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US And The Saudi-Iran Spat – OpEd


By all indications, the US is caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to Irani-Saudi tensions that have clearly escalated recently. The chilly reception given to US President Barack Obama in Riyadh — the Saudi King failed to greet him at the airport yet did so for the neighboring emirs the next day — reflects the Kingdom’s overt unhappiness with Obama’s refusal to completely join the anti-Iran crusade that the Saudi officials have been pursuing with a great deal zeal and determination in the region and beyond.

In his most recent comments on Saudi Arabia, Obama has accused them of being security “free riders,” has called for a “cold peace” between Tehran and Riyadh, and also urged the latter to “share the neighborhood” with Iran. None of this sits well with the Saudis, who much prefer to see scathing criticisms of Iran by Obama, echoing the final document of the recent summit of Islamic leaders in Istanbul, which accused Iran of meddling in the internal affairs of other countries in the region, while targeting Iran’s Hezbollah allies in Lebanon as a terrorist organization.

So far, as of this writing, all that the Saudis had managed to extract from Obama in his visit was a commitment by the US to shore up patrolling the shores of Yemen to interdict Iran arms smuggling for the Yemenese Houthis fighting the Saudis and their proxies, as well as cooperation on missile defense and counter-terrorism. The US-GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) meeting is unlikely to translate into a significant modification of Obama’s nuanced Persian Gulf policy, that seeks to balance relations between the two power houses of Iran and Saudi Arabia, in light of the Iran nuclear agreement, which has broken some ice between Tehran and Washington.

Still, the Saudi-led GCC bloc is a source of gigantic profit for the US military-industrial complex and the tens of billions of sophisticated arms sold to them, irrespective of Saudis’ abysmal human rights record or their on-going atrocities in Yemen, speaks volumes about US’s priorities. Despite some calls in Europe for an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia over its year-long brutal campaign in Yemen, supplied by US military, there is no indication that the US has the slightest intention of rocking the solid boat of its decades-long alliance with the Saudis, who occasionally rattle Washington by making overtures toward China or Russia.

Indeed, this explains why Obama has sided against penalizing the Saudis for their role in the 9/11 attacks, rebuffing a congressional attempt to do so, given the stern Saudi threat to sell out their hundreds of billions of their US assets, a threat taken rather seriously in US policy circles.

On the other hand, the US and Saudi Arabia appear to be basically on level with each other on the important oil policy, which has been used to weaken both Russia and Iran, with negative results for the Saudis themselves, who have entered into a fragile Doha agreement on production level that may or may not hold, depending on the near future developments. The successful US-Saudi “oil card” has delivered a devastating blow to the Putin regime in Russia, which might explain why Moscow has cut short its expensive military campaign in Syria, concerned about a costly quagmire.

Meanwhile, the traditional “Iran containment” approach by the US, which has been in place since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, is basically intact and, therefore, the Saudis have essentially little to complain against the US, their protectorate superpower, except in the scope of their desired Iran-bashing that, for now however, the US lags behind, knowing full well that the GCC oil states will continue to rely on the US power so long as there is a credible “Iran threat.” In other words, the US is at best interested in a “cold peace” between Tehran and Riyadh not a warm and cooperative relationship between them.

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Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

Editor's Note: Federal authorities in 2021 charged this contributor with operating as an unregistered agent of the Iranian government. Eurasia Review is leaving the article on the site as a matter of public record while updating his author page and the article to include this new information for context. Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, Ph.D. is an Iranian-American political scientist and author specializing in Iran’s foreign and nuclear affairs, and author of several books.

One thought on “US And The Saudi-Iran Spat – OpEd

  • April 22, 2016 at 11:55 pm

    Dr. Afrasiabi’s comment seems quite realistic to me, but I would not call the tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran a spat. I think the Saudis feel betrayed by a US government that has heretofore given them everything they want, especially weapons, despite their deplorable human rights record and their exporting Wahhabi fighters to every trouble spot in the world. It’s been a symbiotic relationship: Arabia exports the terrorists, and the US declares a Global War on Terror. What could be more perfect for keeping the Pentagon busy and selling the products of the MIC, upon which depends whatever prosperity America still has? It ought to occur to whatever Americans read that the big question is whether the US can continue to screw everyone else over–for the corporate control of the world’s resources–without precipitating WWIII. It’s a big risk but, as in the Reagan years, the neocons running US foreign policy seem to think they can win. The US planners care nothing for how many people will die (there are too many of them anyway). I remember a Reaganite who, contemplating 30 million dead, remarked “Never mind, the ants always rebuild the antheap.”
    The corrupt Saudi/US deal to drive oil prices into the basement so as to wreck Russia’s economy and that of smaller oil sale-dependent nations like Venezuela has been a major gamble with the patience of a nuclear-armed Russia. If I were an Iranian, I would not be sanguine about the normalization of relations with the US and EU. I suspect there’s a plan to stab Iran in the back when the right time comes. Irritating Israel seems also to be on Obama’s agenda, which the Iranian deal has certainly accomplished. In the old days the UK was referred to as “perfidious Albion” a title which can now be transferred to the US–“perfidious America” because there is no end to US deviousness in its foreign policy.


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