Ap­peas­ing Iran

Why US lib­er­als don’t like Saudi Ara­bia’s lat­est moves

The Jerusalem Post - - FRONT PAGE - • By CAR­O­LINE B. GLICK

Fri­day, long-time US diplo­mats and Mid­dle East ex­perts Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokol­sky pub­lished an ar­ti­cle in For­eign Pol­icy ex­press­ing “buy­ers’ re­morse” over Saudi Ara­bia’s new­found will­ing­ness to take the lead in re­gional af­fairs.

Ti­tled, “Don­ald Trump has un­leashed the Saudi Ara­bia we al­ways wanted – and feared,” Miller and Sokol­sky note that for gen­er­a­tions, US pol­i­cy­mak­ers wanted the Saudis to take a lead in de­ter­min­ing the fu­ture of the re­gion.

In their words, “Dur­ing decades of ser­vice at the State Depart­ment, we longed for the day when riska­verse Saudi lead­ers would take greater own­er­ship in solv­ing their do­mes­tic and re­gional se­cu­rity prob­lems and re­duce their de­pen­dence on the United States.”

But now, they ar­gue, un­der the lead­er­ship of King Sal­man and his son, 32-year-old Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man, the Saudis are go­ing too far.

Do­mes­ti­cally, Miller and Sokol­sky ac­cuse Sal­man and Mo­hammed of up­set­ting the tra­di­tional power shar­ing ar­range­ments among the var­i­ous princes in or­der to con­cen­trate un­prece­dented power in Mo­hammed’s hands. This, they in­sist, harms the sta­tus of hu­man rights in the king­dom, although they ac­knowl­edge that Mo­hammed has taken steps to lib­er­al­ize the prac­tice of Is­lam in the king­dom to the ben­e­fit of women and oth­ers.

While up­set at the purge of princes, min­is­ters and busi­ness­men, Miller and Sokol­sky are much more con­cerned about the for­eign pol­icy ini­tia­tives Mo­hammed and Sal­man have un­der­taken with ev­ery­thing re­lated to coun­ter­ing Iran’s rise as a re­gional hege­mon.

In their words, “Abroad, the Saudis are en­gaged in a cold war with an op­por­tunis­tic Iran that’s ex­ploit­ing their mis­steps in Ye­men and Qatar.”

Miller and Sokol­sky note that Mo­hammed’s cam­paign to de­feat the Ira­nian-backed Houthi regime in Ye­men has been bogged down. His ef­fort – backed by US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump – to force Qatar to aban­don its pol­icy of sup­port­ing the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood and Iran has sim­i­larly come up short.

They con­tinue, “The lat­est Saudi gam­bit – pres­sur­ing the Sunni Le­banese Prime Min­is­ter Saad Hariri to re­sign in an ef­fort to ex­pose an Ira­nian- and Hezbol­lah-dom­i­nated Le­banon – is per­haps too clever by half. What are the Saudis go­ing to do, given their Shi­ite ad­ver­saries’ ad­van­tages in Syria and Le­banon, when the Le­banese find them­selves plunged into do­mes­tic cri­sis or a con­flict be­tween Is­rael and Hezbol­lah?”

The vet­eran diplo­mats con­clude their mis­sive by urg­ing Trump to im­ple­ment his pre­de­ces­sor Barack Obama’s Saudi pol­icy. In their words, Trump needs to place heavy pres­sure “on the king and his son to de-es­ca­late this con­flict and re­store equi­lib­rium to Amer­ica’s re­la­tions with Saudi Ara­bia and Iran.”

“Be­cause make no mis­take,” they warn, “Saudi in­de­pen­dence is il­lu­sory. Riyadh des­per­ately wants us to back them – and bail them out when they get in over their heads with Iran. If Wash­ing­ton is not care­ful, the Saudis will sand­bag Amer­ica into stand­ing up to Tehran while the Saudis hide be­hind its skirt.”

