In the Arena

Our Friends the Saudis

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This has been building for four years now. From the start of the war, the standard Saudi/Sunni position was: We don’t like Saddam, but we’ll live with him. If you’re going to take him out, though, replace him–quickly–with a reliable Sunni general. (I heard a variation on that line in visits to the following countries: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, Syria…and Israel.)

The Sunni neighbors assumed that their co-religionists would win sooner or later, because, as numerous Saudis and Jordanians told me, “The Shi’ites are simple little people. Farmers. They can’t actually run anything.” That began to change in the months after the bombing of the Al-Askariya mosque in Samarrah last year as the Shi’ite militia death squads kicked into gear and began assassinating prominent Sunnis by the hundreds. The mass exodus of the Sunni middle class ensued.

About a year ago, I began hearing from U.S. and Saudi sources–and reported it at the time–that the Saudis and Jordanians were beginning to finance the Sunni insurgency out of fear of a pro-Iranian Iraqi government next door. The Saudis said their intention was, simply, to protect their co-religionists from genocide. But there’s also the obvious fear that a Shi’ite government in Iraq would inspire Saudi’s own Shi’ite minority–which just happens to be located in the Eastern Province, which is where all the oil is.

The Sunni neighbors’ position on the war is sheer hypocrisy: They condemn our presence in Iraq, but don’t want us to leave…Which is yet another reason to begin our phased withdrawal now. Apart from our dependence on their oil–an addiction we obviously need to break–why U.S. policy should be to make the region safe for the Saudis? In any case, I suspect that a U.S. departure would force all these oilocrats in countries like Saudi and Iran to deal with each other, lest their primary source of revenue gets destroyed in a war. As Joe Biden told me a few weeks ago:

If God said you’ve got to take a shot about whether the war would mestastasize throughout the region or expire after extensive Iraqi bloodletting, I’d have to say [the neighbors] would find a way to avoid war. They’ve got their hands full as it is.