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The Iran Deal
Saudi Arabia: Bibi Was Right

We wrote on Tuesday that the Israeli PM spoke for the Sunnis in his address to Congress; now the Arab media is implying that they think so, too. The AP reports:

The oil-rich Sunni kingdom views Shiite Iran as a regional rival that is perhaps even more menacing than Israel.

That was clear in a string of columns this week published in Saudi state-linked media, which is widely seen as reflecting official views and mainstream thought in the kingdom, and which voiced skepticism of President Barack Obama’s efforts to broker a landmark nuclear agreement with Tehran.

“Who could believe that Netanyahu today has taken a better stand than Obama with regard to the Iranian nuclear file?” columnist Ahmed al-Faraj wrote, saying he was quoting a recent remark by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL). The opinion piece in the Saudi-owned al-Jazira newspaper on Monday, a day before the speech, reflects sentiment shared among some in the Gulf.

Signs of Saudi concern are becoming more and more overt, so much so that the Obama Administration flew Secretary Kerry out to Riyadh right after the last round of Geneva talks to reassure the leading Gulf power. But the Secretary and King Salman do not seem to share the same assessment of how things are going. According to The Washington Post:

Kerry’s one-day visit to Riyadh underscores that Israel is not the only country in the Middle East leery of how a deal with Iran may upend the balance of power.

“We see Iran involved in Syria and Lebanon and Yemen and Iraq and God knows where,” the Saudi foreign minister said. “This . . . must stop if Iran is to be part of the solution of the region and not part of the problem.”

The Saudis are not going to step right out and say, “Bibi was right,” but this is some very strong signaling that they share Israel’s concerns. And like Israel, they do not seem to be soothed by the Administration’s reassurances.

The U.S. may think this deal is the best option, but it is increasingly clear our most powerful regional allies do not agree. They have money, arms, and wills of their own. How they will they choose to use them?

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  • Ellen

    You asked the right question, Prof. Mead. I think the short answer is, they will use all the tools at their disposal to undermine the Obama/Kerry/Rhodes policy, and this will create an unprecedented fiasco in the Mideast. For the first time since FDR decided to befriend Ibn Saud, way back in the 1930’s, the US will find itself with no regional allies. Israel is an ally of the US, of course, but not of Obama and his administration. Unless the Congress can get its act together and empower itself to stop Obama’s folly before it goes one step further, the US will find itself fighting everyone in the MidEast, with no one on its side. The Iranians are not going to become Obama’s friend even if they sign this idiotic accord. They will freeze the visible part of their nuclear program, continue with the rest and most important- continue destabilizing every country in the region, until they are stopped by conventional war and regime change. This will be accomplished by an unprecedented Sunni-Israeli- Kurdish-Baluchi alliance.

    What a shambles America’s MidEast file, so-called, will be when the next president takes over. That, if you please, will be the main legacy of Barack Obama. If you’re going to play the “Great Game” in the Middle east, you better have a grasp of the culture of the peoples and know how to negotiate the winding allies of the bazaar. Obama and Kerry are hopeless dunces at this, and Middle-easterners, unlike American liberals, are not believers in affirmative action. Tough luck.

  • Anthony

    Here’s another (perhaps less partisan) perspective on the geopolitics of the region:

    • johne843

      Glad you shared this. Statfor’s sober analysis is often more convincing. TAI seems more fixated on discrediting anything the current administration does in the region, rather then agnostically looking at “the imperatives and constraints” that ultimately dictate U.S. policy, regardless of what politicians are in power. I cringed the other day when WRM started waxing poetic about our cultural bonds with Israel as though this is a justification in itself for sticking to an unsustainable policy in the region. Meanwhile, the Saudi’s continue to export Wahhabi terror and we’re supposed to cry because they’re mad we didn’t toe their line hard enough. It’s time for regional players to step up while we nurture a new balance.

      • Anthony

        Thanks. It has always been my position that differing viewpoints on matters of state need to be availed to citizenry. Such relevant information certainly allows for contrasting. And a curious mind can weigh the competing interests.

  • FriendlyGoat

    Indeed, they have money, arms and wills of their own. So why is it, once again, that it supposedly falls to an American president to put in the fix? Paraphrasing AP, the Saudis have finally awoken to the fact that Iran is actually “more menacing than Israel”. And, Saudi Arabia warming, if ever so slightly, to Israel is a fine idea since Israel is not actually a “menace” to that kingdom at all and never has been.

    We, the infidels, do not need to thump one side of Islam for benefit of the other side of Islam.

    • Anthony
      • FriendlyGoat

        Thanks. It’s an interesting piece. Steele’s ideas sound like those of Thomas Sowell, Clarence Thomas, perhaps Herman Cain and Ben Carson.

        Why are we unable to shake the feeling that these people are speaking more to the white community about (generally) enacting more tax cuts which would mostly go to the white community, than about anything else?
        That’s by default with their political affiliation, but as learned men (or in Cain’s case, accomplished in commercial business), they should know that modern Republicanism really never strays two steps from the quest for tax cuts. It’s always the main GOP priority and has nothing to do with black people rising—–ever.