As if syn­chro­nized, Robert Mal­ley, Obama’s for­mer Mid­dle East ad­viser, makes a sim­i­lar ar­gu­ment in an ar­ti­cle in The At­lantic. Mal­ley took a lead role in ex­pand­ing the US’s ties with the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood, Ha­mas, Iran and Hezbol­lah dur­ing the Obama years.

There are sev­eral prob­lems with these pol­i­cy­mak­ers’ claims. The first is that in crit­i­ciz­ing the Saudis they de­lib­er­ately ig­nore the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s cen­tral role in en­gen­der­ing the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in which the Saudi regime feels com­pelled to take the ac­tions it is tak­ing.

To be clear, not­ing the role of the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion in caus­ing the rapidly es­ca­lat­ing in­sta­bil­ity of the Mid­dle East is not an ex­er­cise in de­flect­ing crit­i­cism away from the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion. The sim­ple fact is that it is im­pos­si­ble for the US to chart a ra­tio­nal course for deal­ing with the present dan­gers and op­por­tu­ni­ties with­out un­der­stand­ing how they arose in the first place.

For eight years, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion de­lib­er­ately alien­ated and will­ingly en­dan­gered Saudi Ara­bia and Is­rael by im­ple­ment­ing a pol­icy of ap­peas­ing Iran. De­spite re­peated warn­ings, the US re­fused to rec­og­nize that as far as Iran is con­cerned, it can­not have its cake and eat it too.

Iran is at war with Saudi Ara­bia and its Sunni al­lies and with Is­rael.

Con­se­quently, Miller and Sokol­sky’s claim that there can be an “equi­lib­rium to Amer­ica’s re­la­tions with Saudi Ara­bia and Iran” which doesn’t in­volve the US siding with one side against the other is an il­lu­sion. On the ground in the Mid­dle East, as events in Syria, Le­banon, Qatar, Ye­men, Bahrain, Iraq, Gaza and Egypt have made clear, Obama’s strat­egy of ap­peas­ing Iran weak­ened Amer­ica’s tra­di­tional re­gional al­lies and strength­ened Iran and its prox­ies.

The change in the bal­ance of forces that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pol­icy caused forced the US’s spurned al­lies to re­assess their strate­gic de­pen­dence on the US. Con­trary to Miller and Sokol­sky’s claims, the Saudis didn’t aban­don their past pas­siv­ity be­cause Mo­hammed is brash, young and in­ex­pe­ri­enced. Mo­hammed was ap­pointed be­cause Sal­man needed a suc­ces­sor will­ing and able to fight for the sur­vival of the king­dom af­ter Obama placed it in jeop­ardy through his ap­pease­ment of Iran. Mo­hammed is the flip­side of the nu­clear deal.

Mal­ley noted blandly that like the Saudis, Is­rael has also been sound­ing alarms at an ever es­ca­lat­ing rate.

It isn’t hard to un­der­stand why. In 2009, Is­rael’s borders and ter­ri­tory were far more se­cure than they are to­day. Sun­day night three for­mer se­nior mis­sile devel­op­ers at Rafael Ad­vanced De­fense Sys­tems – Is­rael’s pre­mier mis­sile and mis­sile de­fense de­vel­oper – went on tele­vi­sion to warn that Haifa’s oil re­finer­ies and plans to use sur­round­ing ar­eas as a fuel de­pot will force the evac­u­a­tion not only of the pop­u­la­tion of Haifa, but of all the sur­round­ing satel­lite cities when war breaks out next with Hezbol­lah.

