By Iran Review
By Ali Esmaeili Ardakani*
US President Donald Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia has elicited a host of different analyses in which economic, political and strategic dimensions of his trip have been analyzed at two regional and international levels. All those analyses stressed importance of one variable. However, it seems that regardless of the reason behind Trump’s visit, its aftereffects and future possibilities must be analyzed in a special way.
The question is in what way the active alignment between Saudi Arabia and the United States will continue? It seems that in view of the existing trends, the cooperation between the two countries is tilting toward high-risk behavior and will finally turn Saudi Arabia into a reckless actor. Having US support and relying on revenues it is earning through oil sales and religious tourism, Saudi Arabia is expected to seek revisionism across the Persian Gulf and West Asia regions. As a result, this country will opt for a more expansionist foreign policy, including through territorial, political, military and economic expansionism, which in the long run, will certainly have negative consequences for the United States as well.
Trump’s Saudi visit and foreign policy in the Post-Truth era
Since Saudi Arabia has been under fire for its domestic policies and human rights situation in the country. Some analysts have assessed Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia from the viewpoint of this criticism. These analysts believe that Washington should be criticized for its inattention to political and cultural conditions in this country and its contradiction with the Western ideals. This group of analysts believes that Trump has cast doubts on Western values.
Another group of analysts cite Saudi Arabia’s support for terrorism in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria, and its serious role in terrorist activities, taking it as a criterion for their assessment and noting that getting closer to Saudi Arabia by the United States would be tacit confirmation of this country’s behavior; the same behavior, to which the United States itself was a victim through terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. From the viewpoint of this group, these issues, along with Saudi Arabia’s invasion of Yemen and playing a leading role in enforcing hostile policies against Qatar, prove Trump’s support for Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy logic at both regional and international levels.
Trump’s foreign policy and his closeness to Saudi Arabia can be also taken as a symbol of politics in the Post-Truth era as well. Realities revealed about Saudi Arabia’s domestic and foreign policies in addition to instigation of ethnic and religious minorities in regional countries by this country aimed at disrupting domestic security in those states are apparently not enough reasons to convince the United States not to get along with Saudi Arabia’s policies. This is true because in an age of Post-Truth and information, realities are much less important and receive less attention than emotional and populist politics. Trump and his intellectual allies justify close ties with Saudi Arabia in the name of national interests and realism. This was shown when Trump directly said during his trip to Saudi Arabia that “We are not here to lecture. We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership based on shared interests and values to pursue a better future.” Does the United States really have any shared values with Saudi Arabia? It seems that regardless of how realistic is Donald Trump’s definition of values, it still cannot help him find shared values with a country like Saudi Arabia. As a result, Trump’s foreign policy in the Post-Truth era will lead to giving up values and the ideal, which Americans claim the United States has been build on its basis. Trump’s behavior has been attributed to the Post-Truth era because when his predecessor, Barack Obama, visited Saudi Arabia to sign an arms deal with Riyadh, he did not hesitate to recommend Saudi Arabia to observe and protect human rights.
Therefore, turning a blind eye to the past records of a country, which as admitted by most analysts and politicians has been the main protagonist behind the 9/11 terror attacks, cannot be translated into pursuit of national interests, because this trend will soon show its impact on other regions through Saudi Arabia’s recklessness. This is true as signs of this recklessness have been already on the horizon. Outrageous onslaught on civil demonstrations in neighboring countries and forging an irrational alliance against Qatar are just some examples of the future outlook of Saudi Arabia’s policies. This issue is a true example of how the United States’ is dancing on the sharp edge of the sword with Saudi Arabia.
Why Saudi Arabia has become reckless?
A country like Saudi Arabia sometimes thinks that by getting along with such big powers as the United States, it would be able to change conditions and balance of power in the region in its own benefit, but this is not a smart strategy. A cursory review of the history of WANA (West Asia and North Africa) in the past 50 years, especially attention to experiences in Iraq, Egypt and even Turkey, would show that bandwagoning with transregional powers cannot be a sure guarantee that Saudi Arabia would be able to play an active role in this region.
Available evidence shows that Saudi Arabia’s domestic and regional revisionism will not remain limited to these levels. Saudi leaders believe that aggressive behavior will make their monarchy secure. As a result, they have decided to bank on their financial strength and alignment with such transregional countries as the United States to threaten other regional actors. Under these conditions, no effective measure can be taken to invite this country to promote tranquility and stability in the region unless structural conditions face its leaders with some sort of strategic deadlock. In other words, only a major domestic development – which is possible in view of the current suppression of minorities and closed political atmosphere in addition to widespread discontent among princes and the possibility of a serious power struggle as a result of widespread discontent – or a regional upheaval can cause Saudi leaders to change their mind about this recklessness and revisionism. Until that time, this country will continue to rely on support from the White House, whose current logic is to pursue relative achievements within the international system, to continue its actions that aim to mount pressure on other countries such as Qatar.
All told, contrary to logical actions and reactions that followed the 9/11 and US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Saudi Arabia’s actions at the present juncture will not be logical in view of the composition of the country’s leadership. This is true because new Saudi leaders have not reached the conclusion yet that governments must only think about developing their sphere of influence when suitable grounds are provided, because otherwise, irrationality of their aggressive behavior will show itself. It is exactly due to this reason that Saudi Arabia does not understand the importance of peace and stability in the region under the present circumstances. A sign of this lack of understanding can be seen in Riyadh’s inattention to Tehran’s message of peace and cordiality.
* Ali Esmaeili Ardakani
Doctoral student of International Relations; Allameh Tabatabaei University
These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review’s viewpoints.