As Michael Rubin says, it’s hard to love the Saudis. But still…they’re valuable allies, they’ve been there for seventy-odd years, and although they treat women abominably, and export radical Islamist ideology via their global network of religious schools and compliant mosques and imams, it’s hard to justify President Obama’s gratuitous insults in recent weeks. He’s complained that they want to be “free riders.” He’s visibly annoyed that the Saudis want him to join their campaign against the Islamic Republic of Iran, and pay for it with American blood and treasure. Indeed, he’s called on the royal family to find a way to “share” the region with the Iranians.
This week he was in Riyadh for the summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council, composed of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The auguries, and past history, aren’t great; a year ago the Saudis boycotted the summit to demonstrate their unhappiness with his Iran policy. The Saudis just did a favor for the White House, accepting nine Guantanamo inmates. In the past, such men have rejoined the jihad, so the royal family was taking a significant risk. It remains to be seen if Obama is going to do something nice for the royal family.
Meanwhile, the royal family demonstrated its contempt for the president by sending a minor official, the governor of Riyadh, to meet Obama at the airport, while the king himself met other heads of state.
The stakes are substantial. There’s a big war in the Middle East, with Iran playing a major role. The mullahs have thousands of fighters on the ground in Syria, run a major logistics operation to supply Assad with weapons, bombs and ammunition, and are supporting a civil war in Yemen.
The United States has done little or nothing to counter this assault, but the Saudis have done quite a bit. They have worked with Washington and the West in an expanded intelligence-sharing role; formed a multi-nation Islamic counter-terrorism coalition to fight terrorist organizations throughout the region; tracked terrorist funding sources and shut them down, with one such effort identifying 17 different ISIS financial facilitators. Moreover, they have participated in the U.S.-led coalition conducting airstrikes against ISIS, and coordinated with Turkey to deploy special forces in Syria.
Most people are surprised when they hear of all this Saudi activity (this ignorance enables Obama to get away with misleading expressions like “free rider”), but facts are facts.
It seems obvious that Obama should side with the Saudis in their historic battle with the Iranians, but he seems hell bent on going down in the historical ledger as the man who pursued a strategic alliance with Iran, whatever the cost.
The other GCC members have no doubt implored the United States to help defeat Iran, but I doubt any of them expects this to happen. They know they are going to fend for themselves until next January, at the earliest.