The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Fed-Up Saudis Look to Russia

2008-07-14_Владимир_Путин,_Бандар_Аль-Сауд 15-48-37-869

Talk about a cry for help. The Saudis have apparently judged President Obama to be rudderless in his Middle East policies, judging by their recent diplomatic moves toward Russia: They appear to have plied Putin with a deal to collude in the global oil market, while also urging him to distance himself from Syria’s Butcher Assad.

Rumors that Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia had met with Putin in July have been swirling about for weeks, but the Kremlin has now acknowledged that the meeting did in fact take place. Details of what was exactly discussed have been sparse so far, but now Lebanese newspaper As-Safir reports on specifics:

[Prince] Bandar [bin Sultan al-Saud] discussed the potential cooperation between the two countries if an understanding could be reached on a number of issues, especially Syria. He discussed at length the matter of oil and investment cooperation, saying, “Let us examine how to put together a unified Russian-Saudi strategy on the subject of oil. The aim is to agree on the price of oil and production quantities that keep the price stable in global oil markets. … We understand Russia’s great interest in the oil and gas present in the Mediterranean Sea from Israel to Cyprus through Lebanon and Syria. And we understand the importance of the Russian gas pipeline to Europe. We are not interested in competing with that. We can cooperate in this area as well as in the areas of establishing refineries and petrochemical industries. The kingdom can provide large multi-billion-dollar investments in various fields in the Russian market. What’s important is to conclude political understandings on a number of issues, particularly Syria and Iran….

The key to the relations between our two countries starts by understanding our approach to the Syrian issue. So you have to stop giving [the Syrian regime] political support, especially at the UN Security Council, as well as military and economic support. And we guarantee you that Russia’s interests in Syria and on the Mediterranean coast will not be affected one bit. In the future, Syria will be ruled by a moderate and democratic regime that will be directly sponsored by us and that will have an interest in understanding Russia’s interests and role in the region.”

This is jaw-dropping stuff, to say the least. Nothing was signed in this closed-door meeting between Putin and Bandar—Putin requested time for both countries to look into the specifics of such a deal. But the mere fact that our allies felt like they needed to go this route signals that something is seriously awry in President Obama’s Middle East approach.

[Prince Bandar bin Sultan al-Saud and President Putin image courtesy of Wikimedia]

Published on August 27, 2013 5:45 pm
  • Anthony

    “What we can learn today from the prolonged crisis in the Middle East is that regional powers are increasingly trying to replace the US as a force for order.” Saudis are actively trying to engage that role and may help shine light on Prince Bandar’s Russian/Putin visit. Nevertheless, United States’ backdrop cannot be easily replaced.

    • Andrew Allison

      I beg to differ. IMHO, what we learn is that the only way to contain tribalism is an iron fist. Surely the current catastrophe in the Mid-East and its predecessors in the Balkans, etc., make that clear. The mistake that the US, in particular, makes is to assume that the cultural melting pot which existed until a couple of decades ago works elsewhere.

      If it doesn’t work here (see the increasing antagonism between racial groups in the US), why would it work anywhere else?

    • Anthony

      Addendum: opinions of tribalism/racial antagonism are not point of quote. United States since WWII provided backdrop for regional stability. Now others, in region enduring both transformation and conflict, are trying to forge some new order with stability – whether Saudis and others are successful…

  • Andrew Allison

    Jaw-dropping indeed! It may, however, be more a matter of pragmatism than disgust for the inneffectual incompetents at State. Russia and the Saudis share a common problem, namely that their dominant positions in the oil and gas business are threatened by soaring US production and the increasing interest in fracking elsewhere. The Saudis have a, for them, much more serious problem in form of the spreading Shite/Sunni religious war, with which they are obviously trying to persuade Russia to help them out by helping topple Assad. They would do well to remember that, “He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon”.

  • Corlyss

    Just when you thought Dear Leader’s Vision, or lack thereof, couldn’t produce any worse results, . . . Russia was basically eliminated from the middle east until Doofus unlocked the bear’s cage, threw open the door, spread a carpet, and invited it back into the region.

    • Andrew Allison

      Wanna cracker? ;<)}

  • bpuharic

    Let’s see…today, WRM recommended we send US troops to Syria

    That alone should tell you about his analytical skills in the Middle East.

