America’s few remaining allies in the Middle East are under severe pressure.
While the United States may be severely limited in terms of what it can do in the short term to help the kingdom address its mounting challenges internally, it still has significant capability to alleviate some of the rising external threats and pressures that the Saudis face. That is surely America’s comparative advantage: the ability to reassure key strategic partners of our commitment to their security, and our determination to maintain a regional correlation of forces that favors the United States and its friends while deterring our common adversaries.
But that is precisely the role that the Obama administration has so disastrously failed — or, more accurately, refused — to perform over the past several years, in the process undermining the morale and confidence of already fragile friends while super-charging the ambitions and aggression of their worst enemies.
The question now is whether the Obama administration is even capable of recovering from the geopolitical mess it has triggered. Does it even have a clue about the disastrously destabilizing chain of events that have been unleashed by its very purposeful decision to put a “closed for business” sign on Pax Americana in the Middle East? Does it at last understand that what replaces the abandonment of U.S. leadership in the region is not some virtuous equilibrium or balance of power among local competitors, but accelerating levels of violence, extremism, and chaos? Does it have any idea of how it would go about the arduous task of rebuilding the strategic partnerships that its policies have so badly undermined, and stemming the rising tsunami of disorder that now threatens to swamp the region and U.S. interests?
Alas, there’s absolutely no reason to believe that the answer to any of these questions is yes. In which case, the risks will continue to grow that on top of all the other disasters that President Obama will bequeath to his successor, he may yet add one more: an increasingly unstable and perilous situation in Saudi Arabia — the world’s largest exporter of oil, the site of Islam’s holiest sites, and a country awash, in almost equal measure, in advanced American weapons and angry Wahhabis.