The Saudis may finally be ending their friendship with the United States. Good riddance.
The reason for the falling out is the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal. "The Obama Administration's determination to ease the long estrangement with Iran's theocratic leaders has touched an especially raw nerve: Saudi Arabia's deep-rooted hostility to its Shiite rival for leadership of the Islamic world," The New York Times explains.
"In its most feverish form, the Saudis' anxiety is not just that the United States will leave them more exposed to Iran, but that it will reach a reconciliation and ultimately anoint Iran as the central American ally in the region," the paper adds.
Feverish or delusional?
The nuclear agreement confirms the worst Saudi fears, coming on the heels of the U.S. hesitancy about attacking the Assad regime in Syria. The Saudis view the Syrian civil war through the lens of sectarianism (the Assad family is Shiite; the Saudis are Sunni), instead of as an uprising to bring down a despot.
The notion of irreconcilable conflict between the Shiites and Sunnis is nonsensical. As scholars such as Juan Cole have pointed out, the relations between these two groups have been marked by an absence of war through most of history. And it's the Saudis themselves who in the modern era have been the most responsible for creating the schism.
"As a Sunni Muslim scholar, let me challenge this cliched Orientalist mantra about ancient Sunni-Shia conflict," a commenter on the New York Times piece states. "These are not ancient hatreds but sectarian enmity deliberately stirred up and massively funded by despotic regimes like the Al-Saud family so that they can hold on to their ill-gotten power and wealth."
Even if it is due to Saudi phobias, the U.S.-Saudi rupture is a welcome development. The Saudi monarchy is hideous, both at home and abroad.
"Authorities continue to suppress or fail to protect the rights of nine million Saudi women and girls and nine million foreign workers," states Human Rights Watch in its annual report on the year gone by. "As in past years, thousands of people have received unfair trials or been subject to arbitrary detention."
Yet cheap oil and lucrative arms deals (such as a $60 billion recent sale, the biggest ever) make the United States largely ignore such outrageous behavior. Plus, the Saudis have acted as useful proxies, from Central Americas in the 1980s, where they funneled money to the Contras, to the Middle East in current times, where they sent troops to Bahrain to safeguard that monarchy, a key U.S. ally.
And the Saudis propagate their extremism worldwide on the strength of their oil money.
Then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated in a December 2009 leaked diplomatic cable that entities in Saudi Arabia were the "most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide." Clinton said "the groups funded included Al Qaeda, the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba" (the group responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks).
"If there were a prize for Most Irresponsible Foreign Policy it would surely be awarded to Saudi Arabia," Fareed Zakaria wrote recently for Time magazine. "It is the nation most responsible for the rise of Islamic radicalism and militancy around the world."
Who wants folks like these to be your friends? The Obama Administration should wave goodbye as the Saudis walk away from the United States.
Photo: Flickr user Chuck Hagel, creative commons licensed.