I’ve written before about America’s narcissistic foreign policy, where every independent decision made by another country that doesn’t correspond directly to American interests is perceived as some kind of affront or insult. Well, we’re not the only ones who exhibit that particular tendency. Take our good friends, the Saudis, who last week turned down a seat on the UN Security Council for which they had been actively campaigning, then claimed that they did it because they’ve been insulted by recent American efforts in the Middle East (if you ask me, this is probably total BS but at least no better than a half-truth). Today, the chief of the Saudi Intelligence Agency, Bandar
Bush b. Sultan (but, really, Bandar Bush), insists that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) will “reassess” its relationship with the United States on account of these perceived slights:
Prince Bandar bin Sultan told European diplomats that Washington had failed to act effectively on the Syrian crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was growing closer to Tehran, and had failed to back Saudi support for Bahrain when it crushed an anti-government revolt in 2011, the source said on Tuesday.
OK, let’s get the total garbage out of the way: Saudi Arabia is not reassessing its close ties with America, if such a thing is happening at all and this isn’t just rhetorical bluster, because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. KSA and Israel have probably never been tighter with one another, mostly because they’re on the same side with respect to Iran (the “let’s get America to bomb them!” side, to be specific) and generally on the anti-Assad side with respect to Syria (although they presumably have different opinions about who or what should succeed him there). Meanwhile, US-Israeli relations are ebbing at the hands of two leaders who pretty much hate each other’s rotten guts. So people are expected to believe that now, in 2013, after the conflict has gone on for decades, that the Saudis have finally had enough and are breaking their ties to America over it? No, sorry. I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but I’m not that dull.
What you’re left with is a sort of plaintive whine that America isn’t taking KSA’s trash out for them as well as it used to, so KSA is irritated. The Saudis’ two major complaints are that we haven’t gone to war in Syria and that we’re backing off from bombing Iran. Hey, here’s an idea; fight your own wars, maybe? All the Gulf monarchies essentially depend on the US military to fight for them and defend them if need be; if Iran suddenly goes to war with Qatar, say, over control their shared South Pars/North Dome natural gas field, it won’t be the Qatari military taking on the Iranians. Or, heck, the next time some Iraqi leader gets the idea to roll into Kuwait and threaten Saudi oil fields, I’m betting the Saudi military response will be pretty much like the last time that happened. The thing is, Iran isn’t attacking anybody and doesn’t actually have the nuclear weapons program everybody’s so scared about. American interests are far better served by negotiating with the Rouhani government as long as they continue to be credible negotiating partners, because a peaceful resolution that lifts sanctions and boosts the Iranian economy can help to cement the current popular reform trend in Iranian politics. As far as Syria is concerned, the Saudis are providing massive aid to Sunni jihadis, who are nominally on the same “we hate Assad” team as America’s preferred Free Syrian Army but whose takeover of Syria would indisputably be worse, for US interests, than leaving Assad in power. Why would we want to rattle our sabers in either of these cases on KSA’s behalf, exactly?
The Saudis’ final complaint is that America didn’t enthusiastically support KSA’s move to crush the popular uprising in Bahrain. Well, gosh, that’s a missed opportunity there. Maybe give us some more lead time the next time you’re planning on brutalizing some protesters and we’ll be able to rearrange our schedule? Meanwhile, it’s just possible that our long-term goals in the Middle East are not going to be well served by supporting a violent crackdown against people protesting against an authoritarian regime. Maybe.
You can add to this list, though Bandar left it off, the fact that America hasn’t played along on KSA’s Egyptian adventure, since we didn’t cut aid to Egypt after the Muslim Brotherhood was freely elected but now seem to be planning to cut some aid to the military junta (and all it took was the government killing a thousand or so protesters for us to sort-of enforce our own laws, go figure). The Saudis, bitterly opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood, have pledged serious aid to el-Sisi’s government and, aside from the ideological grip with America’s decision to scale back its assistance, they may be pissed at the possibility that they’ll have to shell out even more money to make up for whatever American aid is cut. Well, again, sorry, but compromising long-term American interests in the region (i.e., promoting democracy) just to keep the Saudi monarchy happy may not be worth it.
So, hey, if (and I stress if because this whole thing is probably bluster) the Saudis have had enough and are going to go shopping for a new heavy to project its power on their behalf and to fight their wars for them even to the detriment of its own national interests, then, like the title of this post says, good luck with that.