What Is Saudi Arabia to Us?
By Angelo Codevilla| November 27th, 2018
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It seems that Saudi Arabia’s rulers murdered an opponent. The U.S. media and political class is shocked, shocked, to find that murder is going on in such precincts. Who did they imagine the Muslim world’s leaders are?
Moreover, our chattering class demands that President Trump do whatever it takes to make sure that they do nothing like that again. Do what? Does anyone really think that swapping sheik A for sheik B would improve their kind’s moral standards? Do they have any idea of what keeps A on top of B, what it would take to switch them, or what the repercussions would be in foreign policy? Are they naifs, idiots, or are they just playing with foreign policy to make life a little harder for Trump?
What follows is politically incorrect information on what Saudi Arabia is, what role it plays in American politics, and what it means for our foreign policy. Then, I will suggest how American foreign policy from the Founding to around 1910 would deal with today’s Middle East.
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In short, we owe them nothing.
Our relationship with Saudi Arabia should flow from our own needs—not theirs—based on the realities of the region.
Were John Quincy Adams to whisper in Trump’s ear, he might well say the following: Just as in 1823, when we premised our dealings with Europe by making clear the contrast between the republican principles by which we live and those of monarchical Europe, we should now draw a bright line between our way of life and that of the likes of Saudi Arabia and Iran. Now as then, this is primarily for the American people’s benefit. Now as then, we cannot change others, but must deal with them. We don’t have to like them, and they don’t have to like us. Good diplomacy does not pretend. We will not lower ourselves to asking the Saudis to pretend they have become liberals, nor fool ourselves into thinking that they are on the way to doing so.
We have some concurrent interests. Only some. And for our own different reasons. And the concurrence is conditional.
There are certain things we can and should do for the Saudis, mainly by limiting Iran’s economy. But for us to do that, the price of oil has to be kept in an acceptable range for a range of allies. Hence we must demand that the Saudis cooperate. We can and should protect the Saudis against major Iranian military moves, especially by providing better missile defense. But we are not going to involve ourselves in trying to put down Shia revolts against Sunni hegemony. In Syria, we have only two interests: limiting Iran’s reach to Israel and safeguarding the Kurds. Any Saudi action that we judge non-supportive of these interests will lead to a reduction of our support in other areas.
Above all, we realize that Saudi Arabia is even less a permanent fixture of the international scene than the Soviet Union was. It is even more unstable. Stabilizing it, saving it from the consequences of its congenital dynastic wars, is beyond our capacities, as John Quincy Adams might have said. That is why now, as in 1823, the essence of good American foreign policy is to be very clear about our very few interests, to commit to those, and to let the rest of the world fight their own battles.
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A little long to quote, but basically the USA should return to a sane foreign policy. Can’t be the world’s policeman. Nor can we afford to “waste” our blood and treasure tromping around the world making enemies. No secret, I’d like the USA to adopt Switzerland’s foreign policy.
Give peace a chance.
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