A Saudi Snub

Posted by Cutler on March 28, 2007
Saudi Arabia

In a prior post, I described indications of increased tension between Saudi King Abdullah and the Bush administration.

Jim Hoagland’s most recent Washington Post column–“Bush’s Royal Trouble“–tends to support such an interpretation.  Hoagland reports on what appears to be a significant Saudi snub.

According to Hoagland’s account, the Saudis may still be split between those, like Prince Bandar, who championed a Cheney-backed “break-their-bones realignment” in the Middle East and those who supported “traditional caution” in regional diplomacy.  But King Abdullah appears to have shifted the balance away from Bandar and Cheney’s realignment:

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…

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.

“The Saudis surprised us by going that far,” explained one White House official in a comment that reached — and irritated — Saudi officials….

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….

Part of the royal family was unhappy with [Prince] Bandar’s earlier break-their-bones realignment rhetoric. Abdullah would not want to come to Washington to front for a divided family. He may need more time to patch things.

Among other things, Hoagland’s view appears to lend support to an argument I made in a previous post that Saudi pressure for a political accord between Hamas and Fatah was not supported by the White House, least of all Cheney & Co.

How does Cheney react to Saudi defiance?  It can’t be pretty.

The last time Cheney was confronted with a major breakdown in relations with Saudi Arabia, he launched a war in Iraq.  What will it be this time?

Oh, right… I forgot.

Iran.

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