Sunday, July 29, 2007

Our Friends, The Saudis: Redux

Yesterday, I posted on the current round of talk with Iran on its role in supporting the Shi'ite militias in Iraq. I suggested that the talks were not going to accomplish much, given the administration's observable bias against the Shi'ite leadership in Iran. Two weeks ago, I posted on the Saudi's role in Iraq, which consists of providing nearly half of the foreign fighters in Iraq, all of whom are fighting on the side of the Sunni insurgents. The US has not, to my knowledge, held any formal talks with the Saudi government on the issue. That apparently is about to change, according to an editorial in today's NY Times. Secretary of State Rice and Defense Secretary Gates are planning to visit with Saudi leaders to discuss things.

So far, neither Washington nor Riyadh is spending any time thinking about containing the chaos that will follow the inevitable American withdrawal. The only good news is that President Bush is sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Saudi Arabia for what we hope will be a frank discussion.

A failed Iraqi state with Saudi Islamists holed up in Al Qaeda sanctuaries in its western deserts is clearly not in the interests of the Saudi monarchy. But for Ms. Rice and Mr. Gates to have any chance of changing Saudi policies, they will have to go beyond the administration’s usual mix of bullying and denial and address legitimate Saudi concerns.

One such concern is Iran, which is bankrolling and training Shiite militias, building a power base in Shiite areas of Iraq and drawing the prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, into its orbit. Iran’s expanding influence poses a major threat to Saudi Arabia.

I'm not so certain at this point that an American withdrawal from Iraq is inevitable at this point. Nothing the White House has said or the Congress has done can possibly lead to that conclusion. However, should a withdrawal actually occur, chaos can be avoided if, and only if, our friends the Saudis are willing to cooperate by stopping the flow of jihadis, money, and arms to the Sunni minority.

Selling the Saudis more arms (they are a major beneficiary of the just-announced $20 billion arms deal with countries in the region) is not going to do the trick. It is entirely too likely that at least some of those arms will be used against US troops in Iraq. The US will have to make it clear that the Saudi support for the Sunni insurgents will have to stop taking the form it has for the past few years. The problem right now is not Iran, but Saudi Arabia.

As the editorial suggests, talks with all of Iraq's neighbors will be required,and those talks will have to include not only Iran and Saudi Arabia, but also Syria and Jordan. It is the talks with Saudi Arabia, however, which are the most important right now.

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Blogger WGG, Rogue Scholar & Tokin Lib'rul said...

On the general topic of USer/Western policy in the ME, see my remarks HERE

8:05 AM  

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