Saturday, April 23, 2016

Some Thoughts On Saudi Arabia's Relationship With The United States

It was pretty much unprecedented when the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince told the Saudi oil negotiators what they were going to do at Doha. Going back at least as far as Yamani, the Petroleum Minister and his technocrats called the shots with limited interference from the Royals.
The first couple paragraphs of this piece give some explanation of why young Muhammad bin Salman was able to get away with it.

Deeper into the article the writer seems to misconstrue the power relationships between U.S. politicians and the Kingdom. The individual American pols of both parties, and especially the folks at the Department of State, have great respect for the Saud clan's wealth.

From The Independent:

Saudi Arabia may be in for a nasty shock when Obama steps down
The mood in the US is changing as politicians and the media explore Saudi links to 9/11 terror attacks  
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks with Oman's Deputy Prime Minister Sayyid Fahd bin Mahmoud al Said (L), Saudi Arabia's King Salman (2nd R) and Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa (R) during the summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 
Foreign leaders visiting King Salman of Saudi Arabia have noticed that there is a large flower display positioned just in front of where the 80-year-old monarch sits. On closer investigation, the visitors realised that the purpose of the flowers is to conceal a computer which acts as a teleprompter, enabling the King to appear capable of carrying on a coherent conversation about important issues.

One visiting US delegation meeting with King Salman recently observed a different method of convincing visitors – or at least television viewers watching the encounter – that he can deal with the escalating crises facing Saudi Arabia. The king did not look at the group but at a giant television screen hanging from the ceiling of the room on which was appearing prompts. Simon Henderson, the Saudi expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who tells the story, writes that off to one side in the room was an aide who “furiously hammered talking points into a keyboard".

Of course, King Salman is not the only world leader past or present whose inability to cope has been artfully concealed by aides and courtiers. But eyewitness accounts of his incapacity does put in perspective the claim by the White House that President Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia and two hour meeting with the king on 20 April was “cordial” and cleared the air after a troubled period in Saudi-US relations.

It is hardly a secret that real authority is shifting to Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef and his son, Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman. But the power vacuum does help explain the bizarre and self-destructive nature of present-day Saudi foreign policy that suddenly shifted from cautious use of Saudi Arabia’s vast oil wealth to further its aims, while always keeping its options open, to a militarised and confrontational pursuit of foreign policy objectives.

It is not exactly that the Saudi's priorities have changed, but that the means being used to achieve them are far riskier than in the past. Since King Salman succeeded to the throne, Saudi Arabia has escalated its involvement in the war in Syria and engaged directly in an air war in Yemen. Both ventures have failed: greater support for armed opposition to President Bashar al-Assad in Syria early last year allowed the rebels to advance, but also provoked direct Russian military intervention, making Assad very difficult to displace.  Bombing Yemen has not forced the Houthi opposition out of the capital Sanaa and, where the Houthis have retreated, there is chaos which al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has used to set up their own mini-state on the south coast of Yemen.

The Saudi leaders are more or less openly saying that they are waiting for the departure of President Obama from the White House to resume their status of most favoured ally of the US. The permanently anti-Saudi bias of the present administration, though usually verbal rather than operational, came across clearly in the interviews with Mr Obama and his top officials in the Atlantic by Jeffrey Goldberg.  He says that “in the White House these days, one occasionally hears Obama’s National Security Officials pointedly reminding visitors that the large majority of 9/11 hijackers were not Iranian, but Saudi"....MORE