For President Obama, there have been multiple ideas for how we might, as an administration official put it during our Libya campaign, “realign our interests and our values.” The president has tried rhetorical outreach to transcend (or at least obscure) our coziness with tyrants; he tried, in Libya and haltingly in Egypt, to put his administration on the side of the Arab Spring; he and Mr. Kerry have made efforts to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process; he has sought some kind of realigning deal with that other font of cruelty, the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The Iran project is ongoing, but so far all these efforts either have led (in the case of our Libyan crusade) to outright chaos, or have seen things cycle back to the same old stalemates, the same morally corrosive status quo.
Here Obama’s experiences are of a piece with Bush’s, albeit without the same cost in blood and treasure. From Saddam’s Iraq to Mubarak’s Egypt, from Libya to the West Bank, the last two presidents have repeatedly pulled the curtain back, or had it pulled back for them, on potential alternatives to the kind of realpolitik that binds us to the Saudis, and potential aftermaths to the dynasty’s eventual fall. So far, they’ve found nothing good.
Meanwhile, the Saudis themselves are still there. And since much of what’s gone bad now surrounds them — the Islamic State very much in business in the north, Iranian-backed rebels seizing power in Yemen to the south — the American interest in the stability of their kingdom, the continuation of the royal family’s corrupt and wicked rule, is if anything even stronger than before.