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Department of Angry Allies
Saudis Digging In Their Heels

The Saudis are continuing to refuse to back down in a dispute with Washington over Middle East policy—at least when it comes to words. Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former intelligence chief and ambassador to England and the US, gave a rare interview to the WSJ on the sidelines of a security conference in France over the weekend.

“The aid they’re [the US] giving to the Free Syrian Army is irrelevant,” he said. “Now they say they’re going to stop the aid: OK, stop it. It’s not doing anything anyway.” He appeared irked that the US was keeping Saudi Arabia out of Middle East policy-making decisions. “It’s important for us to sit down at the same table… We have been absent.”

The NYT has more: “We’ve seen several red lines put forward by the president, which went along and became pinkish as time grew, and eventually ended up completely white… When that kind of assurance comes from a leader of a country like the United States, we expect him to stand by it… There is an issue of confidence.”

The question is whether they can do anything that will disrupt Washington’s diplomacy with Iran or otherwise change the balance of forces in the region. Riyadh doesn’t have many options. The Saudis are on bad terms with Turkey, which backed the Morsi government in Egypt that the Saudis helped kill. The French seem to share many of their misgivings about US diplomacy in the Middle East but don’t have a lot of ability to change things. The tide has turned against the rebels in Syria and the Saudis are in a bit of a trap there. If they step up aid to the more effective forces, many linked with Al Qaeda, they drive Washington closer toward Tehran as the Saudis come to be seen in the US as supporters of terrorism. But the more moderate forces in Syria don’t seem to be doing very well.

Russia is on Iran’s side, China is playing it safe, and India isn’t ready yet to step up to the plate—and in any case has serious reservations about Saudi links with Pakistan, including with its nuclear program.

As WRM noted in an earlier piece in the WSJ, Israel is the only serious country on the planet that shares Saudi Arabia’s sense of the existential threat emanating from Iran, but real cooperation with the Jewish state would be hard for the Saudis to swallow.

Both countries are hoping the nuclear deal breaks down on its own, and that the interim deal never leads to something final. They are probably getting more optimistic these days as US-Iranian squabbles threaten to derail the difficult process of implementing the interim agreement. But if the US continues to warm toward Iran, both Israel and Saudi Arabia will face a painful choice: they can work together, or they can lose the dominant political and military positions these two very different countries have enjoyed in the region for the last generation.

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  • rheddles

    Maybe this has something to do with it.

  • PKCasimir

    This analysis assumes that US and Saudi interests are the same. It’s time to step back and reassess this relationship in light of the US’s new energy independence. The Saudis see the US as an ally of convenience. There are no shared values between the two nations. The Saudis practice a brand of religious fanaticism just as hostile to the US as the Iranian brand. Forgotten, it seems, is that 9/11, the worst terrorism attack ever on American soil, was carried out by Wahhabi fanatics with the backing of elements of the Saudi monarchy, a fact suppressed behind a wall of classification in the official 9/11 report. President Bush, given the energy situation in 2011, had reasonable cause for suppressing this evidence. But, times have changed. Is the US’s alliance with Saudi Arabia really in our national interest? Is Saudi Arabia really an ally we can trust?
    There are limits to US power and there is very little we can do to influence events on the ground in Syria. And short of all-out war there is little the US can do to stop the Iranians from obtaining nuclear weapons. The best we can do is to delay the day when they acquire them.
    Does anyone seriously believe that the Saudis are not, right now, discussing nuclear weapons with Pakistan?

  • rheddles

    Thinking more about this article, which is really very important, China is not playing it safe. China is just waiting. They will take all the oil the Saudis can pump.

  • lukelea

    OT, but is there anything to this story in the New York Post: Inside the Saudi Cover-up

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