CHARLOTTE, NC: For as long as we can remember, the United States has been living under the misguided illusion that Saudi Arabia is one our best allies in the Arabic Middle East. Within the past several weeks, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed those ideas with a strongly worded Wall Street Journal op-ed defense of Donald Trump’s relations with Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, frequently referred to as MBS.
Reiterating Trump’s opinion, Pompeo described the Kingdom as a “spectacular ally.”
One need only spend a short, but intense, amount of time in the oil-rich deserts of Saudi Arabia to understand very quickly that Western perceptions of its importance have been greatly exaggerated thanks in large part to their deceptive tactics.
The Middle East Jugglers
The best way to think about the Saudis is to view them as Middle Eastern jugglers who have at least three balls in the air at any given time. Regardless of who they are dealing with, it is possible to negotiate for two of the three but they will never compromise the third.
The key to the metaphor is that the Saudis can, and will, happily change which two balls you control at any given time without notice. That is not to say it is impossible to negotiate with the Saudis, only that there needs to be a third eye in the back of your head to observe what they are doing back there.
Saudi Arabia always puts Saudi interests first.
The only time you will get concessions is when they are backed into a corner with no way out.
If you don’t believe it. Just look at how “friendly” they have become with Israel. Why? Because they know that Iran is a bigger threat to their stability. The Saudis are cowards with the financial resources to pay for protection from stronger more powerful nations such as the U.S.
And that’s where the “illusion” of alliance derives its foundation.
Even someone as savvy as Trump at reading the tea leaves is being snookered if what his secretary of state says is true.
Five Misconceptions about Saudi Arabia
Here are five misconceptions about Saudi Arabia, which is typical of the way they negotiate. They always contain an element of truth followed by a “Yes, but…” response.
In a December 4th story by Politico.com, the online social media outlet noted several inaccuracies:
“The Kingdom is a powerful source for stability in the Middle East”
Were it not for two major factors, the Saudis would be regarded lower on the Middle East totem pole than the Palestinians; oil and the birthplace of Islam.
The crown prince has created an image of being a reformer in the region and the West has taken the bait.
The truth is that MBS could easily stand for “More Butane, Sir” rather than Muhammed bin Salman because everything he has touched has added fuel to an already hot fire.
With the Saudi blockade on Yemen, an estimated 85.000 children face famine and starvation along with a massive outbreak of cholera.
As Politico points out “MBS…cannot achieve military victory but will not admit defeat.”
The Saudi strategy; create a diversion by making the world believe Iran is the greatest Middle Eastern threat, then let the U.S. handle the military consequences. (Two balls out of three)
“Saudi Arabia…recognizes the…threat the Islamic Republic of Iran poses to the world”
“Yes, but”… MBS has used the Iranian Card as justification to his citizens to cover over abuses of power while gathering support for Saudi nationalism. Unfortunately for MBS, his tactics have had a reverse effect and, in the process, have strengthened Iran’s influence.
There can be no doubt the Saudis have legitimate fears from Iran, but negotiating in good faith and telling the whole story would have been a better option.
As usual, there is truth and then there is Saudi-truth which is far from the same thing.
“The Crown Prince is a reformer who is moving his country in the right direction”
“Yes, but” MBS has also introduced changes in which he has incorporated the impression of cracking down on corruption. Corruption solved by imprisoning activists, journalists, and bloggers. At the same time, women can now attend soccer games and are able to drive in the Kingdom.
Those non-impact positive changes garnered far more media attention than the arrests. Thus establishing MBS’ image as being a true modern reformer.
“Saudi Arabia is establishing stronger ties with Israel”
“Yes but”… like the Prophet Muhammad’s revelations of convenience, so too, is the Saudi alliance with Israel. It’s another two balls out of three strategy created from Saudi paranoia.
It’s easy to see that Israel offers a stronger military defense against Iran than anyone else in the region. So why not play nice with the Jews, for the time being at least?
The “fear factor” plays an all-important role in this situation. Emerging interests between Israel and Sunni Arabs in Saudi Arabia is the result of genuine fears of jihad and a more powerful Iran.
For the Saudis, the trick may lie in a pact between Israel and Palestine. The Saudis would like to see it happen. However they will not throw their fellow Arabs under the bus to give Iran even greater propaganda leverage.
“Saudi oil production and economic stability are keys to regional prosperity and global energy security”
“Yes, but”…not as much as in the past. Even as far back as 2003, the Saudis were aware of their dwindling oil reserves. Therefore they began focusing more heavily on natural gas production.
The Saudis still account for about 13% of the world’s crude oil production. However, its share in the global market has declined dramatically over the past decade. With that decline, so has influence in the oil marketplace. Which could be a serious problem in the future for the Arab desert nation.
If by chance Saudi Arabia loses too much of its dominance in oil and also relinquishes Mecca to Iran, they could become a footnote in the sand dunes of history.
They know it all too well, and so should we.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor is an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is the founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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