Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Saudi-American relations are confused. Confused, in particular, about which partner in the relationship is the superpower. A few weeks ago, Cheney was touring the Middle East, trying to line up Arab support for the Americans' suddenly essential war in Iraq. According to this Times article, Crown Prince Abdullah is coming to Washington to return the favor, attempting to dictate foreign policy to the Bush administration.

According to "a person familiar with the Saudi's thinking" (gee, I wonder who that is), Bush has "lost credibility" with his unqualified support for Sharon (gee, so much for the "diplomatic cover" of Powell's mission), and must take specific measures to get it back:

Abdullah believes Mr. Bush has lost credibility by failing to follow through on his demand two weeks ago that Mr. Sharon withdraw Israeli troops from the West Bank and end the sieges of Yasir Arafat's compound in Ramallah and of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

If those events occur and Mr. Bush makes a commitment "to go for peace" by convening an international conference, as his father did after the Persian Gulf war, to press for a final settlement and a Palestinian state, the Saudi view would change dramatically.

If not:

"It is a mistake to think that our people will not do what is necessary to survive," the person close to the crown prince said, "and if that means we move to the right of bin Laden, so be it; to the left of Qaddafi, so be it; or fly to Baghdad and embrace Saddam like a brother, so be it. It's damned lonely in our part of the world, and we can no longer defend our relationship to our people."

And if that doesn't sound like a threat, they're happy to get explicit:

In a bleak assessment, he said there was talk within the Saudi royal family and in Arab capitals of using the "oil weapon" against the United States, and demanding that the United States leave strategic military bases in the region.

Such measures, he said, would be a "strategic debacle for the United States."

Actually, the strategic debacle for the United States would be if we kept on trying to defend a regime which had moved to the right of bin Laden, or to the left of Qadaffi. The reason we have those bases is to defend the Saudis, so long as they defend our interests, specifically in a steady supply of relatively cheap oil.

If the oil wells instead are going to be in the hands of people who are going to try to jerk us around, well, there's no point in spending United States taxpayer money preserving their privilege...


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