The Lousy Case for “Standing By” the Saudis
Bret Stephens makes a predictably unpersuasive case that the U.S. should continue to support the Saudis:
All this means that the right U.S. policy toward the Saudis is to hold them close and demonstrate serious support, lest they be tempted to continue freelancing their foreign policy in ways we might not like. It won’t happen in this administration, but a serious commitment to overthrow the Assad regime would be the place to start.
The Saudis don’t provide the U.S. with much that warrants our continued support, and so Stephens is reduced to warning about what the Saudis might do if that support were reduced or eliminated entirely. The “pro-Saudi” argument isn’t that the Saudis are actually valuable or helpful to the U.S. (they aren’t), but that they would be even more of a menace if they weren’t our client. That’s very debatable, especially when the price of “holding them close” is implicating the U.S. in an atrocious and unnecessary war in Yemen and committing the U.S. to overthrow the government in Syria. Stephens describes a more aggressive attempt to overthrow of the Assad regime as “the place to start” in improving the relationship with Riyadh. That means that in order to placate the Saudis the U.S. would subordinate our policy goals to theirs and assume costs and risks in order to achieve what the Saudis want. That has nothing to do with making the U.S. safer or the region more secure, and it would instead make the region’s upheavals worse. Whatever sense the U.S.-Saudi relationship may have once made, it no longer does now that the Saudis are dedicated to fomenting rebellion in the region and devastating their neighbors with reckless military action. The U.S. should not be abetting them in their destructive policies, and that is what a close relationship with them now seems to require.
I should say a few things about Yemen here. Stephens repeatedly refers to the Houthis in Yemen as Iran’s “proxies,” which is a gross distortion of the situation and an echo of Saudi propaganda. Not only is this false, but it wouldn’t justify what the Saudis and their allies have been doing with U.S. help even if it were true. The administration does have itself to blame for the Saudi-led war on Yemen, but not for the reason that Stephens gives (i.e., the nuclear deal.) The administration deserves blame for this war because it has reliably supported it and refused to criticize it for the last ten months. Stephens can’t even acknowledge this support because it cuts against his misleading argument for “standing by” the Saudis that the U.S. has already been shamefully supporting to the hilt.