Hezbol­lah, they warned, now has the pre­ci­sion mis­sile ca­pa­bil­ity to de­stroy these vi­tal na­tional in­fra­struc­tures and ren­der the Gulf of Haifa un­in­hab­it­able. Then there is Syria. Is­rael has re­peat­edly in­sisted that Iran and its prox­ies must not be per­mit­ted to de­velop a per­ma­nent pres­ence in Syria. Rus­sia and the US ig­nored Is­rael’s warn­ings not only dur­ing the Obama years, but, in a sign of the con­tin­ued power of Obama par­ti­sans in the US for­eign pol­icy com­mu­nity, dur­ing the past year of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion as well. Over the sum­mer the US and Rus­sia con­cluded a cease-fire deal for Syria that per­mit­ted Iran and its prox­ies to op­er­ate in Syria.

Last week, the BBC re­ported that Iran is now build­ing a mil­i­tary base 50 kilo­me­ters from the bor­der with Is­rael. On Sat­ur­day, the IDF shot down a Rus­sian-made in­tel­li­gence drone launched against it by forces con­trolled by Iran’s chief Syr­ian proxy, Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad.

Sun­day, fol­low­ing threats from Ira­nian-con­trolled Is­lamic Ji­had ter­ror­ist forces in Gaza, Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu re­it­er­ated that Is­rael will not ac­cept as­saults against it across any of its borders. Ne­tanyahu said that he holds the Ira­nian-sup­ported Ha­mas regime in Gaza re­spon­si­ble for any at­tacks against Is­rael em­a­nat­ing from its ter­ri­tory.

Ne­tanyahu’s state­ment was no­table since just last week Ha­mas and Fatah be­gan im­ple­ment­ing their power shar­ing ar­range­ment in Gaza. Fatah forces, con­trolled by Pales­tinian Author­ity Chair­man Mah­moud Ab­bas, sup­pos­edly took re­spon­si­bil­ity for bor­der cross­ings be­tween Gaza and Is­rael.

By in­sist­ing that Ha­mas is re­spon­si­ble rather than Fatah, de­spite the agree­ment, Ne­tanyahu sig­naled that as far as Is­rael is con­cerned, through its power-shar­ing deal with Fatah Ha­mas has suc­ceeded in be­com­ing the Pales­tinian ver­sion of Hezbol­lah. Just as Hezbol­lah pre­tends to be a fac­tion in Le­banese pol­i­tics, when in fact it con­trols all as­pects of the Le­banese state, so Ha­mas re­mains in charge of all as­pects of gov­er­nance in Gaza while us­ing the PA as a fig leaf.

This brings us back to Miller, Sokol­sky and Mal­ley and their pin­ing for a re­set but­ton.

It is hard to view their po­si­tions as the ba­sis for forg­ing con­struc­tive US poli­cies for the re­gion, trans­formed by eight years of US ap­pease­ment of Iran at the ex­pense of its al­lies and in­ter­ests.

In­sist­ing that Mo­hammed aban­don the steps he has taken to ex­pand the prospects of Saudi sur­vival in fa­vor of a pol­icy of pre­tend­ing that a sta­ble equi­lib­rium can be struck be­tween Iran and Saudi Ara­bia (and Is­rael) is not a pol­icy for restor­ing equi­lib­rium. Putting Hariri back in of­fice in Beirut so he can con­tinue to serve as a fig leaf for Hezbol­lah and Iran is not a pol­icy for restor­ing equi­lib­rium. They are both means for pre­tend­ing re­al­ity away while en­abling Iran to wage a con­tin­u­ous war against Amer­ica’s al­lies with ever greater power and ca­pac­ity.

It makes sense that Obama par­ti­sans are un­happy with King Sal­man and Crown Prince Mo­hammed. It makes sense that they are un­happy with Ne­tanyahu and with Trump. All four of these lead­ers are im­pu­dently in­sist­ing on bas­ing their poli­cies on rec­og­niz­ing the re­al­ity Obama spent his two terms ig­nor­ing: Iran is not ap­peasable.


A MAN WALKS past posters de­pict­ing of Saudi Ara­bia’s King Sal­man bin Ab­du­laziz Al Saud and Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man in Riyadh.

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