Thursday, November 30, 2006

Reality according to the Saudis

By Michael J.W. Stickings

If the U.S. withdraws from Iraq, Saudi Arabia will intervene to protect Iraqi Sunnis, wrote Nawaf Obaid, an advisor to the Saudi government, in yesterday's WaPo: "If it does, one of the first consequences will be massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed Shiite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis."

Cheney, who was in Saudi Arabia over the weekend and who is perhaps the most enthusiastic (and delusional) warmonger of them all, may see this as yet another reason to stay in Iraq and not withdraw. Help the Sunnis, help the Saudis. And we know how close the Bushies are to the tyrants in Riyadh. When they want something, the Bushies are usually more than happy to oblige.

And yet perhaps the Saudis understand that phased withdrawal is likely and are simply telling Cheney what will happen once the U.S. leaves. As Steve Clemons puts it: "What Obaid has articulated here is not offered as a threat if the US leaves Iraq... This is the first robust declaration that the Saudis are willing to fill the vacuum left by the United States in the region and knock back some of the unchecked expansion of Iranian influence in the region... And frankly, it's much better to have the Saudis engaged that not engaged in Iraq. Iran must be balanced -- and while this may seem like an escalation, it actually is an important potential cap on a worsening of this increasingly ulcerous mess in Iraq."

Saudi Arabia may be telling the U.S. to get out and let a new balance of power emerge in the Middle East. Whatever the risks involved with a possible Saudi-Iranian clash in Iraq, now might be a good time for Bush to listen to his friends in Riyadh. After all of Bush's high-falutin' rhetoric on America's commitment to democratic transformation in the Middle East, the ironic truth is that peace, and perhaps even democratic reform, may only be possible in the Middle East once the U.S. gets out of the way.

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