Feature

Saudis want action on Syria

The Syrian conflict “has tested the Saudi-U.S. pact as never before.”

The Syrian conflict “has tested the Saudi-U.S. pact as never before,” said Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg in the Arab News (Saudi Arabia). When President Obama visited the Saudi capital Riyadh last week, he found the Saudi royals frustrated, perhaps even angry. The U.S. decision to ignore Saudi advice and partner with Russia to negotiate with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in what’s known as the Geneva process “turned out to be a failure.” It has merely “allowed the Assad regime to escalate its onslaught against civilians.” It didn’t have to be that way, said the Arab News in an editorial. If the U.S. had bombed a few key military installations at the start of Assad’s bloody crackdown, it would have sent a message that failure to negotiate would bring the Syrian leader “the same detailed obliteration of his aircraft and tanks” that was visited upon Libya’s Muammar al-Qaddafi. But Washington did nothing. And it has been similarly obtuse about Iran. The Iranian regime still refuses to comply with international obligations to submit to nuclear inspections, yet the U.S. has rewarded it with reduced sanctions. Let’s hope King Abdullah persuaded Obama to launch a “fair and balanced U.S. approach toward the Syrian and Iranian issues.”

For the Saudis, the two problems are intricately linked, said The Times (U.K.). “Syria’s civil war has broadened into a proxy struggle for regional supremacy between Shia and Sunni militants backed by Iran and Saudi Arabia, respectively.” And the Saudis believe that the reason Obama won’t help the Syrian Sunni rebels is the Iran negotiations. In their view, Obama fears that a setback in Syria would undermine Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whom he sees as a moderate willing to strike a nuclear deal. The fundamental problem in the relationship is one of respect: Saudi ministers believe Obama “is appeasing Iran out of naïveté when he should be negotiating from strength.”

Yet the strained relationship is not all America’s fault, said Patrick Cockburn in The Independent (U.K.). The Saudis have angered the U.S. by “covertly supporting al Qaida–type movements in Syria and elsewhere.” Not that the Americans should be surprised: Saudi Arabia has long “used jihadis as an arm of its foreign policy, believing that it could disclaim responsibility for their actions.” That is changing now, though, since jihadist websites and Twitter feeds have begun targeting the royal family. One showed a picture of King Abdullah giving a medal to George W. Bush with the caption “Medal for invading two Islamic countries.” Saudi authorities are now trying to “choke off the supply of Saudi recruits volunteering to fight in Syria.”

Unfortunately, there’s been no similar shift in U.S. policy, said Mshari Al-Zaydi in Asharq Al-Awsat(U.K.). Saudi Arabia gets nothing but ingratitude from Western media. Worse, U.S. government officials have apparently “reduced the kingdom to an oil well and a source of intelligence.” Until the U.S. demonstrates that it takes Saudi concerns seriously, the relationship will not improve.

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