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Saudi Arabia's Dream of Domination Has Gone Up in Flames
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As recently as two years ago, Saudi Arabia’s half century-long effort to establish itself as the main power among Arab and Islamic states looked as if it was succeeding. A US State Department paper sent by former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, in 2014 and published by Wikileaks spoke of the Saudis and Qataris as rivals competing “to dominate the Sunni world”.

A year later in December 2015, the German foreign intelligence service BND was so worried about the growing influence of Saudi Arabia that it took the extraordinary step of producing a memo, saying that “the previous cautious diplomatic stance of older leading members of the royal family is being replaced by an impulsive policy of intervention”.

An embarrassed German government forced the BND to recant, but over the last year its fears about the destabilising impact of more aggressive Saudi policies were more than fulfilled. What it did not foresee was the speed with which Saudi Arabia would see its high ambitions defeated or frustrated on almost every front. But in the last year Saudi Arabia has seen its allies in Syrian civil war lose their last big urban centre in east Aleppo. Here, at least, Saudi intervention was indirect but in Yemen direct engagement of the vastly expensive Saudi military machine has failed to produce a victory. Instead of Iranian influence being curtailed by a more energetic Saudi policy, the exact opposite has happened. In the last OPEC meeting, the Saudis agreed to cut crude production while Iran raised output, something Riyadh had said it would always reject.

In the US, the final guarantor of the continued rule of the House of Saud, President Obama allowed himself to be quoted as complaining about the convention in Washington of treating Saudi Arabia as a friend and ally. At a popular level, there is growing hostility to Saudi Arabia reflected in the near unanimous vote in Congress to allow families of 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi government as bearing responsibility for the attack.

Under the mercurial guidance of Deputy Crown Prince and Defence Minister Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the most powerful figure in Saudi decision making, Saudi foreign policy became more militaristic and nationalistic after his 80 year old father Salman became king on 23 January 2015. Saudi military intervention in Yemen followed, as did increased Saudi assistance to a rebel alliance in Syria in which the most powerful fighting force was Jabhat al-Nusra, formerly the Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda.

Nothing has gone well for the Saudis in Yemen and Syria. The Saudis apparently expected the Houthis to be defeated swiftly by pro-Saudi forces, but after fifteen months of bombing they and their ally, former President Saleh, still hold the capital Sanaa and northern Yemen. The prolonged bombardment of the Arab world’s poorest country by the richest has produced a humanitarian catastrophe in which at least 60 per cent of the 25 million Yemeni population do not get enough to eat or drink.

The enhanced Saudi involvement in Syria in 2015 on the side of the insurgents had similarly damaging and unexpected consequences. The Saudis had succeeded Qatar as the main Arab supporter of the Syrian insurgency in 2013 in the belief that their Syrian allies could defeat President Bashar al-Assad or lure the US into doing so for them. In the event, greater military pressure on Assad served only to make him seek more help from Russia and Iran and precipitated Russian military intervention in September 2015 which the US was not prepared to oppose.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman is being blamed inside and outside the Kingdom for impulsive misjudgments that have brought failure or stalemate. On the economic front, his Vision 2030 project whereby Saudi Arabia is to become less wholly dependent on oil revenues and more like a normal non-oil state attracted scepticism mixed with derision from the beginning. It is doubtful if there will be much change in the patronage system whereby a high proportion of oil revenues are spent on employing Saudis regardless of their qualifications or willingness to work.

Protests by Saudi Arabia’s ten million-strong foreign work force, a third of the 30 million population, because they have not been paid can be ignored or crushed by floggings and imprisonment. The security of the Saudi state is not threatened.

The danger for the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the other Gulf states is rather that hubris and wishful thinking have tempted them to try to do things well beyond their strength. None of this is new and the Gulf oil states have been increasing their power in the Arab and Muslim worlds since the nationalist regimes in Egypt, Syria and Jordan were defeated by Israel in 1967. They found – and Saudi Arabia is now finding the same thing – that militaristic nationalism works well to foster support for rulers under pressure so long as they can promise victory, but delegitimises them when they suffered defeat.

