Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy has always been concerned with one aim, political survival.
Since its creation in 1933, with the aid of the British Colonial Office in the Arabian Peninsula, political analysts have frequently predicted the imminent collapse of the Kingdom. All of them have been proved wrong.
In large part, the key to Saudi’s survival has been its special relationship with the U.S., as enshrined within the Redline Agreement after the First World War, offering the U.S. exclusive rights to Saudi oil exploration.
And yet, in the 1980s and at the turn of the 21st century, Saudi Arabia made decisions that unwittingly limited their political options.
First, as Peter Schweitzer revealed in his cold war history, Victory, during the Reagan administration, the Saudis worked with the director of the CIA William J. Casey on a plan to bring down the Soviet Union, by increasing Saudi crude oil production to trigger a collapse in global oil prices. This made it impossible for the Soviets to maintain their union and stifled its ability to sustain support for countries like Cuba, Afghanistan and Nicaragua.
This wasn’t entirely in Saudi Arabia’s interest: the collapse of the Soviet Union deprived the Saudis of an alternative superpower with whom it could work, in certain circumstances, to safeguard its own interests.
Two decades later, the Saudis supported the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, and provided military bases to the U.S. Army. Iraq was destroyed. This deprived the Saudis of a powerful regional ally: during the Eighties, Iraq used its military might to contain the regional ambitions of Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic revolution, and in doing so, safeguarded the stability of the Kingdom and the whole Gulf region.
Today, Saudi Arabia stands alone, with no longer a reliable and a loyal Egyptian regime, or Iraq to help guarantee its sovereignty. It is effectively under the mercy of Iran’s regional influences, as manifested in the predominantly Pro-Iranian regimes of Nouri Al-Maliki, Bashar Assad, Hezbollah and the Hothy Shia Tribe, throughout Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
The current U.S. administration’s flirtation with Iran adds an extra burden to the predicament of the Saudis. It is a strategic policy of the U.S. to exploit the so called ‘Iranian Threat’ to foment fear and get the Gulf States to spend vast sums on sophisticated arms that they do not need or cannot use. In 2004, the U.S. signed twenty billion dollar worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States to beef up security against an alleged increased risks posed by Iran.
The draconian domestic policies on human rights, freedom of speech and the role of women in the society, of the Saudis provide an easy excuse with which to demonize the Kingdom. This, coupled with its International cash reserves and the wealth of massive oil resources, provide an attractive platform to friends and foes alike to encourage or support local opposition groups, to destabilize the Kingdom and overthrow the monarchy.
Supporting religious extremists to gain regional or international influence can no longer work as a political option for the Saudis and may prove counterproductive in the context of the U.S. relationship with the Kingdom. However, the Saudis do have one option, to maintain stability of the Kingdom and challenge Iran’s role in the region.
This is to convince their US ally to pressurize the pro-Iranian Nouri Al-Maliki to stop pursuing vicious sectarian policies and to stop arming the Iraqi regime with weapons that are used by the Iranian Al-Qud’s Brigade Malitia to crush opposition to Al-Maliki and kill innocent civilians.
The Saudis can also offer positive and active support to the Iraqis resisting Al-Maliki’s oppressive rule. This includes the provision of military status and training camps to members of the former Iraqi National Army, disbanded by Viceroy Paul Bremmer (many of whom are refugees in neighboring Arabic countries, in fear of their lives).
In the face of potentially existential threats, a politically, economically and militarily powerful Iraq would no doubt enhance Saudi Arabia’s chances of political survival, against all the odds.
Dr. Burhan M. Al-Chalabi is a Fellow of the Royal Society and Publisher of The London Magazine.
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