The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia failed to read what was coming from the West, just like it failed to understand the outcomes of the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1.* So Riyadh has found itself in the middle of a very complicated equation that is shrouded in foreign and domestic “fog.” At the forefront is its multi-leveled, multi-faceted involvement directly in Yemen and indirectly in Syria, Libya, and Iraq. Additionally, it has little room to maneuver after entering an economic tailspin, which has forced Saudi Arabia to begin a process of completely restructuring its financial, productive, and perhaps its ideological makeup. This portends the possibility of a direct confrontation between the Wahabi religious establishment and “rising” elements in the ruling family led by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
At this juncture, it is difficult for Saudi Arabia to digest the new American “fad,” characterized by exploiting the post-9/11 era. Today, Washington is revealing its willingness to create a new narrative — on legislative and legal levels at a minimum — that is completely different from the common practice during the last fifteen years. It is a narrative that may saddle Saudi Arabia with almost all the responsibility for the 9/11 operations, which means opening the balance books starting with reparations. It might reach the extent of total political exploitation, if it is advantageous and a natural conclusion of the path the United States has chosen for its system of international relations, as well as its existing system of protection and security in the Middle East — the Arab Gulf, specifically. The United States, as usual, never misses an opportunity to prepare an indictment in anticipation of future choices, dossiers, or investments. So, during the last eight years, the United States has been occupied with preparing the right prescription for benefiting from the “secret pages” in the offices of the FBI. Today, you see a clear path toward comprehensive strategic, economic, and political exploitation for the supposed Saudi role in the al-Qaida attacks on the American mainland. In this context came the confirmation of former Sen. Bob Graham to CNN that the review of the “28 pages” is in its final stage and they will affirm the Saudi connection to the 9/11 attacks. And so Gen. James Clapper, director of the CIA, is busy reviewing the report, pending its transfer to other executive agencies.
The issue of the investigation and the “secret pages” goes back to 2008 and the massive campaign that members of Congress launched to publish the documents alleging a role by Saudi princes in the 9/11 attacks. The effort sought to pressure the FBI to lift the “top secret” classification from the report in such a manner that, at the time, President Obama threatened to use his veto power to stop the release of a legislative decision about the matter. However, instead of turning his stated obstinacy into action, Obama opted to grant Congress enough room to turn the matter into a unresolved “issue” until he personally designated this June as the final deadline for deciding on the issue to release the files or not.
The unanimous agreement of the Senate on the legality of the law opening the door to go after Riyadh in New York federal court is still pending a specific, constitutional mechanism requiring its passage by the House of Representatives. However, the reality communicated by picture and sound does not reveal eagerness for exploiting the matter on the part of the Obama administration in its diplomatic rhetoric, keeping in mind that it will enrich the basket of American options in regards to the emerging variables in its strategy in the Middle East.
This seemed clear in the speech of Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jabir about the objection of his country being based on the principles of international relations, describing what Congress has done as the direct abrogation of the principle of sovereign immunity, which will transform the world from one of international law to the “law of the jungle.”
There is no doubt that sovereign immunity prohibits lodging legal claims against governments. However, the “law of the jungle” is not an exceptional outcome, which has fallen on the Kingdom at a bad time. It was a strategic lever for Riyadh that permits it to directly exploit crises and transform Saudi Arabia into a “great power,” by regional standards, in the American-Iraqi confrontation during the time of Saddam Hussein and the Iranian-American confrontation in the past. Thus, Riyadh realizes more than others that the Obama administration, by the fact that its “excessive power” is able to transform marginal facts, or even small lies, into “truths” with international repercussions. The matter appeared on more than one occasion as a case for justifying the Iraq invasion in 2003 and similarly in accusing Iran of pursuing the production of a nuclear bomb for more than a decade. So this “law of the jungle” was always a strong ally of the American system internationally and in the region. If not for it, Riyadh would not have been able to assert itself as a full partner in the Yemeni crisis, whether in manufacturing the war or in writing its conclusion.
The United States is preparing itself for an era of Iranian resurgence, just as it is preparing for the final, geostrategic landscape that will emerge from the overlapping foreign and civil wars launched by a number of major countries in the region. In this way, Washington is weaving new threads according to the given variables and clearing the Middle East for a completely different set of alliances and blocs. This is apart from the newly anticipated context for the Arab-Israeli conflict, where acceptance of a completely different role for Iran in the Arab Gulf is assumed, approaching little by little the old model of “policeman of the Gulf”, especially since Iran was freed from the shackles of economic sanctions with the help of Washington. It then returned to total economic and commercial involvement after it succeeded in surviving the stress test during the last thirty years and, likewise, after proving to the West that it surpassed the “rogue” characterization, and presented itself as a “revolutionary” model of the “rational” states.
Tehran replacing Riyadh in the region is not a future reality. Saudi Arabia has never been a fully involved country, instead acting within its special sphere of interests and strategic vision. Rather, its role came as a complement to an American basket consisting of Gulf states, Egypt, Turkey, Israel, and Jordan — at least before the Arab Spring. At the same time, Tehran, with its existing regime, cannot be a full American ally in the Gulf region; however, it can be a strong partner, capable of protecting agreements and understandings from the ups and downs that rock the ruling elite in the Near East every time there is a coup. Thus, the inevitable difference in clout and capabilities will govern the Middle East post-Arab Spring. Moreover, the American withdrawal from the Gulf is imposing a need for clear redlines, and thereby forcing a kind of political and “doctrinal” retreat to prevent internecine conflicts. This is what the “Obama Doctrine” pivoted around in his interview with The Atlantic last March.
*Editor’s note: The P5+1 refers to the U.N. Security Council's five permanent members, namely China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States; plus Germany.