Trump policy tilt toward Saudi Arabia a mistake

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump join King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia, and the President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, Sunday, May 21, 2017, to participate in the inaugural opening of the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

President Trump’s decision to arbitrarily violate the Iran Nuclear Deal and continue to align American interests with the repressive Saudi Arabian regime signals to the world that the US is far from concerned about human rights, misogyny and the treatment of immigrant guest worker populations. It also indicates the United States isn’t open to persuasion from western European allies in a direct repeat of the George W. Bush years. Trump’s motivation for making decisions unlike Bush whose neoconservative ideology made the world a dangerous place, seems to be based on who flatters him the most. We see this routinely with the Chinese who have used Trump’s naivety to emerge as the leading global superpower and could use the possible reelection of Trump to realign the world into a uni-polar one down the road.

Given the unwillingness of Trump to consider the views of western allies with regards to the TPP, Kyoto protocols and now the Iran deal, it is possible these nations will look beyond the US in the future for global leadership. While it’s difficult to see western democracies aligning themselves  more closely with the repressive Chinese regime, economic interests and continued US isolation and arbitrary decision making may leave them with little choice long-term.

No nation though, save perhaps the aforementioned People’s Republic of China has benefited more from Trump’s Presidency than Saudi Arabia. A nation steeped in misogyny and a religious fundamentalism, the Saudi’s have played Trump and his family like a fiddle. The result has been a diplomatic isolation of Qatar, and the unilateral US withdrawal from the landmark Iran Nuclear Deal.

An illustrative point of how Trump works regarding the relationship with Saudi Arabia which former Bush speechwriters David Frum (who coined the term “Axis of Evil”) outlines in the later stages of his book, Trumpocracy and was once again on full display this week with the Iran decision. By being so easily manipulated by the oppressive Saudi royal family, Trump gave tacit approval to the diplomatic isolation of Qatar which took place ironically shortly after the President visited Riyadh. I have articulated for years my opposition to Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers, particularly South Asian ones, however Qatar’s real sin in terms of the Saudi’s probably was twofold, 1- to try and cultivate ties with Iran, and 2- continuing to allow Al-Jazeera, the most independent television voice in the Arab world to operate. It’s also worth remembering Qatar has been a key US ally hosting US military personnel and bases throughout the decades of American military adventurism in the Persian Gulf region. Further commitments to helping the US will likely be in doubt thanks to this policy shift.

Trump and his family were shown the sort of simple deference by Saudi officials in 2017 including during the Presidential visit of May 2017 that have led directly to shifts in US policy, sought by Saudi Arabia.

Regarding Iran,  I will concede that the clerics who run the show in Tehran cannot be entirely trusted. But the United States has long tilted one way in the disputes that characterize the Muslim world and thus what former President Obama and former Secretary of State Kerry accomplished with the Iran deal was a more balanced, nuanced American policy when it comes to the Middle East.  The United States does not need to show definitive tilt in a dispute between Sunni and Shi’a Muslim theocracies, but over the last 30 years has demonstrated one. This gave the US increased leverage and credibility in arguably the world’s most volatile and dangerous region. It also ensured lower energy prices thanks to the flowing of Iranian oil onto the world market.

Many of the US allies in the region are theocracies (no different that Iran) that do not care for the civil liberties of their people and have held a great percentage of their populations in virtual bondage. Unlike Iran, some of these countries even operate a virtual slave labor market of foreigners and those who are not Muslims. Many Republicans including Florida’s Junior Senator Marco Rubio and some Democrats feel the United States has some responsibility to help ensure the “security” of these repressive theocracies. One these nations, Bahrain has undergone protests by its Shi’a majority  since the beginning of the Arab spring against the Saudi backed Sunni minority government. Now in Donald Trump, Rubio and theocracies of the region have a key ally in the White House, one who doesn’t study issues and understand nuance.

My extensive, multi-year study of these issues leads me to believe the proliferation of anti-western, anti-Christian, and anti-Hindu/Buddhist Islamic terror has less to do with Iran and its allies including Bashar Assad’s Syria but its enemies in the region such as the oppressive Saudi regime.  (I am not saying Iran/Syria does not sponsor terrorism but not to the extent other states  Many Republicans and Democrats imply are our allies do not- still they are an exporter of terror and must be treated as such, but the application of this should be consistent which it is not and becomes even more difficult now with the collapse of the Iran deal and American intervention in Syria’s Civil War).

It is worth noting that in the period after 9/11 Iran was far more cooperative with American intelligence agencies than the Saudi’s were and had been strongly opposed to the Saudi sponsored Taliban theocracy in Afghanistan who were Osama Bin Laden’s protectors.  Iran also provided intelligence about Iraq prior to the infamous George W. Bush “Axis of Evil” speech written partly by Frum, which unwisely linked Iran with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq even though the two nations had fought a bloody war and were far from allies. The great irony being Bush’s Iraq invasion benefited Iran more than any other nation, allowing a Shi’a dominated government to come to power.

Moreover, the track record of foreign guest workers who are non-Muslim being exploited and oppression toward women is far greater in the Sunni nations under the spell of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States than in Iran or Syria, The west and secular democracies everywhere should be putting pressure on the Saudis to change and to stop exporting radical Islam and various degrees of jihadist thoughts around not only the Middle East but into South Asia, Western Europe and even the United States. The march to war with Iran which has now been stopped cold thanks to this deal would have disproportionately benefited the Saudis and their influence over the Muslim world. It is important from a balance of power standpoint to maintain Iranian strength vis a vis the Saudi threat. Iran is also a critical cog in providing energy to South Asia and China, energy that helps indirectly fuel the US economy, so crippling Iran and further isolating them could impact the global economy in a profoundly negative way.

Nobody is doubting Iran still possess some danger and must be monitored closely – but that is PRECISELY what the Iran Nuclear Deal did. The pivot in US policy authored by President Obama and Secretary Kerry was wise and not only made us safer but gave us an opportunity to punish states who do not share our values about humanity in the future. It also by the way, slowed down Iran’s nuclear development programs.

Trump’s decision to align US policy making in the Middle East directly with the Saudi’s will have long-term negative consequences for global security, our western European allies and Americans doing business abroad. It will also as we’ve already seen this week, lead directly to a spike in the cost of petroleum. This week’s decision sent all the wrong signals and is a policy disaster – just the latest from this administration.

One comment

  1. Ron Baldwin · ·

    Trump is envious of the Saudi Arabia form of government and would like to have it grafted on to our Constitution.


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