    Russia’s been doing in the Middle East what the GOP does in congress: nothing.

    Let the Russians eat hummus. Good luck to them. See if they can repeat their success in Afghanistan. Let them bankroll the middle east and spend their blood and their money

    Couldn’t happen to a better country.

  • Jim__L

    The real mistake here was for the GOP to allow sequestration to be written with cuts to defense, rather than across-the-board cuts. Our influence and diplomatic position degrades.

    This is the further unraveling of the Pax Americana.

    Soon, other countries’ moves will include not only “soft” power defeats for US interests, but hard power defeats as well.

    • mark abrams

      sequestration decreases the rate of growth of the federal government . It isnt a cut .

      • Jim__L

        Defense spending is down by double-digit percentages since BHO took office. These are not just ME drawdowns, these are real cuts to programs that keep our country the most powerful country on Earth.

        • bpuharic

          I guess listening to Rush (PBUH) means you can lie and no one is supposed to question you

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_budget_of_the_United_States

          2009/2010 defense spending was up 3 percent.

          As to the ‘most powerful on earth’, yeah, let’s bankrupt ourselves paying for about half the entire world’s defense budget.

          right wingers think you solve a problem by throwing money at it.

    • f1b0nacc1

      And the hysterics coming out of DOD don’t stand up to any serious examination. The manpower levels in each of the branches are declining, and since manpower costs are overwhelming drivers of spending levels, there is plenty of room to cut without significant (or indeed, any) impact. Keep in mind that much of the whining you are hearing comes from individuals (either in the executive branch, who are by fiat opposed to the sequester as a matter of policy, or in the legislature, where the loss of pork is an existential crisis) who have a vested interest in opposing ANY cuts at all for any reason.
      I am about the biggest hawk you are going to find, and even I can concede that we simply have no choice but to cut back. Yes, there are areas of the defense budget that shouldn’t be trimmed overmuch, but there is plenty of room to be cutting waste in our current defense spending.

      • Jim__L

        Friday furloughs? Relying on reservists (when they can get them) to do essential maintenance? Navy ships in port rather than on operations?

        These are not evidence of “fat to be cut”. They’re cutting through muscle and bone.

        • f1b0nacc1

          Only because they refuse to cut spending in areas that are attractive to their bureaucratic interests. The scale of unnecessary workforce in the pentagon has to be seen to be believed, yet none of that is going to be cut. The archipelago of useless bases, the worthless weapon systems (the F-35, the LCS, etc.) which run into multiple hundreds of billions of dollars will not be touched.
          This is an old Washington game called the “Washington Monument strategy”, whereby one cuts the most visible expenditures that will shock the public (for instance, closing the Washington Monument) in order to discredit the idea of cuts in the first place. The ‘crats in the Pentagon are simply playing budgetary hardball….

  • Blaton Hardey

    The Saudis are men of business and power. So is Putin. Obama has a twisted understanding of both. Businessmen have no time for clowneries like human rights and R2P.

  • Matt B

    I’m dumbfounded. One administration is undoing the work of generations. Did anyone in the US ask for this?

  • tarentius

    Oh, come on now. This is Alice in Wonderland stuff. The Saudis hope to capture support from Russia over Syria by promising Russia that any future Syria will have a” moderate and democratic regime”. Since when did the Saudis, a despotic monarchy, and Russia, a thugocracy, care about promoting moderate democratic regimes? And why would that be in either’s interest?
    Realistically what is happening is that the alliance (for lack of a better word) going back to FDR between the US and the Saudis is fracturing under the weight of fracking. The only thing holding that alliance together was oil – the need for Saudis to have a stable market and the US to have a stable supplier. Take that away and factor in the dominant struggle in the Middle East which is Sunni vs. Shiite and the US and Saudi alliance no longer makes sense. The idea that there is a shared interest between the US and the Saudis over anything but oil is ludicrous.
    Quire frankly, I look forward to a fracturing of the US/Saudi alliance. They are not our friends and do not support our values. They differ from the Shiites only in the type of fanatical Islam they would force on the world.

