'Storms of the Desert': No Saudi escape from US

'Storms of the Desert':  No Saudi escape from US
Sat Mar 29, 2014 14:06:59

The list of objectors to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia among the US elite class is long, and the significant point here is the sharp tone many critics have used against a supposed ally who has a "special relation" with Washington. Among these critics are former government employees who worked in previous Administrations, with ties with the Republican Party and highly critical of the Obama Administration, such as Kori Schake, who held many positions in the Pentagon, National Security Council, and the Foreign Ministry, in addition to her strong participation in Republican candidate John McCain's presidential campaign in 2008.

Schake published an article in the Foreign Policy Magazine under the headline: Saudi Arabia's Unhappy. So What?

Schake says, "But the Saudis' unhappiness is not proof that US policies are wrong. Obama administration policies are wrong, but not in the ways or for the reasons the Saudis excoriate them. And bringing US policies into alignment with Saudi Arabia is likely to create a Middle East even less in America's interests than the Obama administration's bungling has."

She adds: "Saudi Arabia wants a very different Middle East than we do. The Saudis oppose democracy. They oppose freedom of the press. They oppose freedom of conscience and practice of faiths other than Islam. They oppose women's equality before the law. They oppose the idea that individuals have rights and loan them in limited ways and for limited purposes to governments."

"Not only do the Saudis oppose these fundamental values of American society, but they have funded and armed some of the most virulent jihadists."

"The Saudis now want US complicity in supporting jihadists in Syria and the return to power of the deep state in Egypt (a model they would perpetuate throughout the region)."

After the author tackles the options that Riyadh might take in its opposition to the Obama Administration and her estimation to the dangers that could result from these options, she offers an advice to the Obama Administration using the term "red line" which the president himself used, but this time against the Saudis, saying:

"And if there's one red line that President Obama has made credible, it's his willingness to abandon countries relying on American assistance."

Saudi options towards the United States:

Far from the clamor that accompanied the intense escalation in the Riyadh-Washington relations, a careful reading to the reality of the partnership between the two parts clearly indicates that it is an incompatible one. The Saudi side is the weak one in this relation, and it is not in the position where it can impose its conditions, hence its options are limited if not completely absent.

Based on this perspective, What Prince Bandar bin Sultan was quoted as saying about his country's determination to reduce the level of relations with the United States under the title that it did not want to be dependent (on Washington), in addition to Saudi Ambassador to Britain, Prince Mohammad bin Nawaf's threat in an article he wrote in New York Times (December) that all options are open for his country, these statements are just words that lack action, as it is hard for the kingdom that kept a strong alliance with the United States for long decades to find alternative alliances that easily.

What are the options open for the ruling family in Saudi Arabia?

These alternative forces are limited to China, Russia, and the European Union, and the latter is a wide body that consists of 28 countries, two of them are France and Britain.

China: Undoubtedly, the Saudi-China relations have developed quickly in the last years. Starting from 2009, Saudi oil exports to China exceeded those to the United States to reach 1.2 million barrels per day forming at least 21% of China's oil imports from around the world. This was accompanied with an increase in China's investments in Saudi Arabia in different fields. It is worth mentioning that Chinese contracting companies are the establishers of the railroads system that transports pilgrims in Holy Mecca.

However, it is not apparent that the developing relations on the economic level between Riyadh and Bekin is harmonious on the political level, as a possibility of the development of political relations between China and Saudi Arabia is minimized because of the two sides' opposing stances on the Syrian crisis.

Moreover, the current tensions in Xinjiang province which has the majority of Muslims in China keeps the Chinese leadership cautious towards the Saudi ruling family, and the strong ties between Bekin and Tehran arouse the suspicion and concern of Riyadh leaders.

Russia: In contrast to China, Russia is an oil exporting country, and its daily oil production rate exceeded that of Saudi Arabia's at the end of 2013, labeling the country as the number one oil producer in the world, as it produces 10,38 million barrels per day while Saudi Arabia produces 9,35 million. Hence, the relation between Moscow and Riyadh is closer to competition rather than interdependence.

Despite that, the Saudis, who have shown interest in diversifying their relations, are also interested in Russia as an arms exporter, and this was the topic of discussion in Prince Bandar bin Sultan's two visits to Moscow in 2013.

A similar visit by Saudi Minister of Defense, Suleiman bin Sultan, to Moscow is expected to close a number of arm deals with Russia that are estimated to be worth 12 million dollars. In the same context, Kommersant newspaper close to the Kremlin had mentioned that Saudi Arabia agreed on funding a two billion dollar Russian arms deal with Egypt.

