A strategic divorce is unlikely to occur soon, U.S. officials say that the United States has no plans to leave the Middle East or retreat into isolationism, does not mean to disengage from the Middle East. Ties with Saudi Arabia, long nurtured by oil commerce, have been jolted by diplomatic disagreements over Iran, Syria and Egypt, and could fray further.
Allies for decades, Washington and Riyadh find their interests now diverging on such key issues as how to support the rebels in Syria’s civil war, the intensifying U.S. diplomacy with Iran and the military coup in Egypt.
Saudis have serious problems with our policies. They can’t abide the fact that, as a result of our doing, a Shiite prime minister rules in Baghdad; they loathe our policy on acquiescing to Mubarak’s ouster; they resent our interest in reform in Bahrain; and they can’t stand our refusal to get tough with Israel on the Palestinians.
The United States is less reliant each month on Middle East energy, thanks to increasing production of both oil and natural gas from technologies such as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which allows extraction of oil and gas from shale deposits.
Could it be that, in coming years, we’re going draw back even more from the place? Perhaps.
[February 18 2011]
Saudi Arabia has been besieged by bloody riots in neighboring Bahrain and a growing anti-government protest south of its border in Yemen.
King Abdullah, the world’s Arab monarch, is a pragmatist and a modest reformist, who has had to balance the demands of the conservative Wahabi Muslim establishment in the desert kingdom, with the aspirations of ordinary Saudi men and woman hoping for a bigger slice of the oil-based economy.
“Abdullah has been much more forthcoming than his predecessors in making some social, political, and professional space for women. He has publicly curtailed the arbitrary power and the capricious behavior of the so-called religious police, the mutaween, who are actually behavior police,” but the reforms, which do not amount to any kind of popular democracy, are “top down” rather than arising from popular unrest.
Prince Talal bin Abdul-Aziz, a half brother of the king, said it was not too late for the Saudi government to take steps to avoid protests – and that the king is the only person who can bring about major changes.
“The only person who could really maintain things and do major things and change is King Abdullah,” the prince told BBC Arabic in an interview. “Because he is not merely liked, but he is loved by the people. But if he doesn’t do it, it would be very dangerous in our country.”
Talal is an outspoken prince who has called for reform before. He holds no government posts and is considered something of an outsider within the royal family.
He was forced briefly into exile in the 1960s amid reports at the time that he planned a revolt.