King Hussein of Jordan has long been known as a moderate, a British-educated man of the world who understands the West and has been considered a friend of the United States and a recipient of American aid.
Thus, his outburst a few days ago supporting Iraq and condemning the alliance against Saddam Hussein (no relation) surprised and irritated Bush.As a result of Hussein's intemperate speech, Bush said the United States would "review" its aid package to Jordan - a diplomatic euphemism for holding up current payments. That's something that Jordan can ill afford and something Washington ought not to pursue.
Before the war, Jordan depended heavily on trade and oil from Iraq. After the invasion of Kuwait, Hussein tried to occupy a moderate middle ground, but the refusal to condemn Iraq only managed to irritate Saudi Arabia, which refused to make up oil lost from Iraq imports.
Jordan's population is now more than 60 percent Palestinian. Those Palestinians are emotional supporters of Saddam, if only because the Iraqi dictator has pretended to champion their cause. The king, a wily monarch who has held his crown for 37 years while other Arab leaders have been losing their heads, knows he must placate the Palestinians or be overthrown.
Even Israel, normally distrustful and wary, has shown compassion and understanding for Hussein and refuses to condemn his remarks. Despite the animosity from most of the Arab world, Jordan has been a reliable neighbor to Israel, sharing a long and relatively peaceful border.
If Hussein falls, his replacement undoubtedly would be someone much more dangerous to live with.
The king obviously is trying to carry out a difficult balancing act in a situation where nearly every choice is a poor one. The United States should not add to the troubles of an old and once-valued friend.
It should ignore his comments and keep helping. When the war is over, Washington may need the good offices of Hussein once more.