By Tayyab Majeed
The new Saudi King, Salman, fears that a prolonged war south of the kingdom will lead to the Syrianization of Yemen, where amid the political vacuum, transnational Jihadist allied with either al-Qaeda or the Islamic State will enter Yemen to fight against the “infidel” Shiites. Saudi estimates that a protracted war will sooner or later spill over into the Kingdom. Hence, this war is not a competition over hegemony in the Arab Peninsula between Saudi Arabia and Iran, but a war over the survival of the Saudi monarchy. Therefore, Saudi needed US by her side but the situation is somehow different.
However, President Obama’s neo-isolationist doctrine of attempting to resolve international conflicts through international organizations, mediation and diplomacy, has exposed the vulnerability of the Kingdom’s external security. The Saudi monarchy is currently concerned that diplomacy operates too slowly and will be ineffective in containing the Yemeni war, as it was demonstrated in the case of Syria. Now, the Kingdom feels abandoned by the US despite repeated declaration by Obama of the US commitment to its security. The Obama administration cannot allow the war in Yemen to undermine stability within Saudi Arabia but so far the US has not done much militarily, fearing that military intervention will strain US-Iran relations at this sensitive point of time of attempting to finalize a deal on Iran’s nuclear program. The US has in the meantime restricted its support of the Saudis in this war to intelligence and logistical support.
The US may even think that the Saudis overestimate the repercussions of the Yemeni conflict on their security, relying on the fact that Yemen is an underdeveloped, failed state. However, strategically Yemen is a very important state. If diplomacy fails in bringing the conflict to an end, the Obama administration may find itself reluctantly embroiled in the process of re-stabilizing Yemen because the Saudi regime is indispensable for the US and losing it is out of question. But at present, the United States is only providing “logistical, intelligence and technical support”. Also, concerted efforts led by King Salman personally to persuade Pakistan to join have failed.
In playing their Great Game, Saudi Arabia and Iran have engaged in a series of proxy wars to undermine each other, some hot and some cold, throughout the Middle East. In Lebanon, it’s the Iran-backed Hezbollah. In Syria, it’s the longtime Iran-backed Assad regime. In Iraq, it’s an Iran-backed Shia government which was, prior to the US invasion in 2003, solidly in the Sunni camp.
Despite Riyadh’s repulsive human rights record, unproductive role in regional security, and American advances in shale oil production, the United States needs Saudi Arabia more than ever. So why does the US put up with Saudi Arabia? The simplest explanation, of course, is oil. The kingdom is the largest and most important producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the bloc that controls around 40 percent of the world’s oil. Because the United States was until recently the world’s top oil importer, an alliance with Saudi Arabia made geopolitical sense.
The recent shale oil boom in the U.S. has led Washington to hope that before long, its alliance with Riyadh won’t be necessary. The U.S. now pumps more than 9 million barrels of oil per day, which almost matches the amount in Saudi Arabia. Observers project that in five years; the U.S. will get 80 percent of its oil from North and South America and will be mostly self-sufficient by 2035. The OPEC decision to not cut supply in response to falling oil prices signaled that the North American boom had fundamentally changed the commodity’s global.
So, having discussed above-mentioned factors, it may be said that though there would not be complete detachment between US and Saudi Arabia, but the relationship is poised for downwards trends.
By Tayyab Majeed