        • Anthony

          I don’t know if Shelby ties in with the others you mention aside from all being identified as Republican – Shelby and Carson where both northern born and bred. I was told years ago at a party once that the line on the Republican side was shorter for opportunistic strivers – remark was made tongue in cheek (make of it what you will).

          However, I referenced article not so much about Shelby Steele and identified conservatives of his persuasion but regarding book review and points of rethinking that author noted: true meaning of America’s exceptionalism – it’s real promise and purpose (Democratic Imperative). His appeal I thought would catch your attention.

          Now to your question, who can say what truly motivates another man FG. I can at minimum speculate (and giving benefit of doubt) that each man (type) sincerely believes Republicanism provides an answer as well as a remuneration and relative notability. I’m not sure concern about anyone rising is uppermost on their respective minds though I think Shelby and his brother Claude are sincere in making societal contribution – and the maybe others are too but I have less familiarity with them.

  • Dan Greene

    “We wrote on Tuesday that the Israeli PM spoke for the Sunnis in his address to Congress; now the Arab media is implying that they think so, too.”

    So, you all you can provide to substantiate your claim about the collective view of the Araba media is one passage from AP that cites a Saudi journalist who is only quoting a US senator? Pretty weak.

    Also, the one quote of an Arab journalist cites an Ahmed al-Faraj who must be this guy:

    “The brother of the elusive Portsmouth owner Ali Al-Faraj – Ahmed – claims that his family have poured millions into the club, but are abused despite their ”love for the club”. The Sun have Ahmed’s first-ever interview in Britain, where the Saudi Arabian investor maintains that his family do have the money to keep Pompey afloat and that they are dealing with problems left behind by the previous regime.”

    So, not really too clear that Ahmed, who seems to be some sort of assistant to his brother, the owner of Portsmouth Football (Soccer) club in England, is very representative of Saudi or Arab views on much of anything.

    • Yaron

      I believe the point is not so much who wrote the column but rather that is was seen fit by the editors to be published in a leading (semi-official) Saudi paper. That definitely gives some credence to WRM’s assertion.

  • Yaron

    George Friedman’s Stratfor analysis that Anthony points to is always interesting to read and his delineations of geo-political forces are always relevant. This article is no exception and is actually rehashing a recurring theme Friedman has been writing about for quite some time including in his books. Namely: the imperative for US and Israel to create distance from one another as their strategic dependance on one another weakens considerably and their regional interests diverge.

    My main problem with Friedman’s analysis has always been their almost “deterministic” conclusion: i.e since geopolitics dictate the interests of nations – their leaders have no option but to follow a predefined foreign policy path. He makes very little allowance to the impact of more “fuzzy” forces such as ideology, culture and historical memories on determining the external policies of leaders and nations.

    In this regard, I find Professor Mead’s analyses much more nuanced in understanding how foreign policy actions come to be. His analysis is not in conflict with Friedman’s – they both acknowledge the constraints of geo-politics – but Prof. Mead gives weight to these additional factors.

    Specifically to the issue of this article as well as to Prof Mead’s analysis of Netanyahu’s speech, these additional factors include such things as Obama’s predetermined bias to a liberal-progressive approach to conflict, the current foreign-policy team’s post-modern relativistic view of national narratives and the US public’s overwhelming support for Israel (for a variety of religious and cultural reasons that have nothing to do with geo-politics) and the pressure that puts on official foreign policy.

    Friedman’s analysis seems to imply that the Obama administration is pursuing the only policy they can, and therefore judging and critiquing it – is immaterial or irrelevant. This does not feel right. While pursuing some kind of detente with Iran is called for by geopolitics (off-shore balance of powers etc.)— the actual way to get there is by no means pre-determined. I believe Prof Mead keeps making the point that in this respect, Obama’s foreign policy has fallen flat on its face. Rather than creating an off-shore balance of power, his policies have provided Iran a blank check in pursuing its expansionist and aggressive regional policy that will eventually lead to a major regional war before a regional balance of power can be established. A war in which the US will most definitely be drawn in much to its wishes to the contrary.

    • Anthony

      Balanced and nuanced response Yaron (especially observation for a variety of religious and cultural…). And yes, WRM and George Friedman lend perspective to a region challenged with multiple layers, history, conflicting interests, failed states, stifling ideology, and inevitable gravitational pull – I think their respective views are not in conflict but may differ in emphasis. I think Friedman’s view(s) has been not so deterministic than occasionally conflated (perhaps) with his general analysis of geo-politics (Russia, Europe, China, etc.) while WRM remains partial to our home grown State Department/Administration short comings. I find both men informed and (as you write) always relevant in their sphere.

    • qet

      I think you hit the nail on the head, Yaron. The presentation of the conflict and its evolution as one determined by impersonal, essentially physical forces, is fundamentally illusory. All of the “forces” involved on all sides are human-generated ones, forces defined by and that operate according to the wills of numerous individuals, and which are constantly shifting and changing. Attempting to decide upon a strategy according to some sort of physicalist modeling of forces, as though the players were physicists sitting around the Hadron Collider designing strategies to detect the Higgs Boson, appeals to a certain sort of mind because it provides the illusion of mastery.

