It’s not often that one finds agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia. In fact, there isn’t anything on which they agree — except for the danger posed by a nuclear-armed Iran. That has them also agreeing on the dangerous direction in American foreign policy under Barack Obama and John Kerry, with both warning of the big mistake in allowing Iran to continue its uranium-enrichment activities:
The Obama administration on Wednesday acknowledged a widening gulf with key Middle Eastern allies over nuclear talks with Iran, as Israeli and Persian Gulf Arab leaders pressed for drastic cuts to Iran’s atomic infrastructure that Tehran has insisted it will never accept.
The differences came into stark relief as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to lecture Secretary of State John F. Kerry at a joint news conference, warning against a “bad deal” that would allow Iran to retain any capability to make enriched uranium. …
“Iran must not have a nuclear weapons capability, which means that they shouldn’t have centrifuges for enrichment,” Netanyahu told reporters after a private meeting with Kerry in Rome. “ . . . I think a partial deal that leaves Iran with these capabilities is a bad deal.”
It’s this new direction that is driving the Saudis to find a more reliable partner for regional security, writes David Ignatius. The US had better start worrying about the allies it has left in that region, which have been continuously dismayed with the response to the Arab Spring and now see the US as abandoning their alliance against Iran:
What should worry the Obama administration is that Saudi concern about U.S. policy in the Middle East is shared by the four other traditional U.S. allies in the region: Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Israel. They argue (mostly privately) that Obama has shredded U.S. influence by dumping President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, backing the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, opposing the coup that toppled Morsi, vacillating in its Syria policy, and now embarking on negotiations with Iran — all without consulting close Arab allies.
Saudi King Abdullah privately voiced his frustration with U.S. policy in a lunch in Riyadh Monday with King Abdullah of Jordan and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of the U.A.E., according to a knowledgeable Arab official. The Saudi monarch “is convinced the U.S. is unreliable,” this official said. “I don’t see a genuine desire to fix it” on either side, he added.
The Saudis’ pique, in turn, has reinforced the White House’s frustration that Riyadh is an ungrateful and sometimes petulant ally. When Secretary of State John Kerry was in the region a few weeks ago, he asked to visit Bandar. The Saudi prince is said to have responded that he was on his way out of the kingdom, but that Kerry could meet him at the airport. This response struck U.S. officials as high-handed.
Saudi Arabia obviously wants attention, but what’s surprising is the White House’s inability to convey the desired reassurances over the past two years. The problem was clear in the fall of 2011, when I was told by Saudi officials in Riyadh that they increasingly regarded the U.S. as unreliable and would look elsewhere for their security. Obama’s reaction to these reports was to be peeved that the Saudis didn’t recognize all that the U.S. was doing to help their security, behind the scenes. The president was right on the facts but wrong on the atmospherics.
Actually, Obama should have been listening to Saudi Arabia and Israel on Egypt, too. The fall of Mubarak and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood didn’t play to their benefit. More importantly, the speed in which Obama abandoned a decades-long ally — and a critical ally for regional security — had to be a wake-up call to the Saudi royal family, whose rule has hardly been more enlightened than that of Mubarak. Abandoning one’s allies so casually in that region teaches critical lessons about the nature of our friendship, and it’s not surprising to see Saudi Arabia recalculating its interests with that in mind.
Michael Totten sees the same problem:
The White House is so desperate to cut a deal with America’s enemies that the president will go along on even a farcical ride. As a result, the Saudi government is threatening to drastically “scale back” the relationship.
“I’ve worked in this field for a long time,” says Brooking Institution expert Mike Doran in London’s Telegraph, “and I’ve studied the history. I know of no analogous period. I’ve never seen so many disagreements on so many key fronts all at once. And I’ve never seen such a willingness on the part of the Saudis to publicly express their frustration. Iran is the number one issue — the only issue for Saudi policy makers. When you add up the whole Middle Eastern map — Syria, Iraq, Iran — it looks to the Saudis as if the US is throwing Sunni allies under the bus by trying to cut a deal with Iran and its allies.”
Foreign Policy 101 dictates that you reward your friends and punish your enemies. Attempts to get cute and reverse the traditional formula always lead to disaster. Yet Barack Obama thinks if he stiffs his friends, his enemies will become a little less hostile. That’s not how it works, but the Saudis have figured out what Obama is doing and are acting accordingly.
“They [the Americans] are going to be upset—and we can live with that,” said Mustafa Alani, a Saudi foreign policy analyst. “We are learning from our enemies now how to treat the United States.”
Michael has much more to say, so be sure to read it all. The bottom line is that the Obama administration has proven by its actions what its priorities are. Don’t blame the Saudis for acting rationally to that clarity, or the Israelis for publicly rebuking the US for its recent turn in diplomatic policy.