Bomber Cameron's on tour again.
This time round, the Cameron team's solution to prevent embarrassment was simple: they just didn't invite the media along with them. After all, who needs the cynical British press around when all they do is whinge and moan about everything? They also tend to ask uncomfortable questions in front of foreign dignitaries, whether they be objections to the UAE's puritanism which leads to British citizens getting thrown in prison for enjoying themselves too much, or in the case of our dear friends the Saudis, so much as asking them about anything.
They are incredibly easily offended, you see. A jumped-up committee went so far as to announce a review into our relations with Bahrain and the House of Saud, and in double quick time the ambassador was telling anyone who would listen how "insulting" such an inquiry was. And as with almost any tyrannical regime (with the possible exception of North Korea, who only the really out there tiny Communist sects will defend) there are a few apologists more than ready to say how terrible it is that the Saudis are so misunderstood. Take Daniel Kawczynski, who thinks we all have a distorted, negative, prejudicial view of the Kingdom. Just because it's an absolute monarchy where women are treated as chattel, the "morality" police are all powerful and the royal family is notoriously corrupt doesn't mean it's all bad. Crime's low, witchcraft is punishable by death and there aren't any alcoholics because there's no alcohol. A bit different to our crack-addled, poverty-ridden inner cities, eh?
Besides, we need to flog the Eurofighters to someone: at best, they'll eventually end up costing us £23bn; at worst, it'll be £37bn, or almost the equivalent of an entire year's defence budget. The Saudis have already taken some, and now we're trying to get the UAE to take a few as well. Although originally intended as a fighter to battle the Soviets, we've since spent even more money making them slightly more useful as an air-to-ground bomber. This raises the question of what exactly the Saudis and the UAE will end up using them for. Clearly they'll be a deterrent, but just how likely is a conventional invasion of either nation? Considering the Saudis have previously shown little inclination towards intervening anywhere other than proxy states such as Bahrain, where a show of force was enough to crush the uprising there, it's dubious in the extreme they're likely to be used in an attack in Iran or elsewhere, except in a reprisal for a pre-emptive strike.
Just as Syria has turned to using fighter jets for bombing raids, so you can bet that both nations wouldn't hesitate to use the Eurofighters against their own citizens should they become similarly restive. Indeed, the Shia minority in Saudi Arabia is already being ruthlessly repressed, while the slightest sign of protest in the UAE has been cracked down on hard. The incredible thing is that both countries are complaining bitterly about how the West has responded to the Arab spring despite our leaders barely whispering a word of criticism about the situation in Bahrain, and only reacting to events elsewhere as they happened. The Saudis have become so paranoid at developments that they genuinely believe there's a region wide Iran-led conspiracy to undermine majority Sunni states, at the exact same time as they fund the Salafis arriving to fight against the Ba'athist dictatorship in Syria. To come back to Kawcyznski, he was glib enough to say we have to "consider what would happen if Saudi Arabia was in the hands of an extremist Muslim government". Does he mean one that sponsors international terrorism?
The reality is that we've long run scared of the Saudis, and as with so much else in politics, those formerly in positions of influence have since joined up with the defence companies they used to deal with. Former Saudi ambassador Sherard Cowper-Coles, who was instrumental in getting the Serious Fraud Office investigation into the al-Yamanah deal dropped, is now BAE's international business development director. No doubt the princes that escaped the ignominy of having their corrupt dealings exposed will be eternally grateful.
Still, when David Cameron says that there are no "no-go areas" when it comes to discussing human rights, he's clearly telling the truth. There are no "no-go areas" because they just don't enter into the dealing. When Iran is so clearly the enemy, regardless of how we aren't set on fully cooperating with an attack at the moment, our friendship with the nations that'll provide us with bases from where attacks can either be launched or coordinated is far more important than the slightest concern for those without even the most basic rights. But hey, both Saudi Arabia and the UAE are high on the human development index, and isn't that all that matters?