Saturday, May 09, 2015

The Saudi-Iran War

Violence in the Middle East is taking on the shape of a Saudi Arabia-Iran War.

Our leaders have declined to really lead the West. Sure, we hoped to lead from behind, but that requires allies to die for our objectives. If we aren't willing to fight with our allies for things we both want, our allies figure out that they might as well fight for their own objectives.

Saudi Arabia will hold a meeting of Assad's opposition to discuss post-Assad Syria. Al Qaeda and ISIL are not invited.

Senegal has lined up with Saudi Arabia's coalition, pledging 2,100 troops to the fight in Yemen.

Egypt has extended their commitment to the Saudis for another 3 months.

Turkey and Saudi Arabia have decided to seriously work against Assad. Amusingly enough, Turkey vehemently denied there is any new agreement.

Yet the Turks seem unwilling to directly intervene in Syria until exhaustion has set in among the combatants.

Saudi Arabia also wants nuclear weapons to hold Iran at bay.

So we have the Saudis battling Iran for control of Syria (and a related effort to pull Hamas away from Iran); we have the Saudis pulling Turkey away from closer relations with Iran; we have the Saudis leading a Gulf Arab grouping to confront Iran in the Persian Gulf in the air and at sea, with American (and Western) naval and air power in support (we may be unreliable, but we can be counted on to protect the oil traffic from Iran's interdiction efforts); and the Saudis are battling Iran for influence in Yemen (and a related effort that got Sudan to break with Iran over Yemen).

The Saudis did lose a round when Pakistan declined the invitation to resist Iran in Yemen. Although Pakistan isn't siding with Iran, the Pakistanis probably aren't going to be much help short of an Iranian invasion of Saudi Arabia. And nuclear help looks to be insufficient or at least far more costly than what Saudi Arabia has paid for so far.

What is really missing is  the biggest land front against Iran--Iraq.

The ultra-Sunni Saudis really need to get over their suspicion of Iraq's dominant Shias and cultivate relations with Arab (and Kurdish) Iraqis to block Iranian influence in Iraq.

The Saudis made a small start but have a long way to go.

Remember, Egypt was shunned by the Arab world after signing a peace deal with Israel well over 30 years ago. The need to resist Iran by helping Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War allowed Egypt to get back into the good graces of the Arab League. The need to resist Iran should be enough to get the Sunni Arab world to cultivate ties with Shia (but Arab)-run Iraq against Shia (but Persian) Iran.

Iran is unable to play well with fellow Moslems. But President Obama can start a successful outreach to Iran?

UPDATE: As the indirect war with Iran takes shape, the major players don't seem to be counting on us to do anything more than provide arms and control the seas (which we'd want to do anyway):

It is not just the Saudi king who will be skipping the Camp David summit of U.S. and allied Arab leaders. Most Gulf heads of state won't be there.

The absences will put a damper on talks that are designed to reassure key Arab allies, and almost certainly reflect dissatisfaction among leaders of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council with Washington's handling of Iran and what they expect to get out of the meeting.

These allies don't think they can count on us to resist Iran and they don't fear us enough to send top leaders to make it look like we matter to their calculations.

I guess it isn't so much that our allies don't want to be led from behind as it is that they see us in front of them on the other side chatting up their enemy, Iran.

UPDATE: Stratfor has a good piece and a good map:

Yet President Obama insists on alienating our Arab allies and courting Iran as a force for stability in the region.