This should be stating the obvious, but obviously it isn’t. Stephen Walt, writing concisely and clearly in Foreign Policy, explains why the US has failed time and again to export democracy through military intervention. The US has a huge monster of an embassy in Baghdad (above), but all it really does is accent its failure to impose an effective democratic regime there. There are two reasons–the target state is automatically unreceptive, and the US has tarnished its own brand with its internal actions. You’ve read that here before–so it’s not only me.
In a world where we tend to see things in two dimensions, Saudi Arabia doesn’t fit. I talked about President Obama’s summit in the Saudi capital a few minutes ago on KQV Radio in Pittsburgh with host Bruce Sakalik.
So while a New York Times columnist bashes Saudi Arabia as an instigator of terrorism and extremism, presidential candidates point to the famous “28 pages” about the alleged role of the Saudi government in the 9/11 attacks–cooler heads note that Saudi Arabia is an anchor of the Sunni Muslim world at a time when Shiite extremists pose a serious problem to stability, and it’s helping prop up important regimes in Egypt and elsewhere.
So…it’s complicated. Simplistic and bombastic slogans are no way to deal with this region, and you’d think that after all the failures of the last two decades, the West would have learned that by now.
Saudi Arabia is moving in where American fears to tread. That’s one of the lessons from Egypt’s decision to transfer control of two islands at the top of the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia.
On KQV Radio in Pittsburgh a few minutes ago, I discussed this with host P.J. Maloney. The transfer is a gesture of gratitude for huge amounts of Saudi aid. The decision set off some demonstrations in Egypt, symbolic of unease over the new military dictatorship of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
There are, as always, many levels here. There’s the Israel angle–the transfer shows that Saudi Arabia recognizes that Israel is not a hostile element in today’s Middle East configuration, as the Saudis are much more concerned about Iran these days. Don’t look for public displays of affection–that’s not part of that configuration–but historic realignment of the Middle East in the wake of Arab Spring makes the unthinkable thinkable in many areas, and we’d do well to discard old notions and get with the program.