The breach became dramatic over the past week. Last Friday, Saudi Arabia refused to take its seat on the United Nations Security Council, in what Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi intelligence chief, described as “a message for the U.S., not the U.N,” according to the Wall Street Journal. On Tuesday, Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former head of Saudi intelligence, voiced “a high level of disappointment in the U.S. government’s dealings” on Syria and the Palestinian issue, in an interview with Al-Monitor.
And the problem is broad-based, too:
What should worry the Obama administration is that Saudi concern about U.S. policy in the Middle East is shared by the four other traditional U.S. allies in the region: Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Israel. They argue (mostly privately) that Obama has shredded U.S. influence by dumping President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, backing the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, opposing the coup that toppled Morsi, vacillating in its Syria policy, and now embarking on negotiations with Iran — all without consulting close Arab allies.
The list of grievances is long. In the case of Syria, it wasn’t Obama’s fault–liberal interventionists like Samantha Powers were itching for a fight with Assad–but because the American people, another group wearying of the current Occupant, were tired of more Middle Eastern adventures. Other than that, everything else, like Obamacare, is now “owned” by same Occupant.
Although all of this has soured things, the one thing that has led the Saudis to make the break “cleaner” was the Occupant’s footsies with Tehran. Evangelicals are fed a steady diet of former Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s mantra to “wipe Israel off the map”. While I wouldn’t minimise such a threat, I wouldn’t take it at face value either. Iran’s strategic dream is to establish hegemony over the Arabian Peninsula, as I noted many years ago:
Iran’s real objective in developing nuclear weapons is to rule both sides of the Persian Gulf, and that includes Saudi Arabia. Obtaining that would also accrue to them Mecca and Medina, which would make a Shia state the guardian of the Muslim holy sites for the first time in history. It would also give them the bargaining power to do pretty much what they wanted with the West, and that would include their objectives with the State of Israel. Calling for Israel’s destruction whips up the Arab street; getting Saudi Arabia warms the hearts of the rulers.
Middle Eastern politics is not an amateurs’ game, wasn’t in Bible times, isn’t now. But foreign policy has never been this country’s strong suit. When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, the elites swooned because they thought we had, at last, left our boorish provincialism behind. But that was only possible if we had left them behind. That too, given the right circumstances, can be arranged as well.