Fair Policy, Fair Discussion

March 18, 2010

Awaking a Sleeping Giant?

Filed under: Arab attitudes,International politics,Iran,Washington's diplomacy — colbyconnelly @ 9:12 pm

In the West, relatively little is heard about Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Middle Eastern politics. Until a Saudi judge hands down a sentence for an offense of Kingdom law which attracts attention from international human rights groups, most American media pay little attention to how the Kingdom operates. On the rare occasion when coverage is given, it is presented from a viewpoint which is perhaps best described as neo-Orientalist, and no attempt at understanding (a word some seem to think has the same connotation as “agreeing”, which is perhaps why it is avoided in so many instances) why the Saudis behave as such is made whatsoever.

It is becoming more apparent that the global balance of power is shifting eastward, with the diplomatic voices of Russia and China bearing ever more authority on the international stage, especially when one gives consideration to the two nations’ influence in the ongoing talks with regard to the Iranian nuclear situation. But what has the House of Saud made of the Iranian predicament? After all, it is but a small body of water whose name no one can agree upon that separates the Kingdom from the Islamic Republic. Thus it should be no surprise that recently, the more and more outspoken Prince Saud al-Faisal has made no shortage of statements regarding the proliferation and presence of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

The Arabian Gulf tour (termed here as distinctively Arabian because it is doubtful the Secretary will visit the Gulf’s Persian side) on which American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently traversed sparked the Kingdom’s foreign minister to state that a more ‘’immediate’’ solution to Iran’s nuclear predicament was required in lieu of sanctions, which have been rendered inadequate from His Excellency’s point of view. Although American diplomats later admitted their confusion as to exactly what FM al-Faisal was speaking of, the Minister’s later statement, which did not seem to yield a response from the Americans, was by far more interesting. Prince al-Faisal declared very clearly that any effort to rid the Middle East of nuclear weapons must include Israel as well.

Indeed both of these comments are arguably language the international community would expect to hear from the Saudis on any given diplomatic occasion. These policies have likely always been the Kingdom’s initiative. What has changed, however, is that so long as China remains defiant on the Iranian question, the United States will likely need to make use of petro-politics to erode the Sino-Persian relationship which is the main obstacle to the United States in the United Nations Security Council. This will be done with assistance from America’s foremost ally in ‘The Gulf’ (the very same body of water whose full name will perhaps be decided by a council of airline executives), although trouble for Secretary Clinton’s plans lie within the fact that Tehran is the third largest supplier of petroleum to China’s oil-hungry economic machine, and that and curtailment of oil from Saudi Arabia to China would potentially be aided by Iran in exchange for Beijing’s continued support.

These things aside, the important aspect of this situation is that the Kingdom has recently been in the habit of breaking its global diplomatic silence, as well as having been specifically asked to do so by one of its most powerful allies, and one cannot help but to wonder if the House of Saud will emerge as an active power player in regional politics. Recently concluded military offensives against the Yemeni al-Houthi rebels now combined with calls for action against Iranian and Israeli nuclear programs, and the fact that the United States has now called on the Saudis to participate in diplomacy in a major regional issue raise many questions about the newfound assertiveness of the Kingdom’s power.

Saudi Arabia has always been one of the most ardent supporters of Palestinian nationhood, yet perhaps now the international community will see some active engagement thrown behind these words. 2010 may potentially be they year where much of the Saudi resentment towards Palestine that persisted over the PLO support of Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War subsides (although this sentiment is still alive and well in Kuwait, an important Gulf cousin of the House of Saud.)

Indeed much of these speculations may sound as nothing more than mere speculation, and many of them are, although Gulf politics doubtlessly have the potential to become exponentially more important than the world currently believes them to be. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has a security policy which has for a long time been specific to that of its member states. If the murder of Mahmoud al-Mabouh turns out to truly be an Israeli assassination effort, Mossad activity directed towards a Palestinian national in the Arabian Peninsula will likely yield more of a substantial response than indirect articulation and meaningless declarations between Israel and Arab powers. Most Gulf States are already well integrated into the global economy, there is no reason for them to now avoid exerting their international influence politically, perhaps with Riyadh influencing much of this process as a new centre of Arab influence worldwide. With American, Russian, and Chinese fervor concentrated on nuclear Iran, and several of the most influential European countries as well as Interpol putting Israel under a microscope over murder in Dubai, it is likely we will hear from Foreign Minister al-Faisal and many of his compatriots much more frequently in the future.

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1 Comment »

  1. I’m not very optimistic the Saudis will work aggressively to help the Paletinians. Occasionally in the past they made sensational pronouncements like “Saudi Arabia will go to war” but that was just to keep the frontline arabs quiet. Basically it seems the Saudis care just about maintaining their wealth. Other arabs can expect little help as long as the Saudi monarchy is intact. It appears to have an effective security service, which has stymied al-qaida locally. Still, things could get a lot rougher depending on how the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan plays out…

    Comment by Tim Donovan — March 25, 2010 @ 8:33 am | Reply


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