Friday, March 30, 2007

Now Even The Saudis Are Getting Angry With Bush

Saudi King Calls US Presence In Middle East "Illegitimate"

Happier days...

Things are not going well in the House of Saud, or in the House of Bush. The Saudi royal family are frantically trying to maintain their grip on total power as the Middle East undergoes its biggest power shake up in decades. Islamist extremists are winning the Iraq War and stirring up trouble across the region.

The failure of the US-led Iraq War is so pronounced that key members of the Saudi royal family have cancelled a major visit to the White House and the Saudi king has announced the US presence in Iraq is "illegitimate"and called it a "foreign occupation."

At the same time, key Arab leaders have met and decided that the Israel must accept the 2002 Middle East peace plan, or accept renewed violence and even war. President Bush's close ally at home, Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, has been all but frozen out of the most recent Arab-led Middle East peace meetings. One European official told the Washington Post Rice was now conducting "crisis management" instead of "grand diplomacy."

The Saudis are now seeking "common ground" with Iran, and are said to be quietly talking future plans with the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah (newly energized and popular after their victory against Israel last year). At the same time, the Saudis are firming ties with Moscow.

The shifts in the Middle East have become so tectonic, the Saudis appear to be on the verge of cutting at least some ties to the US, and are expected to cut all ties if the US and Israel go to war against Iran.

Iran is now the key to the future of the Bush and Saudi royal family relationship. The Saudis laid out their cards clearly in recent days when they announced they would not allow the US to launch attacks on Iran from within their territory.

From the Washington Post :

President Bush enjoys hosting formal state dinners about as much as having a root canal. Or proposing tax increases. So his decision to schedule a mid-April White House gala for Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah signified the president's high regard for an Arab monarch who is also a Bush family friend.

Now the White House ponders what Abdullah's sudden and sparsely explained cancellation of the dinner signifies. Nothing good -- especially for Condoleezza Rice's most important Middle East initiatives -- is the clearest available answer.

Abdullah's bowing out of the April 17 event is, in fact, one more warning sign that the Bush administration's downward spiral at home is undermining its ability to achieve its policy objectives abroad. Friends as well as foes see the need, or the chance, to distance themselves from the politically besieged Bush.

Abdullah's reluctance to be seen socializing at the White House this spring reflects two related dynamics: a scampering back by the Saudis to their traditional caution in trying to balance regional forces, and their displeasure with negative U.S. reaction to their decision to return to co-opting or placating foes.

Abdullah gave a warm welcome to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Riyadh in early March, not long after the Saudis pressured Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas into accepting a political accord that entrenches Hamas in an unwieldy coalition government with Abbas's Fatah movement.

A few months ago, Bandar was championing the confrontational "realignment" approach in Saudi family councils: Iran's power would be broken, the Syrians would have to give up hegemonic designs on Lebanon, etc., etc. Now the Saudi prince visits Tehran and Moscow regularly. He helped set the stage for the Palestinians' Mecca accord, which has caused Israel to reduce what little cooperation it felt it could extend to Abbas.

Here's some excerpts from a report on the remarkable statements made by Saudi King Abdullah, during a speech to the annual Arab summit in Riyadh, about the US in Iraq :

"In beloved Iraq, blood is being shed among brothers in the shadow of an illegitimate foreign occupation, and ugly sectarianism threatens civil war," Abdullah said.

He also said that Arab nations...would not allow any foreign force to decide the future of the region.

In the past, Saudi leaders including Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal have often criticised US policy in Iraq but have never described its presence there as "illegitimate."

If Arab leaders recover trust in each other and regain their credibility, "the winds of hope will blow on the nation, and then, we will not allow forces from outside the region to determine the future of the region, and only the flag of Arabism will be raised on Arab soil," Abdullah said.

Easily some of the strongest statements made by a Saudi king, or even a Saudi official, against the US in decades. That such statements have been made while a Bush family member is president of the United States makes the words only that much more remarkable.