Washington Watch: Petulant potentates peeved at president

The Saudis are best positioned to help both sides and the cause of peace, but so far they seem more interested in sitting on the sidelines complaining about everyone else. It’s time to swap their petulance for participation.

US Sec. of State John Kerry and Saudi FM Saud al Faisal 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
US Sec. of State John Kerry and Saudi FM Saud al Faisal 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I’ve been reading how the Saudis are peeved at President Barack Obama for not having bombed Syria when he threatened to, but instead working out a deal, with Russian help, to destroy Bashar Assad’s vast chemical weapons arsenal.
The job isn’t over but significant progress is being made. The big beneficiary, in addition to the Syrian people, is Israel, although it would have liked to see the Americans bomb Syria anyway. President Assad, after denying he even had chemical weapons much less ever used them, finally admitted he built and stockpiled so much poison gas so he could kill Israelis.
As for those pissed-off potentates of the desert, I have no sympathy. For decades the Saudis have been buying the best the Pentagon had to offer – top-of-the-line planes, bombs and assorted weapons – using their obscene profits from the high prices we were paying at the gas pumps.
They’ve got upwards of 200 F-15s plus stockpiles of smart-bombs and missiles, attack helicopters and, of course, don’t forget the AWACS, which can provide command and control all the way to the target and back.
They’ve gotten anything they’ve ever wanted – despite the efforts of some of us back in the 1970s and 1980s to block some sales – the best America, Britain, France, Germany and even China has to offer.
So, if they think Assad deserves a few missiles up the keister as punishment for gassing his own people or slaughtering even more by conventional methods, they have the means to do it themselves – if they’ve got the guts for the job and aren’t too busy making sure women can’t drive cars in the kingdom.
It’s only 355 miles – about 15 minutes in a Mach 2.5 F-15 – from the King Faisal Air Base at Tabuk (it’s only 127 miles to Eilat, Israel, which is why the original agreement to sell the Saudis the F-15 required they not be stationed at Tabuk, but they are and Israeli requests to remove them have been brushed off).
Those F-15s have a range of more than 2,500 miles with the conformal fuel pods attached (we tried to prevent that sale also in 1981 and failed, only to learn later that the extra tanks were actually built in Israel but labeled “made in USA”; I don’t know if or when the Saudis actually found out).
There’s no need for refueling for the quick round trip, and each plane carries an impressive assortment weapons. And don’t forget those AWACS providing guidance and early warning of any threats.
In a fit of pique the Saudis turned down a seat on the UN Security Council because they felt the United Nations and United States weren’t doing enough to stop the war in Syria or get the Israelis to make a deal to the Palestinians’ liking.
Saudi intelligence chief Bandar Bin Sultan Al Saud told European diplomats that his country would be putting some distance between itself and the United States, according to The Wall Street Journal. That’s a bit odd for a country that owes its survival to the United States.
And a bit unusual for Bandar, the flamboyant prince and longtime ambassador to Washington known for his lavish entertaining, penchant for Cuban cigars and such easy access to the White House under two presidents that he earned the nickname Bandar Bush.
Following the first Gulf War, when America prevented Saddam Hussein from taking their oil fields, the Saudis evicted the Americans from bases in the kingdom, but told US forces to stand off “15 minutes away over the horizon” in case they were needed again, in the words of one unnamed Saudi official.
They’re upset Obama isn’t another Bush. Those presidents were quite willing to go to war when the kingdom needed it. In the first Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein was knocking at their door, they helped pick up the tab.
The second time, when we actually finished off Saddam, they weren’t so forthcoming – maybe because Bush 43 installed a pro-Iranian Shi’ite regime in Baghdad – and we’re still paying the price, especially in VA benefits for the permanently injured.
The Saudis have consistently demanded Washington apply more pressure to Israel to make a deal with the Palestinians (they’ve also grown weary of the conflict and became anxious to see it end in the interest of regional stability).
Frustrated by the stalemate, then-crown prince and now King Abdullah dropped a peace plan on the table (via The New York Times) in 2002 – offering full peace for full Israeli withdrawal and other terms – and since then he’s done little more than complain it didn’t get enough love.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has rejected it, although several of his predecessors were more open and tried to discuss it with the Saudis but were swiftly rebuffed.
If the king was really serious about peace all he’s had to do is pick up the phone. A call to Israeli and the Palestinian leaders inviting them to meet and to convince them of his strong support for peace would be more powerful and useful than any White House photo op. But that takes guts, something the Saudis famously lack.
The Palestinians fear any agreement with Israel will be attacked by Hamas and other Arabs as surrender, and they need the political, diplomatic and financial backing the Saudis can give to sanction essential compromises.
Just as the Saudis look to the Wahhabis for their legitimacy, the Palestinians need powerful patrons like the Saudis to give them the cover to  make peace.
The Israelis similarly need to know a Palestinian deal will mean an end to the conflict and full recognition.
The Saudis are best positioned to help both sides and the cause of peace, but so far they seem more interested in sitting on the sidelines complaining about everyone else. It’s time to swap their petulance for participation. If they are too afraid, maybe they should let a woman do the driving.
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