Certainly, the Saudi leadership has its own accounts in adopting the "carrot and stick" policy with Moscow, hoping to push it away from Damascus. However, the long years of war in Chechnya and the terrorist attacks accompanying it targeting Russian goals makes it hard to fill up the deep gap between Moscow and Riyadh.

France and Britain: France and Britain remain at the front of the "options" according to Saudi cabinet advisor, Nawaf Obeid. Relations with Britain are old. As for France, the relations with it seem to be at their best today, considering the arm deals between Riyadh and Paris. In this context, French Defense Minister Jean Yves Le Drian had visited last October the kingdom for the third time since occupying this position in May 2012 and stated that: "Saudi Arabia and France share a unified approach on main regional crises on top of which are the Iranian nuclear file and the Syrian crisis."

According to the latest report handed over to the French Parliament about arm imports, Saudi Arabia remains France's number one costumer between 2003-2014, with almost seven billion Euro worth contracts, preceding by that India and Brazil. 

Where are the Saudi-US relations heading?

After the Saudis exhausted all they could to send the message to the United States and the whole world that they are strongly dissatisfied with the US Administration and its Middle East policies, a spontaneous question comes out:

What do the Saudis want exactly... and how far could they depart from Washington?

It is no longer a secret that the Saudis have wagered on a direct US military intervention in Syria as a preface to topple Bashar Al-Assad regime. This hypothetical war on Syria falls within the great confrontation Saudi Arabia is taking up against Iran, in which it is constantly depending on the US because it can't stand alone in the face of Iran. This raised the feeling of bitterness for former US Defense Minister Robert Gates who said that: "Saudis want to fight Iran to the last American".

However, the temporal nuclear deal between western powers and Iran was more like the worst

Scenario for the Saudis due to their fear that a US-Iran approach would end the isolation which the US tried to impose on Iran after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. This gave a rare opportunity for Saudi Arabia to present itself as a central player in the Gulf. Based on that, the worst nightmare for the Saudis is imagining the return of the regional equation which was established in the 70s, when Iran played the role of the major protective power in the Gulf under the approval of the United States, and Saudi Arabia was left with the role of a small partner.

Saudi Arabia doesn't have an alternative to the United States:

After the Saudi Royal family's trust in Washington became shaky and it expressed its discontent with the maximum it can, will the Saudis separate from the United States?

It is not likely for this to happen, as the Saudis don't have another place to go to - according to some US analysts.

US Ambassador to Riyadh (2001-2003), Robert Jordan says that: "There is no country in the world more capable of providing the protection of their oil fields, and their economy, than the US, and the Saudis are aware of that. We're not going to see them jump out of that orbit."

Jordan adds: "There’ll be more contact with the Russians and Chinese than in the past. They’ve gone elsewhere for weapons before and we’ll see some more of that, but the overall environment will be America-centric."

Undoubtedly, France forms one of the "options" open as mentioned earlier, but this must not be exaggerated, according to Ian Black who wrote for the Guardian (last December) that: "The notion that China or France can replace the US is – for now – fanciful nonsense."

We are in front of a deep and tangled relation in different aspects, as the Saudi Army and Air Forces are being structured similar to the US Army which supplies them with large quantities of weapons, in addition to the support and training they give them. Moreover, the economy of the kingdom is strongly attached to the United States that any serious attempt to break this attachment on the long run would have a high and tough cost.

A quick revision to the types of projects the Americans are carrying out in the kingdom and the number of contracts they have closed reveals the unbreakable attachment between the two parts, an example on that is the strong cooperation between the US security and military forces and the Saudi military forces, and no part has the motive to give up this partnership. The Americans equip and train the Saudi National Guards, which is the main Internal Security force for the
Saudi regime, and they have been doing that since 1977, as they have been establishing security facilities for a unit of 35 thousand members of the National Guards, and which is being spread to protect the oil facilities, desalination plants, power stations, and other vital facilities in other countries.

As for the arms and military services costs which the Saudis have demanded from the United States in the last couple of years, they seem imaginary as they reached 60 billion dollars, including 34 billion dollars the sum of US arms sales to Saudi Arabia in 2012 which is ten times more than in 2011, and recently the US Congress announced its intention to close a 6.8 billion dollar arms deal with the kingdom.

Can the current tensions in relations between Riyadh and Washington be disregarded?

Saudi official statements against the US should not be interpreted as an indication of their intention to abandon strategic Saudi partnership with Washington, especially amid the major developments in the region. This Saudi campaign only aims at exerting pressure to affect the US policies that do not satisfy Riyadh, considering that what is going on reflects two contradicting views on regional developments and the Saudi leadership cannot impose its will... The two allies will sooner or later overcome their disagreements because a Saudi retraction from its Washington ties would prove too costly.

Source: Al-Manar

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