your comments and information on John Siddall, my great-great uncle (my grandmother's uncle, my great-grandfather's brother).  Thanks to you I ordered and now have the best two of the three "Sid Says;" both my 88 year old mother and I am enjoying his essays.  I had made copies from the old American Mag in library stacks of many for my uncle, also a journalist.  But the book is priceless.  I had not known about the John Reed reference.  Thanks again.  I must read the Ida Tarbel biographies..have searched some for references.

Some info you might be interested in.  John MacAlpine Siddall was the youngest of six brothers (one died as a youngster) born in Oberlin, Ohio, where he did his undergraduate work.  His progressive views were certainly influenced by the school and town and his father's Quaker habits.  Family lore believes the Siddalls who moved there in 1857 were involved in the Underground Railroad.  When he did the legwork for Ida Tarbell he joined John D. Rockerfeller's Sunday school class, justto  be up close to the guy.  He also snuck onto the grounds of the Cleveland mansion to observe and prowl.  He is thought to have been aided with some inside information from his brother Ben who was a highly situated Cleveland lawyer.  (again, family lore).  Minnie Siddall was his sister-in-law, wife of brother William, a Cleveland dentist.  Jean Joiner was his wife.  They had no children.  When he knew he was dying, sadly so prematurely, he prepared eight months of Sid Says columns for use after his death.

There are relatively few Siddall descendants, but we are very proud of his life and legacy.  Thank you for keeping them alive.


Hampton L. Wilmot
River Falls, WI

Posted by: Hamp at August 4, 2004 10:14 AM

I don't really want to accept your version of these events as given.

But, of course, non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to the donor and the U.S. Government.

Posted by: Stephen at August 4, 2004 04:53 PM


Are they actually gifts to the individuals or to the office? Past Presidential families, such as the Clintons, have gotten numerous gifts but they've all been associated directly with the office.

If a Presidential family wishes to take anything home they have to reimburse the government for the fair market value.

So ... a non-event. A non-scandal. A non-worth my bloody time thank you.

Posted by: ed at August 4, 2004 05:34 PM

ed is right. All those gifts are considered gifts to the office. Bush gets none of it, it all goes to the national archives. I still think he could have told them to stuff it tho.

Posted by: joel at August 5, 2004 09:08 AM

Re-read your sources, guys. Gifts to the President are treated differently from gifts to the first lady, and there are no regulations at all, or at least none that I can find, about gifts to people like Jenna and her sister.

Posted by: bigwig at August 5, 2004 01:36 PM


Yes of course. Because we all know the Bush's are extremely poor and unable to afford very expensive jewelry. :/ Seriously man, come on. While the Bush family is the least wealthy of the quartet of Bush, Cheney, Kerry and Edwards, they still are worth about $15 million+.

Any gifts of that kinda are associated with the office. That's SOP because otherwise we'd get situations like this i.e. innuendo.

Posted by: ed at August 6, 2004 05:52 AM

It's not the realtive wealth of the recipient that matters. Not is it the quality of the gift. What's important is the character of the giver.

Should the Bushes accept a gift from Kim Il Sung, or Fidel Castro, if either offered one, given their murderous despotism? No, because doing so would give tacit endorsement to the rule of the giver.

IMHO, accepting a gift from the Saudis is no different. It's a disgusting betrayal of American ideals, and undercuts what we're attempting to do in the Middle East.

Posted by: Bigwig at August 6, 2004 09:50 AM

I'm trying to imagine Teresa Heinz Kerry being tempted by jewelry from the Saudis.

Doesn't fly for me.


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