The more I read that passage (below) from this morning's gaggle, the more perplexed I become. Why couldn't Scott McClellan give a straight denial to any of the questions about whether Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar had pledged to President Bush that his country would lower gas prices in time for the November election?
It's not that I don't think it could be true. In fact I find it quite plausible. It makes sense to me given the ties between the Bush family and the House of Saud -- particularly to Bandar. It makes sense given Bandar's Republicanism. And, perhaps most of all, it rings true because such an understanding would play to Bandar's once-exalted role as facilitator and intermediary between elites in both countries.
As David Plotz explained in this December 2001 article in Slate, Bandar's role in Washington and the essence of his once-vast power was as the man who created the illusion that elites from these two deeply dissimilar and in many ways antagonistic countries could hash out mutual understandings and find common interests in places like Aspen and other getaways far removed from the true pulse of both societies.
(Think about that when considering the ties between the Bushes and the Sauds.)
So, yes, I think such an arrangement or understanding is quite possible. Yet such agreements aren't written out on paper. And they should be easily deniable even if they are true -- especially with a White House that, from my experience, seldom gets hung up on such minor quibbles.
So, again, why the evasion?
Even odder is that Woodward now seems to be backing off the original claim. At least that's what I gleaned from this exchange from last night between Bandar and Woodward on Larry King (a cast of three characters about whom many funny things could certainly be said) ...
KING: The story that Mr. Woodward has about the promise to lower the oil prices by the election. Your government has denied has.
WOODWARD: That's not my story. What I say in the book is that the Saudis, and maybe you looked at this section of the book, Ambassador, that the Saudis hoped to keep oil prices low during the period for -- before the election, because of its impact on the economy. That's what I say.
BIN SULTAN: I think the way that Bob said it now is accurate. We hoped that the oil prices will stay low, because that's good for America's economy, but more important, it's good for our economy and the international economy, and this is not -- nothing unusual. President Clinton asked us to keep the prices down in the year 2000. In fact, I can go back to 1979, President Carter asked us to keep the prices down to avoid the malaise. So yes, it's in our interests and in America's interests to keep the prices down.
Clearly we're in good hands.