A junket to Saudi Arabia for 10 U.S. mayors wasn't just a chance to network for the business community -- Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon says it was about building a safer world.
One of the most important things Gordon contends he accomplished on his six-day trip, paid for by the Saudi royal family, was making progress on a plan to bring together mayors from Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and other countries, who would discuss ways to spread peace among both constituents and political higher-ups.main
Gordon arrived home on Thursday. Overall, the trip was productive and interesting, he says. Unlike Davenport, Iowa, Mayor Bill Gluba, Gordon did not ride a camel.
However, he did see scenes "from the Third World to the 22nd Century, and sometimes both in the same place."
Some Saudis feel like "time is running out" for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, but that the election of President Obama breathes optimism into the debate, he says.
The single most interesting portion of the trip for Gordon was when Saudi officials arranged a meeting with citizens who had spent years in Guantanamo Bay and are now being deprogrammed.
The "deviants" -- Saudis won't call them terrorists -- are taught by imams not to believe a "holy war" exists between America and the Islamic world, Gordon says. Of 120 people put through the program five years ago, 100 "are still very productive," he says.
Asked if that means any of the estimated 220 to 240 prisoners still at Gitmo should ever be allowed to come to the United States, Gordon says he'll leave that decision to the federal government.
Gordon flew over sand dunes, met princes and ministers, and was "hugged and kissed" by many Saudis who had attended Arizona universities. (Gordon has degrees from both Arizona State University and the University of Arizona).
Among the impressive sites: A boom-town called Jetta, 400 miles from any cities, where a new, $4 billion oil facility operated using green technology. The Saudi man who ran the facility is an Arizona State University graduate, Gordon says.
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The mayor says those Arizona-Middle Eastern connections will be built upon in the future. Saudis are looking at doing more investing in Phoenix and greater Arizona because of our "great prices, stable government and great return on their investment." (Except for that annoying collapse of the real estate market, he must mean).
The need for more business partnerships will undoubtedly grow: Saudi Arabia reportedly will double its population in 28 years.
Asked how he reconciles the need to do business with the Saudis with the country's horrendous human-rights record, Gordon noted that the country was only formed in the mid-20th Century and is making advances on issues like women's rights. (As we've been harping on, the make-up of the mayoral junket symbolized Saudi Arabia's chauvinistic tendencies. All 10 mayors invited on the trip were men. Gordon does say, however, that five female chiefs of staffs for the mayors went along, too).
Working with countries like Saudi Arabia instead of being antagonistic will, in the long run, reduce threats to the United States, he maintains.