America Should Stop Reassuring Saudi Arabia
Over the last few years Riyadh’s behavior has become more harmful to America’s interests. The monarchy has been pushing to oust Syria’s Assad without worrying about who or what would follow. To the contrary, Riyadh has subsidized and armed many of the most extreme opposition factions. Moreover, in Yemen Saudi Arabia turned a long-term insurgency into another sectarian conflict. In the process the royals have been committing war crimes and creating a humanitarian disaster.
By executing al-Nimr the KSA triggered sectarian protests in Bahrain, Iran, Iraq and Lebanon. Riyadh responded by breaking diplomatic relations with Iran, undermining political negotiations to resolve Syria’s civil war. Yet after all this Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir criticized “the mischief that Iran’s nefarious activities can do in the region.”
Of course, the fact that Riyadh is a destabilizing force does not mean that the United States should attempt regime change in Riyadh. America has proved that it isn’t very good at overseas social engineering—consider Afghanistan, Egypt, Haiti, Iraq, Kosovo, Libya, Somalia, Syria and elsewhere. But Washington should stop lavishing attention, praise, support and reassurance on the Saudi royals. Particularly important, the United States should disentangle itself militarily from the KSA, especially the latter’s misbegotten war in Yemen.
The two countries need a new, more normal relationship. Jubeir opined that “I don’t believe the United States is under any illusion as to what type of government Iran is.” Nor should Washington have any illusions about the nature of the Saudi regime. The two governments should work together when advantageous and disagree when appropriate. Sell weapons to Riyadh without committing to provide a royal bodyguard. Most important, Washington should feel no inhibition in attempting to forge a better relationship with Tehran. Balance should return to American policy in the Middle East.
Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire (Xulon).
Image: Flickr/U.S. State Department.