Previously Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states had worked through allies and proxies but this restraint ended with the popular uprisings of 2011. Qatar and later Saudi Arabia shifted towards supporting regime change. Revolutions transmuted into counter-revolutions with a strong sectarian cutting edge in countries like Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain where there were Sunni and non-Sunni populations.

Critics of Saudi and Qatari policies often demonise them as cunning and effective, but their most striking characteristic is their extreme messiness and ignorance of real conditions on the ground. In 2011, Qatar believed that Assad could be quickly driven from power just like Muamar Gaddafi in Libya. When this did not happen they pumped in money and weapons willy-nilly while hoping that the US could be persuaded to intervene militarily to overthrow Assad as Nato had done in Libya.

ORDER IT NOW

Experts on in Syria argue about the extent to which the Saudis and the Qataris knowingly funded Islamic State and various al-Qaeda clones. The answer seems to be that they did not know, and often did not care, exactly who they were funding and that, in any case, it often came from wealthy individuals and not from the Saudi government or intelligence services.

The mechanism whereby Saudi money finances extreme jihadi groups was explained in an article by Carlotta Gall in the New York Times in December on how the Saudis had bankrolled the Taliban after their defeat in 2001. The article cites the former Taliban Finance Minister, Agha Jan Motasim, as explaining in an interview how he would travel to Saudi Arabia to raise large sums of money from private individuals which was then covertly transferred to Afghanistan. Afghan officials are quoted as saying that a recent offensive by 40,000 Taliban cost foreign donors $1 billion.

The attempt by Saudi Arabia and Gulf oil states to achieve hegemony in the Arab and Sunni Muslim worlds has proved disastrous for almost everybody. The capture of east Aleppo by the Syrian Army and the likely fall of Mosul to the Iraqi Army means defeat for that the Sunni Arabs in a great swathe of territory stretching from Iran to the Mediterranean. Largely thanks to their Gulf benefactors, they are facing permanent subjection to hostile governments.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen 
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  1. 5371 says:

    Nothing that Gulf states ever do can be described with the word nationalism.

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  2. Anonymous says: • Disclaimer

    {Experts on in Syria argue about the extent to which the Saudis and the Qataris knowingly funded Islamic State and various al-Qaeda clones. The answer seems to be that they did not know, and often did not care, exactly who they were funding ..}

    Dumb statement, or playing it dumb.

    The Saudi ‘leadership’ are serving US interests NOT the Arab’s interest. Saudi Arabia is a COLONY of the criminals in Washington/Britain. They cannot even tough their d*ck withiout permission from Obama regime.
    The dummies and embedded ‘journalists’ paint the servants as ‘stupid’ to fool the Western audience.
    Why Saudi Arabia should go against its own interest to fund CIA trained terrorists that {they did not know, and often did not care, exactly who they were funding..} in Syria and elsewhere? Where is the interest for Saudis? The Saudis are acting on behalf of Obama regime to carry out the Western plot against the regional states and Arab population to serve them to erect ‘greater Israel’ which is part of the ‘world government’ or New World Order.

    Do you think Erdugan is stupid not knowing what he is doing too? Erdugan, a dictator and a war criminal and Turkey is a US Trojan horse. Now, after all these blood shed he feels that he was deceived by Washington and recently has tilted towards Russia to warn Obama regime to get concession for his services from the mass murderers in Washington. The Saudis are so weak that they even do not dare to demand anything for their huge sacrifices, financially and blood, from their masters because they know they will get NOTHING. They will get only some old weapon at 3 fold prices to carry out their services. Saudis are funding Obama regime wars. Look at the Palestinian situation and Arab population. The stupid Arab ‘leaders’ are treated as ‘treasury to fund Washington geopolitical plot against Muslims by Obama regime and criminal Zionists to erect “greater Israel”. Saudis and other Arab leaders should throw the criminal West out of the region NOW.

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  3. Avery says:

    Cockburn showing his agenda. Again.

    {The capture of east Aleppo by the Syrian Army…}
    No: it was the liberation of Aleppo by the SAA from cannibalistic, foreign funded foreign terrorists.


