In a November 30, 2006 post, I suggested the following:
[T]here are signs of a growing Right Arabist split regarding US policy toward Iran. The factions within such a split are representing by Vice President Cheney, who is trying to bolster Saudi resolve to resist Iranian regional dominance, and James Baker, who is trying to facilitate Saudi detente with the Iranians.
These signs may also be linked to factional battles within the House of Saud although limited transparency make these more difficult to discern on the basis of open source reporting.
Today’s New York Times article by Helene Cooper–“Saudis Say They Might Back Sunnis if U.S. Leaves Iraq“–seems to suggest that the Saudi split may indeed be part of the story.
Along the way, Cooper sheds light on a number of significant developments regarding US-Saudi relations.
The Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal, who told his staff on Monday that he was resigning his post, recently fired Nawaf Obaid, a consultant who wrote an opinion piece in The Washington Post two weeks ago contending that “one of the first consequences” of an American pullout of Iraq would “be massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed Shiite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis.”
Mr. Obaid also suggested that Saudi Arabia could cut world oil prices in half by raising its production, a move that he said “would be devastating to Iran, which is facing economic difficulties even with today’s high oil prices.” The Saudi government disavowed Mr. Obaid’s column, and Prince Turki canceled his contract.
But Arab diplomats said Tuesday that Mr. Obaid’s column reflected the view of the Saudi government, which has made clear its opposition to an American pullout from Iraq.
And, Cooper also makes news by reporting new details on the substance of Cheney’s meeting with Saudi King Abdullah in late November:
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia conveyed that message to Vice President Dick Cheney two weeks ago during Mr. Cheney’s whirlwind visit to Riyadh, the officials said. During the visit, King Abdullah also expressed strong opposition to diplomatic talks between the United States and Iran, and pushed for Washington to encourage the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, senior Bush administration officials said.
Abdullah is opposed to diplomatic talks between the United States and Iran. That idea was floated by James Baker. So what ever happened to James Baker’s famous intimacy with the Saudi Royal family?
One answer is that a Cheney-Baker split reflects a split in the house of Saud:
In Riyadh, there was a sense of disarray over Prince Turki’s resignation that was difficult to hide. A former adviser to the royal family said that Prince Turki had submitted his resignation several months ago but that it was refused. Rumors had circulated ever since that Prince Turki intended to resign, as talk of a possible government shake-up grew.
Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister and Prince Turki’s brother, has been in poor health for some time. He is described as eager to resign, with his wife’s health failing, too, just as the United States has been prodding Saudi Arabia to take a more active role in Iraq and with Iran.
The former adviser said Prince Turki’s resignation came amid a growing rivalry between the ambassador and Prince Bandar, who is now Saudi Arabia’s national security adviser. Prince Bandar, well known in Washington for his access to the White House, has vied to become the next foreign minister.
“This is a very high-level problem; this is about Turki, the king and Bandar,” said the former adviser to the royal family. “Let’s say the men don’t have a lot of professional admiration for each other.”
Is Bandar Baker’s man (and vice versa)?
And Cheney? Is he now aligned with King Abdullah?
Or has Cheney decided that the Bandar/Bush branch of the Saudi Royal family–the Sudairi Seven that let Cheney station 500,000 US troops on Saudi soil in 1990 over the objections of Abdullah–has lost the battle for control of Saudi Arabia?
Was Cheney’s trip to Riyadh was a farewell visit? Did Cheney tell King Abdullah that he was backing the Shiite Option in Iraq?
The last time Prince Turki resigned abruptly was on September 4, 2001, exactly one week before the September 11 attacks. Mark your calendars.