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Saudi Recklessness Exposes Our Own

The New Year’s execution by Saudi Arabia of the Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr was a deliberate provocation.

Its first purpose: Signal the new ruthlessness and resolve of the Saudi monarchy where the power behind the throne is the octogenarian King Salman’s son, the 30-year-old Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman. Second, crystallize, widen, and deepen a national-religious divide between Sunni and Shiite, Arab and Persian, Riyadh and Tehran. Third, rupture the rapprochement between Iran and the United States and abort the Iranian nuclear deal.

The provocation succeeded in its near-term goal. An Iranian mob gutted and burned the Saudi embassy, causing diplomats to flee, and Riyadh to sever diplomatic ties. From Baghdad to Bahrain, Shiites protested the execution of a cleric who, while a severe critic of Saudi despotism and a champion of Shiite rights, was not convicted of inciting revolution or terror.

In America, the reaction has been divided.


The Wall Street Journal rushed [1], sword in hand, to the side of the Saudi royals: “The U.S. should make clear to Iran and Russia that it will defend the Kingdom from Iranian attempts to destabilize or invade.” The Washington Post was disgusted. In an editorial [2], “A Reckless Regime,” it called the execution risky, ruthless and unjustified.

Yet there is a lesson here.

Like every regime in the Middle East, the Saudis look out for their own national interests first. And their goals here are to first force us to choose between them and Iran, and then to conscript U.S. power on their side in the coming wars of the Middle East.

Thus the Saudis went AWOL from the battle against ISIS and al-Qaida in Iraq and Syria. Yet they persuaded us to help them crush the Houthi rebels in Yemen, though the Houthis never attacked us and would have exterminated al-Qaeda. Now that a Saudi coalition has driven the Houthis back toward their northern basecamp, ISIS and al-Qaeda have moved into some of the vacated terrain. What kind of victory is that—for us?

In the economic realm, also, the Saudis are doing us no favors. While Riyadh is keeping up oil production and steadily bringing down the world price on which Iranian and Russian prosperity hangs, the Saudis are also crippling the U.S. fracking industry they fear.

The Turks, too, look out for number one. The Turkish shoot-down of that Russian fighter-bomber, which may have intruded into its airspace for 17 seconds, was both a case in point and a dangerous and provocative act.

Had Vladimir Putin chosen to respond militarily against Turkey, a NATO ally, his justified retaliation could have produced demands from Ankara for the United States to come to its defense against Russia. A military clash with our former Cold War adversary, which half a dozen U.S. presidents skillfully avoided, might well have been at hand.

These incidents raise some long-dormant but overdue questions. What exactly is our vital interest in a permanent military alliance that obligates us to go to war on behalf of an autocratic ally as erratic and rash as Turkey’s Tayyip Recep Erdogan?

Do U.S.-Turkish interests really coincide today? While Turkey’s half-million-man army could easily seal the Syrian border and keep ISIS fighters from entering or leaving, it has failed to do so. Instead, Turkey is using its army to crush the Kurdish PKK and threaten the Syrian Kurds who are helping us battle ISIS.

In Syria’s civil war—with the army of Bashar Assad battling ISIS and al-Qaeda—it is Russia and Iran and even Hezbollah that seem to be more allies of the moment than the Turks, Saudis, or Gulf Arabs. “We have no permanent allies … no permanent enemies … only permanent interests” is a loose translation of the dictum of the 19th century British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston.

Turkey’s shoot-down of a Russian jet and the Saudi execution of a revered Shiite cleric, who threatened no one in prison, should cause the United States to undertake a cost-benefit analysis of the alliances and war guarantees we have outstanding, many of them dating back half a century.

Do all, do any, still serve U.S. vital national interests?

In the Middle East, where the crucial Western interest is oil, and every nation—Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Libya—has to sell it to survive—no nation should be able drag us into a war not of our own choosing.

In cases where we share a common enemy, we should follow the wise counsel of the Founding Fathers and entrust our security, if need be, to “temporary,” but not “permanent” or “entangling alliances.”

Moreover, given the myriad religious, national and tribal divisions between the nations of the Middle East, and within many of them, we should continue in the footsteps of our fathers, who kept us out of such wars when they bedeviled the European continent of the 19th century.

This hubristic Saudi blunder should be a wake-up call for us all.

Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority. [3] Copyright 2015 Creators.com.

9 Comments (Open | Close)

9 Comments To "Saudi Recklessness Exposes Our Own"

#1 Comment By JohnG On January 5, 2016 @ 1:15 am

Excellent article, in a sharp contrast, yet again (!), with the nonsense that the nitwits at WSJ (and probably NR and WS) are pushing. How on earth can one support beheadings of regime critics and then turn around and pretend to champion human rights and democracy?

NOTHING that the Donald says can feed extremism more than this hard evidence of our deeply hypocritical foreign policy. An additional argument for how urgent it is to come to our senses in the ME, besides everything referenced in this article.

