Should We Welcome Saudi Arabia to the Fight in the Middle East?

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I have occasionally griped in this space about the fact that putative Middle East allies like Saudi Arabia and Jordan basically view the American military as a sort of mercenary force to fight their own tribal battles. Sure, they provide us with basing rights, and sometimes money, but they want us to do all the fighting, and they complain bitterly about American naiveté when we don’t fight every war they think we should fight.

Recently this has changed a bit, with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan launching independent air attacks against various neighbors, and Saudi Arabia even making noises about launching ground attacks in Yemen. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Josh Marshall makes some useful points:

It is always dangerous when power and accountability are unchained from each other. In recent decades, we’ve had a system in which our clients look to us for protection, ask for military action of various sorts — but privately. And then we act, but always in the process whipping up anti-American sentiment, mixed with extremist religious enthusiasms, which our allies often, paradoxically, stoke or accommodate to secure their own holds on power. This is, to put it mildly, an unstable and politically toxic state of affairs. This does not even get into the costs to the US in blood and treasure.

There are pluses to the old or existing system. We control everything. Wars don’t start until we start them. But the downsides are obvious, as well. And nowhere has this been more clear than with the Saudis. The Saudis sell us oil; and they buy our weapons. We start wars to protect them, the reaction to which curdles in the confines of their domestic repression and breaks out in terrorist attacks against us. I don’t mean to suggest that we are purely victims here. We’re not. But it’s a pernicious arrangement.

This is why I think we should be heartened to see the Saudis acting on their own account, taking action on their own account for which they must create domestic support and stand behind internationally.

There’s more, and Marshall is hardly unaware of the risks in widespread military action among countries that barely even count as coherent states. “Still, the old system bred irresponsibility on many levels, including a lack of responsibility and accountability from the existing governments in the region. For all the dangers and unpredictabilities involved with having the Saudis or in other cases the Egyptians stand up and take actions which they believe are critical to their security on their own account is better for everyone involved.”

Some food for thought this weekend.

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