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Our Friends The Saudis

Who do we have to thank for ISIS? Who do you think? Like elements of the mujahideen, which benefited from U.S. financial and military support during the Soviet war in Afghanistan and then later turned on the West in the form of al-Qaeda, ISIS achieved scale and consequence through Saudi support, only to now pose a […]

Who do we have to thank for ISIS? Who do you think?

Like elements of the mujahideen, which benefited from U.S. financial and military support during the Soviet war in Afghanistan and then later turned on the West in the form of al-Qaeda, ISIS achieved scale and consequence through Saudi support, only to now pose a grave threat to the kingdom and the region. It’s this concern about blowback that has motivated Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to encourage restraint in arming Syrian rebels. President Obama has so far heeded these warnings.

John McCain’s desire to help rebel forces toss off a brutal dictator and fight for a more just and inclusive Syria is admirable. But as has been proven repeatedly in the Middle East, ousting strongmen doesn’t necessarily produce more favorable successor governments.

What do you suppose is the likelihood that US soldiers will at some point be deployed to protect the Saudi oil fields and refineries from ISIS? This 2003 Atlantic piece by Robert Baer, a former CIA agent in the Middle East, is, of course, dated, but it’s hard to imagine that the problems he identifies with the Saudi royal family have been satisfactorily resolved. I once had a conversation with a former senior US diplomat to Saudi Arabia, who told me the problem the US faces is that every alternative to rule by the House of Saud is worse, usually much worse.

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Our Friends the Saudis

I made this point in a casual bloggy way,   so I’m very glad to see it made more rigorously by a highly regarded author and commentator.  In Time, Fareed Zakaria punctures the notion that the Saudis are the Mideastern ally which must be catered to (this has become a new neocon meme, especially useful […]

I made this point in a casual bloggy way,   so I’m very glad to see it made more rigorously by a highly regarded author and commentator.  In Time, Fareed Zakaria punctures the notion that the Saudis are the Mideastern ally which must be catered to (this has become a new neocon meme, especially useful for those who want to downplay the Israel lobby’s role in influencing American Mideast policy.) Key Zakaria graf:

If there were a prize for Most Irresponsible Foreign Policy it would surely be awarded to Saudi Arabia. It is the nation most responsible for the rise of Islamic radicalism and militancy around the world. Over the past four decades, the kingdom’s immense oil wealth has been used to underwrite the export of an extreme, intolerant and violent version of Islam preached by its Wahhabi clerics.

Quite so. There may be no sound reason to oppose  the Saudis, or even to assume their kingdom will go the way of all monarchies sooner rather than later. But treating them as a highly trusted  ally with veto power over American  diplomacy is a bit much.   Personally I was taken aback when a liberal friend, the brilliant Jim Chapin,  shortly after 9/11  described the Saudis to me as a viper clasped to our bosom, but can understand where he was coming from.  In any case, Saudi Arabia shouldn’t be granted any kind of veto power over our negotiations with Iran, any more than Taiwan had over our dealings with China.   Be friendly. . . absolutely.  Keep them informed. . . of course. Stand ready   to defend them against external aggression.   But remember, Saudi Arabia is the international affairs equivalent of the rich heir who never worked a day but gives nice parties.   A thin reed upon which to base  American diplomacy in the Mideast.

But you have to admit, it is amusing to see all this neoconservative solicitude for Saudi concerns.

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