As the Saudis’ disapproval escalates, so do the stakes in the region for the U.S.
Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former intelligence chief of Saudi Arabia, had some discouraging remarks for Washington regarding its integrity in brokering peace deals during a conference Sunday in Monaco.
It’s no secret the Saudis have been annoyed at how the U.S. has been handling its affairs in the Middle East, but the royals in Riyadh are becoming increasingly aggravated, especially when it comes to issues involving Egypt, Syria and Iran.
“We’ve seen several red lines put forward by the president, which went along and became pinkish as time grew, and eventually ended up completely white,” Turki said, according to a New York Times article published on Monday. “When that kind of assurance comes from a leader of a country like the United States, we expect him to stand by it. There is an issue of confidence.”
The U.S. was careful for decades to build a strong alliance with Saudi Arabia, securing prized energy deals and selling the Arab country billions of dollars in arms.
There has been an alliance between Gulf nations with Sunni majorities such as Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Kuwait, Turkey and Qatar in countering Iran’s influence in the region for years – especially in states like Lebanon and Syria, where Iran holds great sway, and in post-Saddam Iraq, where Shi’ites now control the government. Israel has been playing this to its advantage for years, seeing Iran as their number one enemy.
But as the Saudis’ disapproval escalates, so do the stakes in the region for the U.S. And in regard to keeping your alliances strong, “you should be able to give them the assurance that what you say is going to be what you do,” Turki went on to say, according to the Times piece.
It has been alleged that the Saudis are funding groups fighting the Assad regime in Syria in what is a multi-pronged proxy war. And it is also undeniable that Saudi citizens are leaving the country to fight in the war there, joining the more radicalized ranks of the anti-Assad and anti-Free Syrian Army forces, and further, the royals leading the country are doing virtually nothing about it.
In Egypt, Saudi Arabia publicly proclaimed they would fill whatever void the U.S. left if it withdrew any financial aid following violent clamp downs by Egypt’s military leaders on demonstrations. In fact, the Saudi’s led a stellar aid package totaling $12 billion pledged by Gulf countries since the coup that drove former President Mohamed Morsi, who was democratically elected, from power.
The pledge to Egypt by its neighbors far outbid the $1.5 billion in aid the U.S. gives annually to Egypt.
And with the diplomatic negotiations having successfully staved off military strikes against the Assad government, Saudi Arabia is looking to bolster its strength in the region and call out America on what the Saudis see as folly in the region.
But what can Obama do to make the Saudis happy?
The fact is opening up positive diplomatic ties again with the Iranian ayatollahs is something the U.S. has to do. But doing that is not going to make everyone happy – namely the Saudis and Israelis.
Next, averting American military action in Syria is something that made a lot of Americans happy, but it didn’t make the Saudis happy – and probably didn’t do much for the Israelis, who would like to see Assad pushed out of power, too.
The U.S. is walking a fine diplomatic tightrope in the Middle East right now. Never before in history has it been such a delicate time in the region. The so-called Arab Spring has created a whole new set of concerns for Washington, and it has arguably complicated the ongoing peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, which is partly what Turki, who doesn’t even hold an official position in the Saudi government, was referring to when he said American credibility in brokering peace deals was diminishing, in their opinion.
But whether it is policy on Egypt, Israel, Syria or Saudi Arabia, some state, or states, in the region are likely not to be happy with whatever decisions the U.S. makes. The Saudis obviously liked the Bushes. They were lukewarm to Obama when he took office, and now that sentiment has cooled. Whoever follows Obama will ride an even finer line, more than likely.
For now, the U.S. has to do what it can to promote democracy while not looking hypocritical at the same time. But in the end, that may not be enough.