      And even within the parameters of such a force model, if it is conceded at the outset that one of the potential forces–US military action–is non-operative absolutely (Friedman asserts this and I can’t say I disagree with him), then I don’t see a reasonable basis for believing that it will be possible to bring all of the other forces into any balance. Not that this means US force must be used–the model merely requires that it be a credible threat, but it seems that even this has been conceded away.

  • qet

    The problem with the Friedman (Stratfor) piece is that it is all form and no content. It is analytical in the way that formal logic is analytical–tautologically. Balance of power? Conflict can be neither understood nor managed by conceptualizing in the form of an equation or algorithm. There is no unit of power by which it can be measured, which is a necessary step in “balancing” it. There is no equilibrium achievable resembling that in a thermodynamic system. And Friedman applies the equilibrium model to the wrong situation in any case.

    The original balance of power was of the European great powers of the 19th century. They balanced each other, and in large part by actualizing their aggressive energies through smaller, hapless proxies. Constant “low” level warfare was an acceptable price for others to pay to keep them from each other’s throats. (and this is the model Friedman recommends??) There was not one power superior to all of them that enforced the balance among a set of lesser powers, which is what Friedman’s article suggests. The “regional powers” he mentions live in the shadow of the “great powers”–US, China, Russia (maybe), Europe (maybe). Any US strategy for “balancing” those “regional powers” is going to be interfered with by actions of the other “great” powers, so really the US will need to balance itself against those powers simultaneously. To stick with the mathematics metaphor, US strategy will be one equation with two variables. Insoluble according to any operation of axioms and relations within the formal model. Not to mention that those regional powers don’t really desire to be “balanced” by anyone, and can be counted on to thwart any attempts to balance them

    Certain TAI commenters–Anthony is one of them–insist that the proper course for the US is to hold itself aloof, detached, distant, from any cultural or economic affinities with any of the “regional powers,” and he routinely criticizes what he sees as a pro-Israel bias among the TAI writers and also the commenters. He often proposes an alternative approach that circumlocutes using abstract, formalist terms and categories a la Friedman. But to me an approach like that is an exercise in scholasticism, giving only trivial results. Consider the following sort-of-syllogism from Friedman: “The United States wants regional powers to deal with issues that threaten their interests more than American interests. At the same time, the United States does not want any one country to dominate the region. Therefore, it is in the American interest to have multiple powers balancing each other.” To me this is a trivially easy argument. It begs the only meaningful question: how will it be decided when issues threaten “their interests” more than “our interests.” It seems to me that 90% of the debate centers on deciding this matter, with the remainder basically following more or less automatically from that decision. Whose interests are threatened more by an operational Iranian nuclear weapons capability, ours or theirs? The Stratfor model cannot say, as it requires the answer as an input to the model.

    I don’t think the central issue today–the progress of the Iranians toward an operational nuclear weapons capability in light of their frequently uttered Delenda est Israel–can be neutralized within a formal, algorithmic model of politicodynamic equilibrium. The balance of power model was not designed to apply to a set of lower-tier powers managed by one higher-tier power. I recognize the ardent desire of many to take refuge and comfort within a highly detached technical vocabulary and discourse, one that excludes all moral factors and considerations. But I do not believe that the two-tier Stratfor balance of power model can work without moral variables being added, so to speak. TAI tends to focus more on those moral aspects, because I believe that they believe that those aspects will be decisive in the present crisis. I find their analyses more compelling than the abstruse logico-deductive kind of analysis offered by Stratfor.

    • Ellen

      Nice analysis, combined with Yaron’s excellent point about the deterministic nature of Friedman’s pseudoanalysis. It reminds me very much of the sort of arguments I used to hear long ago from hardline Marxists, who believed that all historical events were determined by the economic class structure and by controlling the means of production. How many people, especially university professors, fell for that nonsense before the ruin of state socialism in the Soviet Union (and now Europe!) made them a permanent laughing stock. It is those fuzzy forces of culture, ideology, historical and ethnic affinity, and most of all-religion, which incorporates all three, that matter most. Always. Anyone who reads a history book going back 4000 years would come to that conclusion. Our academic and intellectual elites, having sold their souls to secular ideologies that failed (like scientific socialism) are now left with only social science gobbledy gook of the sort that Friedman spouts as their last remaining argument. But that is wrong too. There are many ways of being wrong, and the Obama crowd backed by its academic friends is hitting all of them.

      Ayatollah Khameini – a Shiite Islamist, Qassem Soleimani – a Persian Imperialist, Benjamin Netanyahu – a Jewish nationalist, and Naftali Bennett – a Jewish religious nationalist, and the Saudi royal family – Sunni supremacists, would all beg to differ on the causes and sources of geopolitical motivations in the MidEast and beyond. They know perfectly well why they are fighting with and against each other, and it has precisely nothing to do with modern pseudoanalysis of people like Friedman and his ilk. Prof Mead, to his credit, deviates from the mind-numbing academic norm that Friedman represents, and essentially supports the sort of argument made by the Middle eastern protagonists. Good for him. He is an independent mind amidst the sheep herd in the faculty lounge.

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