Saudi Arabia: friend or protagonist
This post is a part of the “An American World?” weekly column in which American foreign policy will be analysed from a non-American point of view.
A senior Saudi Arabian diplomat, who also happens to be a member of the royal family, has claimed that Saudi Arabia will begin to build nuclear weapons if Iran attains them. Now, read that again but replace the words ‘Saudi Arabian’ with Syrian or Lebanese or any other nation that is not classed as a friend of the West. How would we react? Would it be the same reaction, or more likely would we respond threateningly to the smaller nations who are less likely to use them in fear of being totally obliterated? So, what’s the big deal? A government who is trying all it can to annihilate any hint of change or revolution in its own and neighbouring countries is trying to blackmail the US to take an even tougher stance on Iran. What are friends for? I do understand that Saudi Arabia sees Iran as a threat to what it perceives as the regional status quo and therefore is responding to protect its own interests, but the issue is how the United States will respond.
Cables released by Wikileaks gave an interesting look at the influence that Saudi Arabia has had over the US’ policies over Iran. King Abdullah privately warned the US in 2008 that all countries including themselves in the Middle East would develop nuclear weapons if Iran did so. So this news is not new to those at the top, yet I have not heard of any sanctions or condemnation to the extent of other nations claiming such things.
When Saudi Arabian troops entering Bahrain to fight against the Arab Spring protesters is met with silence in the West, we really should be questioning whether we are on the side of human rights and democracy or whether there are other motives in play.
So where is Obama, the so called supporter of the Arab Spring and long time ally of nuclear disarmament? At a time when we are bombing Libya because the premeditated violence that would have being perpetrated by Gaddafi would have “stained the conscience of the world”, why can we not see all of the other stains? Is it because our glasses are covered in blood?
Surely our friends over at the House of Saud have done nothing to stain the conscience of our world. If I was pushed I suppose I could say that things such as the excessive use of the death penalty (for crimes including being a wizard), the use of amputation as a punishment, the lowest proportion of females in the workplace (5%) despite making up 70% of university graduates, the complete lack of religious freedom, a place where LGBT rights are not recognised at all. But are these really stains if we get something in return? This list therefore becomes irrelevant amongst friends. You may as well forget all those lives that have being and will continue to be lost and tortured until a certain item runs dry.
Many people accept that a key reason why Ahmadinejad supposedly wants to attain nuclear weapons is because Israel has them and he understands the theory of deterrence; it is not a suicide mission. Can we not see the obvious hypocrisy between condemning and preventing Iran from pursuing its nuclear ambitions yet taking the Saudi threat as more reason to prevent Iran? We are more than happy to support Israel in its quest for self defence yet are enraged when it is a country that does not meet the criteria of friend (usually a non-friend implies that they have not opened their markets to us, or have nothing that we want). So far the media has responded to this issue by stating that we need to make sure that Iran does not attain any nuclear future, ignoring the pure hypocrisy regarding Israel and Saudi Arabia. The United States has two choices; to fully support an ethical stance where they treat all nations as equals and hold them to the same standards, or to do away with the charade that is pretending that they care about human rights and democracy in other countries. We must treat Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia equally in the context of nuclear weapons if we were to take the ethical stance. Of course, as many of us know the issue lies much deeper than ethics. Much deeper.
The word I assume many of you are waiting for in this article is of course oil. I bet you were impressed that a progressive article went this far on the issue of the Middle East without mentioning the O word. I am not going to claim that I know the hidden agenda behind US foreign policy but I will say that there is a reason that Saudi Arabia have gotten off so lightly in terms of criticism from the current and previous US governments.
Let us stop pretending that our governments are standing side by side with the Arab uprisings. We have supported most of these regimes for a long time, so therefore we were and are part of the problem, not the solution. Until we begin to criticize our friends and push them to the same standard we criticize our enemies for, we are not the beacon on light we claim to be. But we can be, if we stop our dependence on oil and therefore on these countries. President Obama; don’t let Saudi Arabia bully you to push Iran more, but let it push you to look more closely at your relationship with the Saudis. However, what reply do we expect to hear back? Silence. Lots of it.