  • rheddles

    The Only national interest we have in the Middle East is oil. Then the Sauds finance and export Wahabbism and terrorism with the petrodollars they get from EUrope and us. If they want to team up with Russia to sell to China instead, I say more power to them. At least no one will be able to deny what they are. Now if we can only achieve the same level of transparency with oilless but oily Pakistan.

  • Carey J

    The traditional Saudi way of dealing with enemies is to buy them off. They’ve been paying off their Islamist freaks ever since the freaks took over the Grand Mosque back in 1979, giving them money to be freaks somewhere else. Essentially dumping their theological toxic waste on the rest of the world.

    What America should do, is get self-sufficient in petroleum and gut the Persian Gulf states.

  • Donald Sensing

    This was entirely foreseeable and foreseen. I wrote 11 days ago that this was coming and I don’t think I was the first one.

    I also wrote this, and I will immodestly point out that you did see it here first:

    “It is not impossible to imagine even Israel gravitating toward Moscow, although it will never do so overtly. The Islamic threat to Israel gives Moscow and Jerusalem a natural affinity of interests. With Riyadh and Moscow being buddies, the Israeli government may even think that triangulating between the two capitals would make strategic sense.”

    http://senseofevents.blogspot.com/2013/08/will-obama-bring-middle-east-into.html

    • bpuharic

      Can’t happen. Moscow has too much of an incentive to sell Israel down the river and Israel knows it. Islamism is a worldwide threat, unless you’ve forgotten 9/11.

  • Arch

    If only we had a rational administration, they would see the immediate need to drill on Federal land, increase the Strategic Petroleum Reserve by an order of magnitude, build a fleet of liquified natural gas tankers, encourage increased coal mining and start exporting. We could guarantee stable energy supplies to us and our allies. Coal could do wonders for emerging markets in Africa. These actions would also destroy energy leverage used by Russia in Northern Europe and the Middle East states on the world petroleum market.

    However, if a frog had longer legs, he wouldn’t bump his a$$.

    • bpuharic

      Of course, the fact domestic oil production is the highest it’s been in decades?

      Let’s not let facts interfere with right wing Obama bashing. It’s such FUN!

      • Arch

        In spite of Obama.

  • jb willikers

    “.. something is seriously awry in President Obama’s Middle East approach.” AWRY? Mead is too smart not to try to take the log out of his eye.

  • purusha

    I miss the Walter Russel Mead who was a foreign policy expert rather than a Limbaugh-level anti-Obama fanatic.

    • bpuharic

      About time someone said this. I read his book “Special Providence” and was impressed by the level of sharp analytical insight it contained.

      The blog not so much

  • https://www.facebook.com/ritchietheriveter Ritchie The Riveter

    This has the potential to make the mid-1970′s cast of OPEC look downright genteel in terms of global economic disruption, especially given Putin’s history of turning off the heat in Europe to make the occasional geopolitical point.

    And trolls … when you market your leader as a Messiah, don’t be surprised when others hold him/her to that standard. Mr. Obama is supposed to be so much smarter than the rest of us … why didn’t he foresee this and take steps to prevent this collusion and the economic threat it poses?

    Then again, others restricting access to energy might help his moribund “green energy” agenda along, at our expense … a crisis that he would not let go to waste, y’know.

    Despite their erudition …
    And academic pedigree …
    The Best and the Brightest look instead
    Like a box of Dim Bulbs to me …

    • bpuharic

      Sorry sport, the only prophet of god around here is Rush (PBUH) that the right wing worships and adores as he spews his venomous hatred of America.

      Guess you haven’t noticed America is pumping more oil that it has in decades.

      But don’t let the facts deter you from your hatred of Obama. What else do you have in your life besides your own failures?

      • https://www.facebook.com/ritchietheriveter Ritchie The Riveter

        We would be in a far stronger position to stand up to any collusion from OPEC/Putin, were it not for Progressives like Obama sacrificing that position on the altar of the Cult of Climate Change and Profit-phobia.

        As Arch said, what progress we have is IN SPITE of Obama.

        But don’t let the facts deter you from continuing to fling your droppings of Progressive parrotage that helped put us in this position …

        … wanna cracker?

        • bpuharic

          The right doesn’t even accept evolution. Now you’re putting on your pointy wizard hat to invoke magic about climate change?

          Spare me your voodoo incantations. Go back to your eye of newt and wing of bat view of the world