#2 Comment By EliteCommInc. On January 5, 2016 @ 8:22 am

Excuse my broken record.

Removing Pres. Hussein was completely foolish.
In many ways we have forced our own hand. And the cards are not all that helpful.

#3 Comment By Fred Bowman On January 5, 2016 @ 11:31 am

Unfortunately the warmonger call the shots in the US,and to keep their profits up, wars must be fought without any thought of victory or peace. Just another day in the Empire called America.

#4 Comment By balconesfault On January 5, 2016 @ 11:34 am

Hear hear!

It is clear that the millenia long civil war between Shia and Sunni is bubbling up again. And while the US may have helped catalyze this with our invasion of Iraq, we certainly aren’t in any way, shape or form responsible for it.

You’re being too generous when noting the Saudis went AWOL from the battle against ISIS and al-Qaida in Iraq and Syria. It’s clear that much of the funding over the years for al-Qaida and then ISIS came from Saudi sources, and I’ve yet to see any evidence that the monarchy did anything to stop this flow of money.

I know we feel sorry for those Muslims who just want to live their lives in a peaceful way, worshiping Allah, without being wrapped up in sectarian violence. And even moreso for those poor Christians caught in the crossfire (although I suspect that the greatest danger to ME Christians comes not from Muslim animosity towards their populations, but rather radical Muslims knowing that they can use violence against Christians as a way of goading the West into doing something stupid).

But in the long term, it’s going to benefit the US if we’re viewed as neutral to the Sunni/Shia civil war. Throwing gasoline on the situation (or bombs, whatever) isn’t likely to produce the results we want … and frankly I’m not even sure what results we really want.

#5 Comment By bacon On January 5, 2016 @ 5:53 pm

“…the Saudis are also crippling the US fracking industry…” That’s probably true, but how should we feel about it? Fracking provides jobs, reduces our trade deficit, brings us back to status as a player in global energy policy, yes, but all that is today’s news. Fracking is also an environmental disaster. The industry may be able to tamp down news of people in Colorado who can burn the tap water in their kitchen sinks and claim it’s because of unrelated earthquakes or alien intervention or whatever, but nobody really believes that. Fracking uses precious water and leaves it so polluted that returning it to drinkable condition is impossible in economic terms. It ruins roads and other infrastructure. It may create earthquake hazard in areas previously free from such problems. Put more concisely, fracking is a short term good which results in a long term bad, a bad which is bad enough that whatever good we get from it today won’t begin to pay for future cost.

The Saudis don’t, and never have, set oil production levels to benefit the US or any other country. But time to time we may get a benefit anyway. Killing our fracking industry would be a benefit, not to us but to our grandchildren.

#6 Comment By EliteCommInc. On January 5, 2016 @ 7:56 pm

Ohhh good grief,

We execute innocent people. What is more telling to me is that Iranians apparently still think the answer to their political disagreements is to raid embassies.

Trying to decipher who should be beheading who by two governments who use beheadings as a means of capital punishment might be cause for challenging capital punishment and a review of criminal justice processes.

But making this a case for or against the Saudis because Iranians are upset by it does not hold much water. Making contentions about ISIS/ISIL or Al Qaeda (which is not the Al Qaeda) we should be at all concerned about as to 9/11). Given what we now know about how those groups most likely came about, there’s not much of a case against them. In two instances now the Saudis have been given rather shrift examination. I guess the Iranian agitators who advocated for help in removing Mossedehq, who got ousted after Mossedeqh’s ousters pestered the west to impose economic freezes on the country’s assets with horrifying tales of woe. Which exacerbated the conditions making the Ayatollah the main man and the Shah persona non grata, who now make up the band of voices impugning Saudi Arabia as bad actors.


It never dawns on us to this day that we are being played for all we are worth.

I have checked my bank account, and as ever, no petrodollars have arrived. I am as ever, one event away from living in my car again.

#7 Comment By DesTex On January 5, 2016 @ 11:36 pm

Mr Buchanan,
I havent read any more lucid commentary on the middle east situation anywhere in the media. You hit the nail straight on the head.

We have nothing in common with the barbaric monarchy of Saudi Arabia. And we sure as hell should not get dragged into a war on their behalf. These sub-humans have beheaded (publicly) more people this year than ISIS.

#8 Comment By Kevin Beck On January 7, 2016 @ 7:38 pm

As far as I am concerned, we are not getting any positive results from all our efforts in the Middle East. They keep being fed our money, yet we never get any loyalty back. Instead, we get hate.

Well, Saudi Arabia’s current war on American oil continues, maybe we will see the good in about six more years, when that corrupt kingdom bankrupts itself.

#9 Comment By Minnesota Mary On January 10, 2016 @ 2:26 pm

Kevin, when the Saudi Arabians bankrupt their country, guess who will be bailing them out?