Hard as it is to imagine, the kleptocratic kingdom of Saudi Arabia might be President Obama’s only way out of the tangled mess he’s made in Yemen, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine. At any rate, Saudi Arabia is trying the equivalent of a diplomatic hat trick—a bad metaphor, to say the least, since there are few ice rinks in the Arabian peninsula—by seeking deals, talks, and peacemaking with all parties in all those conflicts.
Saudi Arabia’s interest, of course, is purely survival. It’s not easy sitting on a quarter of a trillion barrels of oil while surrounded by nationalists, the poor, and various malefactors who’d love to get their hands on some of it.
Let’s do a quick rundown.
First, Saudi Arabia won huge credit from the Obama administration for saving its behind by uncovering and revealing, in timely fashion, the plot by Yemen-based members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The plot itself wasn’t hugely significant, but had one or two aircraft exploded in the sky a week before the November 2 election, it would have made the Democrats’ electoral rout catastrophic. For the foreseeable future, Saudi Arabia is golden. And that’s not a bad thing, because King Abdullah is trying his best to broker deals involving Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. And, the Saudis haven’t given up entirely on bringing Fatah and Hamas together, either, which is a necessary (but not sufficient) piece of the Israel-Palestine puzzle.
In the past few days Saudi Arabia has offered to broker a deal in the long-running government stalemate in Iraq. King Abdullah has invited all of Iraq’s players to visit Saudi Arabia to hash out their seemingly intractable squabbling. That’s not to say that all parties will welcome Saudi Arabia’s involvement. Most of all, Saudi Arabia favors the Sunnis, who’ve rallied behind former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc, and they don’t like Prime Minister Maliki one bit. The State of Law party, the hilariously misnamed party set up by Maliki, has already delivered its to-be-expected rejection of King Abdullah’s initiative, and Kurds don’t like it either, apparently. But Abdullah is not easily deterred. “Everyone believes that you are at a crossroads that requires the utmost to unite, get over traumas, and get rid of sectarianism,” said the Saudi king. By “sectarianism,” of course, Abdullah means Shiite triumphalism. But the Saudi king is smart enough to know that if Iraq is going to have a stable government, it’s going to mean that Maliki, Allawi, and other factions—notably the boisterous Kurds—are going to have to divide power three ways.
That, the Saudi monarch undoubtedly knows, means that Saudi Arabia and Iran (along with Turkey as a minority shareholder) will have to strike a deal of their own to support a broad-based, compromise government. The idea that Saudi Arabia and Iran can make that kind of deal isn’t unprecedented. Over the past several years, they’ve done precisely that in Lebanon, where Saudi Arabia and its Sunni partners, along with the Christian allies, stuck a deal with Iran and its Shiite partners, including Hezbollah and its own Christian allies, and so far it’s worked. That deal didn’t make the United States happy, but it’s stabilized Lebanon, as much as that sect-ridden nation can be called stable.