    {The enhanced Saudi involvement in Syria in 2015 on the side of the insurgents had similarly damaging and unexpected consequences. }

    {The Saudis had succeeded Qatar as the main Arab supporter of the Syrian insurgency in 2013 in the belief that their Syrian allies could defeat President Bashar al-Assad or lure the US into doing so for them.}

    Not, quote, ‘insurgents’: foreign funded IslamoFascist terrorist invaders from all over Islamist Hell.

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  4. Prince Mohammed bin Salman appears to be a twit. Got himself in an oil price war with GAZPROM. He should be negotiating the terms of his surrender to Iran. The Takfiri Scum are being left to their own devises as the Anglo/Zio Empire sinks into the sea of time. Damascus was a bridge too far. The carnage in the MENA may have begun to recede to the great sorrow of Zionists and war pigs.

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  5. They found – and Saudi Arabia is now finding the same thing – that militaristic nationalism works well to foster support for rulers under pressure so long as they can promise victory, but delegitimises them when they suffered defeat.

    In the context of what is actually happening, “Islamism” would work better than “nationalism”. Islamism meaning islamic universalism, i.e. the ongoing thousand-year plus pipe dream (so far) of bringing the entire world into the ambit of the House of Islam. If Hillary Clinton herself is saying that that the Saudis and Qataris are deliberately turning a blind eye to their nationals funding the Taliban, and possibly all manner of Muslim terrorists, then we can probably assume that this is probably happening, given the ultra-PC character of the Democratic Party:

    A December 2009 cable from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that donors in Saudi Arabia constituted the “most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”

    The cables date from a period when Richard C. Holbrooke, who died in 2010, acted as special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and actively sought to curb funding to the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

    The funding from the gulf extended well beyond that period and to other groups besides the Taliban, including the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

    In a leaked email from 2014, Mrs. Clinton described the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia as “providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.”

    Financing such groups, she wrote, was part of a contest between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who were in “ongoing competition to dominate the Sunni world.”

    And the next time a mass casualty event involving thousands of dead occurs stateside, the response should involve major airstrikes against both countries.

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  6. Max Payne says:

    Saudi Arabia is responsible for 96.5674% of the Middle Easts problems. Israel only 2%. 1% USA (yes that includes the invasions). The rest others.

    At least Israeli billionaires only donate to one terrorist organization but these Saudi idiot-sons (of billionaires) just turn on the spigots to anyone who can dupe them.

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  7. The Saudi plan was working UNTIL the USA got conned by Israel into completing THE GREATER ISRAEL PROJECT for them and destroying the Middle East.

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  8. aaaa says:
    @Max Payne
    Saudi Arabia is responsible for 96.5674% of the Middle Easts problems. Israel only 2%. 1% USA (yes that includes the invasions). The rest others.

    At least Israeli billionaires only donate to one terrorist organization but these Saudi idiot-sons (of billionaires) just turn on the spigots to anyone who can dupe them.

    your percentages are ridiculous

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  9. I believe that the reason that the Saudis are acting so publicly (and so stupidly) in getting involved in Mid East terrorism, etc. is because their total exposure to the decline of petroleum. Their whole economy is tied to a single natural resource which is becoming worthless. Most of their population, not to speak of the thousands of spoiled royals, are incapable of supporting themselves without governmental aid. They know next to nothing about manufacturing, digital engineering or merchandizing. Everyone knows this. So they have thrown themselves at American/Israeli governmental feet, begging -”Save us!” And America/Israel have answered, “We will, but it will cost you.”
    So, Saudi Arabia has become America’s bitch – providing cover for Israel in their depredations upon the other Arabs, willing to sell their neighbors down-river. And the real kicker is that America/Israel cannot and will not help the Saudis – they are just as big of “patsies” as the Ukrainians

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  10. Saudi Arabia is done.
    Once the oil and gas pipeline from Russia to China gets built they will have no one to sell their oil too. Iran will supply what russia can’t fullfill. Once that happens pricing of oil will move from NYC to Shanghai.

    Saudia Arabia will be invaded by the USA shortly after

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  11. nate says:

    The Saudi collapse is coming, they run out of cash in about 2020, but it may happen before that, what the US does then will be interesting, invade or just leave it alone, my guess is they will invade, the petro dollar must not fall

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