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President Obama with Saudi King Salman and other members of the Saudi Royal Family. January 27, 2015

You will recall that the King of Saudi Arabia, King Salman, blew off U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent Gulf summit. That snub has been endlessly analyzed to determine whether and how much should be read into that refusal.

Whether Obama felt the King’s absence as a snub is unknown, but given he was hosting the Summit, a snub was not possible. But a flub was. And flub he did.


As Elliot Abrams, the former Assistant Secretary of State, tells it in his blog at the Council on Foreign Relations, the President may have exacerbated the simmering tensions between the two erstwhile friendly nations.

Abrams, reviewing the public remarks from the Summit, realized that President Obama screwed up the names of the two Saudi Princes who were sent to Washington to represent the Kingdom.

President Obama welcomed the Saudi delegation and welcomed “back the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Nayef, as well as Deputy Crown Prince Salmon.”

The U.S. President put his foot further in it when he continued the already flubbed introduction with “As all of you are aware, the United States and Saudi Arabia have an extraordinary friendship and relationship that dates back to Franklin Roosevelt and King Faisal, and we are continuing to build that relationship during a very challenging time.”

Oops. Big time.

As Abrams points out:

First of all, the name of the Deputy Crown Prince is not Salman; that’s his father’s name. His name is Mohammed bin Salman. Minor detail? How about this one: in 1945, FDR met the founder of the modern Saudi kingdom, the grandfather of the two princes he was greeting in the Oval Office. President Obama called him King Faisal, but the founder was King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud. His son Faisal ruled from 1964 to 1975.

Were the flubs the result of the snub? Or perhaps just inadequate staff work?

Abrams runs through a litany of possibilities, and ends with “Yes, getting the names wrong is not a casus belli, but it will deepen the sense in the Gulf and the wider Middle East that the President of the United States does not know what he is doing in their region.”

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Lori Lowenthal Marcus is a contributor to the A graduate of Harvard Law School, she previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools. You can reach her by email: [email protected]