December 18 2013
Saudi Reset: The Kingdom Will Be More Assertive
It’s not every day that an ambassador from a country that has been an ally of the United States for nearly a century takes to the pages of the New York Times to say, essentially, “We’re breaking up.”
But that is what Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz al Saud, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., has done. In a piece headlined “Saudi Arabia Will Go It Alone,” he writes:
Saudi Arabia has been friends with our Western partners for decades; for some, like the United Kingdom where I serve as ambassador, for almost a century. These are strategic alliances that benefit us both. Recently, these relationships have been tested — principally because of differences over Iran and Syria.
We believe that many of the West’s policies on both Iran and Syria risk the stability and security of the Middle East. This is a dangerous gamble, about which we cannot remain silent, and will not stand idly by. …
The foreign policy choices being made in some Western capitals risk the stability of the region and, potentially, the security of the whole Arab world. This means the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has no choice but to become more assertive in international affairs: more determined than ever to stand up for the genuine stability our region so desperately needs.
Saudi Arabia has enormous responsibilities within the region, as the cradle of Islam and one of the Arab world’s most significant political powers. We have global responsibilities — economic and political — as the world’s de facto central banker for energy. And we have a humanitarian responsibility to do what we can to end the suffering in Syria.
We will act to fulfill these responsibilities, with or without the support of our Western partners. Nothing is ruled out in our pursuit of sustainable peace and stability in the Arab World as King Abdullah — then Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince — showed with his leadership of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Saudis are anything but sweethearts. Human rights abuses are rampant. Their reported offer to foot the bills if the U.S. would use force to intervene in Syria was insulting, treating the U.S. as if we were a nation of mercenaries. Nevertheless, they probably know a lot more about the Middle East than President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.
Of course, what the Saudi leaders want is to preserve their kingdom. But their criticisms—mild word—of what the U.S. is doing in the region ring true. The U.S. is striking a deal that will allow Iran to get closer to their goal of having a nuclear weapon. The bloodstained dictator of Syria, an ally of Iran, is now our ally in trying to rid the country of chemical weapons. Certainly without intervening militarily, the U.S. might have given more support to rebels in the early days of the Syrian war. We have, however, waited much too late for that. The rebels are now worse than the regime.
We missed our opportunity in Iran when dissidents rose up against the Iranian regime early in the president's tenure. President Obama’s desire to negotiate with the mullahs at all costs is likely what led him to remain largely silent when Iranian dissidents took to the streets. The dissidents offered a slim hope of really dealing with the problem of Iranian nukes. Why is the president so intent on deal with Iran, even if that deal doesn't do much to halt the development of nuclear weapons?
James K. Glassman and Michael Doran propose a troubling solution to the riddle of what the hell the administration’s breathless pursuit of a deal, ever how inadequate, with Iran means. We are so eager for this deal that we will do whatever it takes, even at the expense of the safety of Israel, another longstanding ally that is feeling the chill from Washington. Glassman and Doran write:
Rather than merely being feckless, the administration may actually have a long-term plan, and this initial nuclear deal is only a tactic in a broader strategy. The overall aim is a strategic partnership with Iran because the administration sees that country as the only island of stability in a sea of chaos and violence. …
Hard-bitten realists sacrifice values for stability. They make a poor tradeoff, but at least their calculation is perfectly understandable. A strategic partnership with Iran, however, is far from realistic. It represents the sacrifice of traditional allies and principles for a dream of stability that won’t be realized.
Meanwhile, as the Russians deploy high-tech missiles near the Polish border, President Obama’s decision to abandon U.S. missile-shield protections, hailed as a betrayal of Poland at the time, seem to have be bearing bitter fruit today. President Obama has three more years to remake the world, and many of our old allies shudder.
I wish President Obama would be straight with us and tell us what he wants to do. It is time for President Obama to speak up and define an Obama Doctrine. Otherwise, his foreign policy is incomprehensible, except that he does seem intent on making friends foes and vice versa.