The Saudis are an odious bunch, but they are the main power broker in the Middle East, after the Israelis. As is often the case in foreign affairs, you have to team up with terrible people sometimes to thwart other terrible people. Saving the French from the Nazis was unpleasant, but they were less odious than the Nazis. If it had been the Italians who sacked Paris, maybe the choice is not so clear.
That’s the way it is with the Saudis. They will cause trouble, but a different sort of trouble than other players in the region. The Bush family took this too far and acted like sock puppets for the Saudi Royal Family, but what Obama is doing is quite dumb. He really thinks he can align with the Iranians and toss over the Saudis. This is so dumb that no one wants to be around him. The Iranians think he and his team are too dumb to pull off such an alignment and the Saudis think he is too dumb to trust.
In unusually blunt public remarks, Prince Turki al-Faisal called Obama’s policies in Syria ‘lamentable’ and ridiculed a U.S.-Russian deal to eliminate Assad’s chemical weapons. He suggested it was a ruse to let Obama avoid military action in Syria.
‘The current charade of international control over Bashar’s chemical arsenal would be funny if it were not so blatantly perfidious. And designed not only to give Mr. Obama an opportunity to back down (from military strikes), but also to help Assad to butcher his people,’ said Prince Turki, a member of the Saudi royal family and former director of Saudi intelligence.
Diplomats are not going to say Obama is a moron and they want nothing to do with him, but that’s what they are telling people. America may be a clumsy, oafish giant, but it is still a giant that can wield incredible economic and military pressure. The lesson the world learned from Iraq is that American mistakes get Arabs killed by the tens of thousands, so the Arab world is careful to not get on the wrong side the Americans.
It is one thing to have a bad policy. It is one thing to poorly execute a policy. Mistakes happen and we get stuff wrong all the time. The incompetence in the White House is a different issue. They have no understanding of the world, but they think of themselves a worldly statesman. The result is a feckless and unpredictable foreign policy. The one thing diplomats fear most is unpredictability. Nations with erratic leaders find themselves alone.
Of course, the larger issue is that Obama had a unique opportunity to get the US out of the region entirely. He did pull troops from Iraq, but that was just to spite the Bush people and the war party in Washington. It was not part of a larger strategy to unwind the war machine he inherited from Bush. It looks like he is committed to Afghanistan forever, which makes less sense than keeping troops in Iraq. At least Iraq has oil.