Monday, December 30, 2013

U.S. Losing Saudi Arabia as an ally

James J. Coyle: U.S. losing Saudi Arabia as an ally

 By JAMES J. COYLE / For the Register

Published: Nov. 18, 2013 Updated: Dec. 2, 2013 9:28 a.m.


"Saudi Arabia cannot afford to be encircled by Iran, from Iraq and Syria. That is out of the question," said Khalid al-Dakhil, a political sociology professor at King Saud University, who has called for Saudi Arabia to become less dependent on the United States, told the New York Times in October.
In 1988, I asked a member of the Reagan administration what was being done to regain America's position in Iran. “Nothing,” was the reply. “We don't need them as long as we have Saudi Arabia.” How things have changed.
As world powers prepared to move closer to Iran, the head of Saudi intelligence (and former ambassador to the United States), Prince Bandar bin Sultan, told European diplomats that he planned to scale back Saudi cooperation with the United States in Syria. He said this move was in protest over America's policies in the Middle East. The prince promised a “major shift” in relations with the U.S., taking official Washington by surprise. It shouldn't have.
The Saudis were shocked when the United States advised its longtime ally, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, to step down during the Arab uprisings. And when the military pushed aside the Muslim Brotherhood-supported President Mohamed Morsi, the American suspension of military aid was met in Riyadh with profound disbelief. The Kingdom immediately promised to make up any aid to Egypt that the Americans cut.
Saudi Arabia answered the call of Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa in 2011 to put down Shia protesters. Military action was in direct defiance of American advice. In Iraq, America's troop withdrawal in December 2011 left a Shia-dominated government in Baghdad, and Saudi Arabia's Sunni allies out in the cold. Meetings with Iran in Geneva involving the U.S., Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France and Germany have sent a shiver of fear through the kingdom – a fear of abandonment as America seeks rapprochement with its Persian nemesis.
The final step was President Barack Obama abandoning his own red-line in Syria. Former head of Saudi intelligence (and former ambassador to the United States and Great Britain) Prince Turki bin Faisal, called the American policy “lamentable.” According to Reuters, the Prince believed the deal between the United States and Russia to be a ruse. “The current charade of international control over Bashar's chemical arsenal would be funny if it were not so blatantly perfidious. And designed not only to give Mr. Obama an opportunity to back down (from military strikes), but also to help Assad to butcher his own people.”
The king was furious at America's actions. The Saudi foreign minister canceled his address to the United Nations General Assembly, and then refused to take a coveted seat on the UN Security Council. “This was a message for the U.S., not the UN,” said Prince Bandar.
The Obama administration is downplaying the crisis. Secretary of State Kerry emerged from a meeting with his Saudi counterpart to say the foreign minister had not raised Prince Bandar's concerns. A senior American defense official said the U.S. remains “fully committed to security cooperation” with the kingdom. A senior administration official said the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have a longstanding partnership. White House spokesman Jay Carney said any disagreements would be worked out in a “candid and forthright way as we maintain the basic foundation of a very important relationship.”
Indications are, however, that the breach is a serious one. Apparently, Saudi Arabia did not warn its American ally before it took the drastic step of rejecting the Security Council seat. Prince Bandar said the Saudis would begin to work in Syria with allies such as Jordan and France, rather than the United States. Military and commercial ties are in danger. According to a Reuters' source close to Saudi policy, “The shift away from the U.S. is a major one. Saudi doesn't want to find itself any longer in a situation where it is dependent.” The source promised an impact; echoing a phrase one usually associates with American decision makers, he said “All options are on the table now.”
James J. Coyle is the director of Global Education at Chapman University and the chair of the Eurasian committee of the Pacific Council for International Policy.