(As published with The National Interest.)
During the Cold War, the U.S. government sent “jazz ambassadors” around the world to burnish America’s reputation with foreign audiences. Hillary Clinton’s tenure at the State Department implemented “hip hop diplomacy” programs in the Arab world. Now, in the age of Donald Trump, the American likeliest to heal strained ties with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is—apparently—pop-country star Toby Keith.
The news that Keith would appear in Riyadh Saturday, alongside Saudi singer and oud player Rabeh Saqer, drew plenty of jokes online. Many pointed out that Keith’s repertoire included songs with names like “Beer for My Horses” and “I Love This Bar,” and remarked that tickets would only be made available for male attendees. But more to the point, doesn’t Keith, with his proud red-state persona, seem a strange pick for a crowd of Saudis?
Image: Toby Keith performs for service members at the Camp Liberty Post Exchange Stag. Wikimedia Commons/Public domain