The West's Alliance With Saudi Arabia Is Not A Handout
02 August 2015
By Salman Aldosary
Sir Christopher Meyer, the former British ambassador to the United States and
Germany, recently wrote an opinion piece in the London-based Daily Telegraph
newspaper with the title, ‘Chaos in the Middle East means it's time for an
alliance with Iran.' The main gist of the article is that since there is no
longer any chance of defeating the Assad regime in Syria in light of the
support it receives from Moscow and Tehran, in addition to the "sudden"
emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its ability to
attract fighters from Western countries, then "whether we like it or not, we
are in de facto alliance against Isil [ISIS] with Assad of Syria and with
Iran, the implacable foe of our longstanding ally, Sunni Saudi Arabia."
Meyer then recommends—astonishingly—that the West halt all military action
against ISIS and "let the region sort out its own problems," before going on
to suggest that "if Isil [ISIS] is able to expand further in the Middle East,
won't this unavoidably lead to the conclusion that our strategic ally in the
region for the 21st century must be Iran?"
Three main points are overlooked by this unrealistic assessment on
dismantling the West's alliance with Saudi Arabia and redirecting it towards
Iran, whose political ideology seems to have suddenly become acceptable to
First, the West has already experienced a six-decade alliance with Saudi
Arabia and the other Gulf states, an alliance which any sensible observer
will tell you has been entirely rational and has not resulted in any regional
or global crises.
Second, Sunni terrorism, as the West refers to it, is the work of extremist
groups which the Gulf states have fought and continue to fight relentlessly.
The Gulf considers this its main fight right now, and the West can certainly
attest to this. Shi'ite terrorism, meanwhile, represents a kind of reverse
situation, whereby it is being sponsored directly by the Iranian regime
itself—as we see with Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard
Corps, the Popular Mobilization in Iraq, and a host of other Shi'ite
extremist groups throughout the region.
The third point—and the most important, in my opinion—is that the West's
alliance with the Gulf states is not a handout which the West bestows on the
Gulf out of the goodness of its heart, but more a partnership based solely on
deep-rooted strategic interests that have proven their importance to both
sides and from which both, and not just one side, have benefited.
Perhaps the "let the region sort out its own problems" strategy, which we can
say is growing in popularity day by day in many Western circles, supposes
that fighting terrorism in the Middle East represents an act of charity which
the United States and its allies generously gift to the countries of the
region? Doubtless, this view is a purely pragmatist one which does not accord
with what Western intelligence agencies themselves would
recommend—considering they are aware that "Counterterrorism 101" will always
dictate that fighting the phenomenon in its locus of operation is a thousand
times more preferable, and indeed easier, than fighting it after it reaches
your own shores. An example here is the terrorist groups that emerged in
Syria, which grew and flourished after Western countries ignored the advice
of sensible allies—who recommended these groups be nipped in the bud before
they spread and became more powerful—and decided not to intervene in the
country. This represents a repeat of the Horn of Africa piracy scenario when,
despite numerous warnings, Western countries ignored this phenomenon for
years and took action only when the pirates began threatening global shipping
routes and international trade.
The West's alliance with Saudi Arabia is one which sees the convergence of
numerous interests in a central and indeed natural way, and its continuation
benefits the region and the world as a whole. Moreover, bolstering this
alliance and even reviewing it will help its continued success. Meanwhile,
talk of disbanding it entirely and redirecting Western efforts toward the
other side in the Gulf will damage all concerned. For just as Saudi Arabia
and the other Gulf states will lose the benefits of their strategic alliance
with the West, so will the West lose many of its own interests in the region
by gambling on a new alliance with a country that the West itself has
classified an "axis of evil" and a rogue state—that is, before the nuclear
deal transformed Iran into a friend and seeming ally.