The U.S. has often prided itself on understanding when to practice quiet diplomacy and when to go public, so it should take special notice of the fact that Saudi Arabia has opted to engage in a rare instance of the latter.
An opinion article in The New York Times this week signaled the kingdom’s displeasure with some fundamentally important matters taking place in the Middle East. It was penned by a Saudi prince, Mohammad bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, his country’s ambassador to Britain.
Saudi Arabia has historically preferred the road of quiet diplomacy, but policymakers and officials in the United States are now facing open verbal dissent by one of Washington’s closest and most long-standing allies.
The article, in short, said the U.S. was pursuing worrying policies vis-à-vis Iran and Syria – the phrase “dangerous gamble” was used – and that the kingdom was fully prepared to act on its own to safeguard security.
Washington undoubtedly has its own way of gauging things, but for an administration that has claimed to pride itself on building consensus as it navigates foreign policy challenges, the failure to take into consideration the views of Saudi Arabia is astounding.
Some of the armchair analysts are fond of repeating the mantra that the U.S. has weaned itself off of dependence on Middle Eastern oil sources, and is thus less interested in the complex politics of this region.
But the rise in American production from several new sources of oil doesn’t cancel out the role of Saudi Arabia. As it’s been said, the kingdom functions like the “World Bank of oil,” and it will remain one of the most important countries in the world when it comes to the global economy.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have grievances, concerns and interests, and Washington’s approach to world affairs can’t act in isolation and pretend that everything will sort itself out. The U.S. and arch-enemy Iran have now begun talking to each other and pursuing a diplomatic solution to Tehran’s nuclear program. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have not been pursuing blind vendettas against Iran and the Iranian people, as a simple look at the economic scene in the Dubai will demonstrate. But Gulf countries have legitimate concerns, such as Iran’s occupation of three UAE islands, and more ominously, its persistent efforts to extend its influence through heavy-handed or violent means in countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq.
U.S. officials are certainly aware, even if they don’t acknowledge it, that their efforts to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have repeatedly failed because they’re based on appeasing one side and forcing the other side to make unreasonable concessions. Move that template to the Gulf, where attempts are made to placate Iran at the expense of Gulf countries, and it’s easy to see how misguided the current approach is – and the policy has already earned a significant public rebuke.