The Bush Administration Relearns the Fact that Saudi Arabia Is Not a "Moderate" State

[Washington Post] Editorial - Several months ago the Bush administration abruptly embraced a new strategy in the Middle East based on aligning "mainstream" Sunni Arab states against Iran and its "extremist" allies, coupled with a renewal of the Arab-Israeli peace process. Last week it began to run up against the predictable limits of that poorly conceived policy. At an Arab summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia orchestrated the reissuance of a five-year-old initiative offering Israel normal relations if it retreated to its 1967 borders and settled with its neighbors, but the Saudis refused either to amend the plan or to embrace the idea of participating in direct negotiations with Israel. Meanwhile, Saudi King Abdullah delivered a speech that condemned the "illegitimate foreign occupation of Iraq" - a direct rebuff of the Bush administration's attempt to obtain full Arab recognition and support for the Shiite-led government in Baghdad. The Arab summit followed several days of shuttle diplomacy by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Israel and the West Bank, during which Israel resisted her attempt to start talks on a final settlement with Palestinians. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert won't conduct those negotiations because the newly formed Palestinian "unity" government - brokered by Saudi Arabia - does not recognize Israel's right to exist. Olmert did express eagerness to begin contacts with the Saudis - but the Saudis say they won't engage with Israel until after it settles with both the Palestinians and Syria. The Bush administration imagined that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, along with fellow Sunni autocracies such as Egypt and Jordan, shared common interests in containing Iran, stabilizing Iraq, defending the Lebanese government, and settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What's becoming clear is that the Arab rulers see these issues very differently than Washington. The Saudi government's strategy has aimed at detaching the Palestinian Hamas movement from Iranian tutelage but not from its rejection of Israel. What the administration is discovering is that attempting to achieve U.S. strategic ends through partnerships with Arab autocracies yields mixed results. When she first unveiled the new strategy, Rice described the Arab alliance against Iran as one of "moderates." She shouldn't have been surprised to find last week that in terms of America's fundamental interests, Middle Eastern dictators are neither moderates nor good allies.

2007-04-02 01:00:00

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