Towards A Good Samaritan World

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


In Public View, Saudis Counter Iran in Region:

With the prospect of three civil wars looming over the Middle East — and Iran poised to gain from them all — Saudi Arabia has abandoned its behind-the-scenes checkbook diplomacy and taken on a central, aggressive role in reshaping the region’s conflicts.

On Tuesday, the kingdom is playing host in Mecca to the leaders of Hamas and Fatah, the two feuding Palestinian factions, in what both sides say could lead to a national unity government and reduced bloodshed. Last fall, senior Saudi officials met secretly with Israeli leaders about how to establish a Palestinian state.

In recent months, Saudi Arabia has also increased its public involvement in Iraq and its support of the Sunni-led government in Lebanon. The process is shaping up as a counteroffensive to efforts by Iran to establish itself as the regional superpower, according to diplomats, analysts and officials here and throughout the region. Some even say that the recent Saudi commitment to temper the price of oil is aimed at undermining Iran’s economy, although officials here deny that.

“We realized that we have to wake up,” said a high-ranking Saudi diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media. “Someone rang the bell, ‘Be careful, something is moving.’ ”

Previously, we were providing the stability in the Middle East that the Saudis need, so they felt free to let their own clerics and populace breathe poison against the West while making nice to us in public. Now that stability is slipping away, they've turned around and started to take the lead on the stability front. Meanwhile, we've done them the favor of getting al-Qaeda bogged down in a dirty intra-Islamic civil war. With the jihadist threat against the Kingdom largely taken out of commission, the Saudis have more room to maneuver.

How long will it take the conventional wisdom to catch up all the way in which the Iraq War was geostrategically smart?


  • I'm sure you still remember that this is, at best, a silver lining. The Iraqi nightmare might have some distal features that benefit the US's goals, but surely it would have been better if no one was bogged down in civil war.

    By Blogger Nato, at 4:50 PM  

  • Yes, and it would be better if no one had to live under a totalitarian state. We traded a totalitarian state for a civil war, and opinions can differ about which situation is worse, in the short run.

    To "it would have been better if no one was... in a civil war," I say: Better than what?

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 5:03 AM  

  • Our failure in Iraq has given Al Qaeda enough rope to hang themselves, but if the alternative in play is a stable and free Iraq, then I'd rather Al Qaeda hadn't hanged. Perhaps this is a false opposition, but it appears to be one you set up in your penultimate paragraph.

    Now, a smart general will allow many paths to victory, so perhaps the reasoning went, "Well, we'll go into Iraq and see if we can't bring about an easy democracy, but if we fail, the resulting quagmire will be a terrorist honeypot and allow our enemies to compromise themselves attacking fellow Muslims." Somehow I doubt this was anyone's reasoning. I hope not, because that's an inhuman level of casual malice.

    By Blogger Nato, at 9:07 AM  

  • re: "Well, we'll go into Iraq and see if we can't bring about an easy democracy, but if we fail, the resulting quagmire will be a terrorist honeypot and allow our enemies to compromise themselves attacking fellow Muslims."

    What's wrong with that? Of course a peaceful, democratic Iraq was the goal, and that would have been even worse for al-Qaeda: the West would become a deliverer, a benefactor! And it would be proof that Muslims prefer democracy to the caliphate.

    But what's wrong with an awareness that al-Qaeda's other option-- to fight us and trigger a civil war-- would be equally damaging to them, hence, they were checkmated? Certainly it would be inhuman to sacrifice Iraqis on the altar of beating al-Qaeda, but to characterize it that way is to ignore the fact that Iraqis were also liberated, and probably benefited overall from the whole thing.

    However, I don't think anyone strategized quite that way. I think the reasoning was simpler: Leaving Saddam Hussein in power is wrong. By breaking with the policies of Bill Pontius Pilate Clinton, we reclaimed a critical strategic resource: the moral high ground. (Not in the eyes of much of the world, yet, but still.) And doing the right thing has a way of paying off in unexpected ways.

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 9:26 AM  

  • I guess the distinction I want is between geostrategically "smart" and geostrategically "lucky." If nothing else, I think we should have tried much harder (not longer) to assure a win in Iraq. That, I feel, would have been "smart."

    By Blogger Nato, at 1:30 PM  

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