National Security & Defense

In a Challenge to Iran, and Sidelining Obama, the Saudis Announce an Alliance of 34 Nations

‘We are committed that if Iran should try to cause mischief in the region — we are committed to confront it resolutely. And so we are looking at this agreement and we will be studying it, and we will be discussing it with our friends in the United States.”

So declared Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir, meeting with John Kerry, July 16, 2015.

Saudi Arabia this week announced its new alliance of 34 nations. It’s a formation, Saudi leaders say, with one purpose: fighting terrorists “whatever their doctrine.” But that’s just the spin. In reality, this Sunni alliance isn’t designed to defeat ISIS. It’s real goal is to challenge Iran’s growing power in the Middle East. And based on Saudi Arabia’s history of using terrorist groups — including al-Qaeda — as proxies, this announcement is troubling.

RELATED: Like the Iranians, the Saudis Think Obama Is Weak 

It was also predictable. For a start, recall Minister Adel’s comments to John Kerry in July: At that meeting, Adel said he expected the Iran nuclear deal to have an “effective and quick snapback provision that allows the re-imposition of sanctions against Iran should it violate the terms of that agreement.” Considered alongside his comment about Iran’s causing “mischief,” Adel’s reference to “snapback” sanctions makes it clear that he was angry at the summer meeting. This is further illustrated by Adel’s diplomatic-speak for angry disagreement: “discussing.” Unlike the Obama administration, Saudi Arabia has never regarded Iranian mischief as separate from the nuclear issue. The Saudis see these issues as one and the same.

#share#Nevertheless, this 34-nation alliance is a major rebuke to the Obama administration. The Saudis have long doubted Obama’s willingness to meaningfully challenge Iran. Don’t believe me? Then consider Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s quote this week, that the president’s team “looks forward to learning more about what Saudi Arabia has in mind in terms of this coalition.” Translation: We didn’t see this coming, and we’re concerned about what it might mean.

RELATED: Mideast Morass

The administration is clearly worried that Saudi Arabia is preparing to escalate against Iran, and that it might endanger Obama’s rapprochement with the Revolutionary Islamic Republic. Indeed, the vocal support of Turkey and Egypt for the new alliance is interesting in the sense that both those nations have been disgusted by Obama’s lack of interest in challenging Iranian expansionism in the Middle East. As an extension, it’s also no coincidence that the alliance was announced the same week that John Kerry said the U.S. does not seek regime change in Syria — seeming to yield to Russian demands that Bashar al-Assad remain in power. The Saudis see Assad’s status as a personal issue (they detest Assad for his brutality against Syria’s Sunni majority population) as much as a policy issue.

#related#Saudi Arabia is often a poor ally of the United States. Its long-term funding of Wahhabi-extremist ideology, for instance, fuels radicalism; and its failure to deploy forces against ISIS is inexcusable. But it’s not hard to see why the Saudis no longer trust America. After all, the Americans promised the Saudis that they would prevent Iran from cheating on the nuclear deal, and that promise has now been shown up as an unmitigated farce. In August, I predicted that Iran would cheat on ballistic-missile research. Then in October, I noted that the Saudis’ growing fury at Iran was evidenced by Saudi plans to execute Shia activists. Then, that same month — just as the Saudis were most concerned — Iran began its ballistic-missile cheating. And what consequences has Iran faced? None. President Obama’s key failure has been his inability to recognize that America’s on-the-ground and in-the-air reliability (matching our actions to our words) informs broader strategic realities.

That’s a truth proved by the fact that the Saudis are now rolling the dice of sectarian fear. By threatening additional force against Iran, the Saudis are significantly increasing the risk of uncontrolled escalation in the region. And America is again learning the hard way that President Obama’s supplication to Iran is making the Middle East far more dangerous.

— Tom Rogan is a writer for National Review Online and Opportunity Lives, a panelist on The McLaughlin Group, and a senior fellow at the Steamboat Institute. He tweets at TomRtweets. His homepage is tomroganthinks.com.

Tom Rogan is a columnist for National Review Online, a contributor to the Washington Examiner, and a former panelist on The McLaughlin Group. Email him at TRogan@McLaughlin.com

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