Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Neocons Echo Kirkpatrick, Defend Saudi Arabia

LobeLog

Two weeks ago, in the aftermath of the execution of the Shia leader Nimr Baqr al-Nimr, I catalogued a list of neoconservatives who were rushing to defend Saudi Arabia. They were doing so despite the domestic and foreign excesses of the Kingdom, notably its devastating air campaign in Yemen, as well as its role in spearheading and financing the four-year-old counter-revolution against the “Arab Spring.” Among the first to leap to the challenge was the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, which concluded that “in a Middle East wracked by civil wars, political upheaval and Iranian imperialism, the Saudis are the best friend we have in the Arabian peninsula.”

Amid growing questions about the costs and benefits of the West’s longstanding support for the House of Saud—see Eldar Mamedov’s post at this site on the debate in Europe—the Journal’s Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist (and hardcore Likudist) Bret Stephens apparently felt obliged to pen a special op-ed in Wednesday’s print edition devoted to “Why the U.S. Should Stand by the Saudis Against Iran.”

Although he issues an initial disclaimer reminding his readers that “[t]here is so much to detest about Saudi Arabia,” Stephens argues that it would be a “bad—make that very bad—idea for the U.S. to abandon the House of Saud, especially when it is under increasing economic strain from falling oil prices and feels acutely threatened by a resurgent Iran.” He goes on, predictably, to blame Riyadh’s current acting out on—guess who?—Obama, insisting that “[i]f the administration is now unhappy about the Saudi war in Yemen or its execution of Shiite radicals, it has only itself to blame.” It’s just like when Jimmy Carter “lost Iran” because of his ambivalence about the Shah.

Stephens continues by citing all the terrible things that could happen if we don’t provide the kind of fulsome embrace that Jeane Kirkpatrick advised the U.S. to offer to “friendly authoritarians,” like the Shah of Iran or all the right-wing regimes, that dominated and oppressed much of Latin America in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He deploys the same arguments as Kirkpatrick more than 40 years ago: if the U.S. distances itself, they’ll go to the “Russians or Chinese” (not the Soviet Union) or support “Sunni extremists” to counter Iran. And, of course, if the Saudis lose power, something worse will take their place (and grab hold all of that “advanced Western military equipment” we’ve sold to them).

Moreover, those Saudis have been true allies. They revoked Osama bin Laden’s citizenship “and pushed the Taliban to expel him from Afghanistan” (after being one of only three countries that recognized the Taliban government). Besides, as with any authoritarian regime, we can quietly urge them to implement reforms so long as we assure them of our solidarity and support. After all, the monarchy allowed women to vote and even run for office in municipal campaign just last month. “[I]t’s hard for the U.S. to urge such changes on a country that feels it’s being abandoned,” Stephens said, again channelling Kirkpatrick.

As to our problems with Saudi foreign policy, particularly in Yemen and elsewhere:

All of this means that the right U.S. policy toward the Saudis is to hold them close and demonstrate serious support, lest they be tempted to continue freelancing their foreign policy in ways we might not like.

This struck me as really sound advice, particularly in light of what happened with Argentina. After a period of mutual alienation resulting from the application of Carter’s human-rights policy to the junta, the Reagan administration cultivated a particularly close relationship. Kirkpatrick, who wrote her PhD dissertation on Argentina, was an outspoken advocate of close relations with the generals for many of the same reasons cited by Stephens regarding Riyadh. The generals, in turn, were more than willing to show their appreciation by, for example, sending hardened veterans of their “dirty war” against alleged leftists to Central America to help train what became the Nicaraguan Contras and assorted death squads in the region. There was even talk of forming a South Atlantic Treaty Organization that would include Argentina, along with apartheid South Africa, among other “authoritarian regimes.” Indeed, the junta felt so encouraged by the administration’s courtship that it decided to invade the Falkland/Malvinas Islands in 1982, trusting that Kirkpatrick and her allies could fend off objections from Britain’s Margaret Thatcher. That, however, didn’t work out so well.

But it’s a good cautionary tale, especially in light of Stephens’ advice about how we should hold the Saudis “close and demonstrate serious support.” After all, as one wise commentator recently noted:

Any country that believes it will never be made to pay the price for the risks it takes will take ever-greater risks.

You might ask who was that astute observer?

Why, it was Bret Stephens in his weekly column published in the Journal’s Tuesday’s edition, entitled “Normalizing Iran: Why are liberals campaigning to make this most illiberal regime acceptable?”

Illiberal regimes? Jeez, sometimes the ideological contortions of neoconservatism are just too much.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

On August 16, 2018, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the formation of the Iran Action Group (IAG). It would “be responsible for directing, reviewing, and coordinating all aspects of the State Department’s Iran-related activity, and it will report directly to me,” he stated. Amid speculation that the Donald Trump administration was focused on…


Norm Coleman is a lobbyist for the Saudi Arabian government, chair of the Republican Jewish Coalition, and former senator from Minnesota, known for hawkish, pro-Likud, and anti-Iran foreign policy views.


The millionaire pastor of the Cornerstone Church in Texas, John Hagee argues that U.S. support for Israel will play a “a pivotal role in the second coming” of Jesus. He has also risen to new prominence during the Trump administration.


Michael Gerson, an evangelical Christian who served as a chief aide and speechwriter in the George W. Bush White House, is a conservative columnist for the Washington Post and one of Donald Trump’s harshest critics on the right, calling him an “unhinged president.”


Robert Kagan, a cofounder of the Project for the New American Century, is a neoconservative policy pundit and historian based at the Brookings Institution.


Mira Ricardel, former weapons marketer for Boeing, is the deputy national security adviser under John Bolton. She is a well-known foreign policy hawk who has served in key positions in the administration of George W. Bush and, earlier, in the office of former Senator Robert Dole (R-KS).


Fred Fleitz left his role as chief of staff at the National Security Council under John Bolton to succeed notorious Islamophobe Frank Gaffney as president and CEO of the Center for Security Policy.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Although a widespread movement has developed to fight climate change, no counterpart has emerged to take on the rising danger of nuclear disaster — yet.


U.S. supporters of Israel are in a bind: public opinion is changing; there are more actors publicly challenging Israel; and the crude, heavy-handed tactics they have successfully used in the past to silence criticism now only aggravate the situation.


As the civilian death toll from Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen grows and the backlash against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s role in Khashoggi’s murder escalates, former Sen. Norm Coleman’s control of Republican Party campaign purse strings positions him as a key influencer of Republican congressional action, or inaction, in curtailing the increasingly aggressive and reckless actions of Saudi Arabia.


Increasingly, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are positioned as rivals, each with pretensions to Middle Eastern influence or even hegemony. It’s not clear whether they can continue to coexist without one or the other—or both—backing down. This has made it more difficult for the United States to maintain its ties with both countries.


What does President Trump’s recent nomination of retired Army General John Abizaid to become the next U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia signify? Next to nothing — and arguably quite a lot.


The Donald Trump administration’s handling of nuclear negotiations with Saudi Arabia promises to lay bare some realities about security issues and nuclear programs in that part of the world that the administration has refused to acknowledge.


Eminent U.S. foreign policy expert Stephen Walt’s new book critique’s the “liberal hegemony” grand strategy that has dominated U.S. foreign policy since the end of the Cold War.


RightWeb
share