Rising Iran, Declining Saudi Arabia: Iranian-American Analyst Says

Rising Iran, Declining Saudi Arabia: Iranian-American Analyst Says
Fri Jan 8, 2016 17:15:40

The way that Saudi Arabia has chosen to stay balanced with Iran’s rising power has brought this country to the verge of collapse by making seemingly panicky and incomprehensible moves in the region.

History teaches us that it is not rising states that tend to be reckless, but declining powers. Rising states have time on their side. They can afford to be patient: They know that they will be stronger tomorrow and, as a result, will be better off postponing any potential confrontation with rivals.

Declining states suffer from the opposite condition: Growing weaker over time, they know that time is not on their side; their power and influence is slipping out of their hands. So they have a double interest in an early crisis: First, their prospects of success in any confrontation will diminish the longer they wait, and second, because of the illusion that a crisis may be their last chance to change the trajectory of their regional influence and their prospects vis-à-vis rivals. When their rivals seek to deescalate and avoid any confrontation, declining states feel they are left with no choice but to instigate a crisis.

Saudi Arabia is exhibiting the psychology of a state that risks losing its dominant position and whose losing hand is growing weaker and weaker. This explains why an otherwise rational actor begins making seemingly panicky and incomprehensible moves. From its decision to give up a seat on the United Nations Security Council — after having campaigned for it for over a year and celebrated its election to the UN body only a day earlier — to its reckless and failing attack on Yemen, to its push against the nuclear deal with Iran, to the deliberate provocation of executing Shia political dissident Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, its conduct is that of a sunsetting power.

Iran, on the other hand, is by all accounts a rising power.The U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq eliminated Tehran’s primary nemeses to its east (the Taliban in Afghanistan) and its west (the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq). In addition, Iran also ensured that it — and not the U.S. — has become the most influential outside actor in those two, Trita Parsi wrote for America.aljazeera.com.

Furthermore, the European Union has made no secret that it views the nuclear deal as a first step towards a broader rapprochement with Iran and recognizes that the international community must work with Iran in order for it to be a force for stability. In fact, the EU’s support for reengagement with Iran is partly driven by its assessment that the West’s current relationship with Saudi Arabia isn’t sustainable. As the New York Times has reported, in the current standoff between Saudi Arabia and Iran, EU sympathies tend to lean toward Tehran.

To make matters worse for the Saudis, the Chinese have shifted their position in the Persian Gulf to reduce their dependency on Saudi Arabia and strengthen their ties with Iran. “China wants stability in the Persian Gulf,” an analyst close the the Chinese government recently told me, “and it sees Iran as the most stable country in the region, while it is very worried about Saudi conduct.”

(Trita Parsi is the founder and current president of the National Iranian American Council.)


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