Monday, September 12, 2011

The Saudis' Stark Warning

While the United States was otherwise absorbed in a day of self-reflection over the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, an influential member of the Saudi royal family issued a stark warning that the long-standing US-Saudi love affair may soon come to an abrupt end.

That was the take-away from Turki Al-Faisal's Op-Ed in yesterday's New York Times, over why the United States should not oppose the creation of an independent nation of Palestine. The Palestinians are widely expected to use the United Nations General Assembly meeting later this month to put a formal end to talks with Israel, unilaterally declare their independence and petition the United Nations for full membership; the United States is also widely expected to use their veto the UN Security Council to squash Palestine's bid for membership on behalf of Israel. Al-Faisal warns though, that such a move would make the United States “toxic” in the Arab/Muslim world, and that this would force the Saudis to then drastically scale back their cooperation with the US and to pursue “a far more independent and assertive” foreign policy in the region. Al-Faisal goes on to say that this would result in Saudi Arabia not formalizing relations with the fledgling government in Iraq, parting ways with the United States on Yemen and suggesting it could lead Saudi Arabia into direct conflict with Iran, among other possible outcomes.

Two things make this more than just the ramblings of another dreary government official in the editorial pages. The first is Turki Al-Faisal's position within the Saudi hierarchy: he is both the former head of the Saudi intelligence services and former ambassador to the United States, roles that have made him the usual go-to guy to do the rounds in the American media when the Saudis want to announce a shift in policy; the second is the overall bluntness of his op-ed. Typically writings like these are couched in diplomatic language, which is vague enough to allow for just about any possibility, Al-Faisal was much more definitive: this will happen, this decision will have that effect, and so-on.

Given the speaker and the tone, it is a message that Washington should take to heart, though it is a pretty safe assumption that they won't.
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