The Bush administration is right to press the corrupt and dictatorial leaders of both those countries to reform. And though progress in Egypt is minimal, and in Saudi Arabia virtually nonexistent, Rice's use of her bully pulpit to preach democracy is an edifying spectacle for the region and the rest of the world.
But while Rice is rightly harping on the lack of freedom for Arabs, she has also used her trip to help broker agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority about what will happen in the aftermath of Israel's planned withdrawal from Gaza.
Rice's intervention in those talks was hailed as a triumph for American diplomacy and she deserves credit for putting in the effort on that point, but in the meantime, a far more pressing issue isn't getting as much attention from her.
The greatest danger to peace isn't the need to pay Palestinians to cart away the debris from destroyed settler homes in Gaza, a problem Rice helped solve this week. Rather, it's the campaign of Palestinian terror against Israel that continues, despite all of the pro-peace rhetoric we've heard from P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas.
On Monday, a Palestinian woman affiliated with Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade, a branch of Abbas' own Fatah Party, attempted to smuggle in explosives she planned to use in a suicide bombing at a Beersheva hospital where she herself had been treated. The fact that she was attempting to repay Israeli kindness with mass murder is irony enough – that she did so on behalf of a group affiliated with a leader widely hailed in Washington as a force for peace is simply infuriating.
As much as we welcome Secretary Rice's tough talk about freedom for Egyptians and Saudis, we think she should be speaking just as firmly about the right of Israelis to be free from violence and warfare. Until that happens, it isn't likely that anyone in the region will take U.S. foreign policy seriously.
Warning Shot to U.N.
The vote last week of the U.S. House of Representatives to mandate cuts in funding for the United Nations if it fails to reform was opposed by the Bush administration and most foreign-policy experts. They all say that what the world body needs is more American involvement, not less. The critics of the Republican majority's position are probably right.
But the fact that this bill won't pass the Senate should not be seen by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan as a victory. Instead, he should understand that the House vote symbolizes a lack of faith in the world institution, a sentiment widely shared by most Americans.
Annan, who is still dodging investigators of the widening oil-for-food scandal, is not the best man to lead the United Nations in the future. But if he stays, he should realize that Americans will not stand for more corruption, human-rights hypocrisy and anti-Semitism.
Annan should also take heed of one provision of the House bill we do support. It called for withholding U.S. funds to the United Nations, commensurate with the amount of money it currently spends on running anti-Israel institutions, such as the refugee office, which serves only Palestinians and which has been used as a cover by terror groups.
The House is to be commended for calling attention to this travesty, and even if this bill ultimately fails, that is one item that should be revived in future legislation. u