A curious time for a visit with the Saudis

Shortly after Iran shot down our drone over the Strait of Hormuz, I asked what the next logical response might be. Appropo of absolutely nothing, one possibility crossed my mind and I wrote the following:

So here’s a thought. Saudi Arabia is spoiling for a fight with Iran and they have a (sometimes regrettably) close relationship with President Trump. I wonder if someone is putting a bug in their ear about now. Just some food for thought.

These two things may or may not be causally related but we learned last night that the Secretary of State is over in that part of the world right now and he’s going to visit Saudi Arabia. Huh. I wonder what they could possibly have to talk about. (Associated Press)

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived Monday in Saudi Arabia in a hastily arranged visit amid mounting tensions between Washington and Tehran as Iran’s navy chief warned Iranian forces wouldn’t hesitate to shoot down more U.S. surveillance drones from their skies…

Pompeo, considered a hard-liner in the Trump administration, is expected to meet with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Saudi city of Jiddah, before heading to Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, another close U.S. ally and partner.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are alarmed by Iran’s military reach and are working to limit its influence in the region.

So this was a “hastily arranged meeting” as described in the press release. Keep in mind that Saudi Arabia is now recognized as the number one weapons customer of the United States and they have plenty of military hardware. They also have bases and airfields that we could use in a pinch. So if there’s something in the works for Iran, it could either be a U.S. strike using Saudi facilities for support or, in a potentially more tense scenario, we could be looking at direct action by Saudi Arabia against Iran, putting all that hardware we sold them to use.

Of course, there’s going to be a lot of controversy surrounding this trip, at least in the media. Pompeo is scheduled to meet not only with the King but with Mohammed bin Salman. Coming on the heels of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, that’s going to be offputting to plenty of people. Then again, both politics and war make for odd bedfellows at times.

But is that really what’s going on here? I’m hard-pressed to think of anything else that would prompt the Secretary of State to hop on a plane for an unscheduled visit to the Saudis. I suppose they could be talking about the situation in either Yemen or Syria, both of whom are right in the neighborhood. But both of those conflicts have been settling into a slow boil for quite a while now. It’s true that Yemen is taking claim for the recent rocket attack on a Saudi airport, and Iran has been supporting the Houthi rebels inside Yemen. In that regard, Saudi Arabia is already fighting something of a proxy war with Iran, but as I said, that’s not particularly new.

We’ll keep an eye on the situation because it has the potential to blow up on short notice. I get the feeling that President Trump pulling the plug on the airstrike was a negotiating tactic, but that decision won’t hold forever if it doesn’t produce results. There’s almost definitely something in the cards concerning Iran, and we shouldn’t be shocked if Saudi Arabia has a role to play in what’s to come.