Margot Wallström, the Swedish foreign minister, had the gall to ask some important if embarrassing questions about Saudi Arabia. She attacked their treatment of women and also criticized the the Saudi courts for sentencing Raif Badawi to ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes for setting up a website that championed secularism and free speech. This led to a big outcry in Saudi Arabia and the other gulf states, which threatened Sweden with a trade embargo, which led to a lot of criticism of Wallström in Sweden. But then the Swedish government decided that they didn't like being threatened by the Saudis for standing up for their principles, so they scrapped a proposed arms sale to the Saudis, which led the Saudis to recall their ambassador to Sweden. Wallström is no nationalist or racist; on the contrary she is quite far left, but she has decided to put her support for women's rights and democracy above multicultural tolerance.
I suppose this diplomatic brouhaha will eventually blow over, but it raises the question: why are we allies with Saudi Arabia anyway? How are they different from the Taliban we are fighting so hard to keep from taking over Afghanistan? They are the main supporters of the extreme Sunni ideology that drives terrorism and revolt all over the Muslim world; they are enemies of democracy; their political system is the most reactionary in the world.
The answer must be that they keep the oil flowing and generally support American policy in the region. But our alliance with them is sick at its core, and I wonder how long it can last.