Arabian Nights

In 2003, then Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, warned against the imminent invasion of Iraq led by the United States. In his warning, he stated that an invasion aimed at removing the regime of Saddam Hussein would only serve to destabilize the entire Middle East. Clearly, after 15 years of turmoil in the Middle East, what al-Faisal meant by “destabilize” was that Iran would no longer have the counter-weight of Saddam Hussein preventing it from creating a Shi’ite Crescent. This projection of power in the Middle East has stretched from Tehran all the way to the Mediterranean Sea and across the Persian Gulf into Yemen. As a result of this Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states sought for ways to counter Iran’s expansion of influence in the region.

Part of the plan for countering this expansion called for the Gulf States to encourage confrontation with Iranian-allied entities in the Middle East. The opportunity to take out a major component of the Shi’ite Crescent came in 2011 when, as part of what was deemed the Arab Spring, public unrest in Syria began. Initially mimicking what was seen first in Tunisia and then later in Egypt, the unrest in Syria was a call by the people for more political autonomy within  the country. Soon the protests were coopted by jihadists who spotted an opportunity to topple a secular regime and install an Islamist one in its wake. That is when the killing picked up pace. It is also when the Gulf states and many in the national security elite of the United States saw a chance to act.

Clinton Urges Arming the ‘Rebels’

From the beginning, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then-CIA Director David Petreaus hatched a plan to begin arming the “rebels” in Syria in an attempt to topple the Assad Regime without having to repeat Iraq in 2003. This plan was rejected by President Barack Obama.

This plan was then modified slightly to use weapons seized as a result of the toppling of the Muammar Qadaffi regime in Libya and funneling them into Syria via Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. In the end, this plan got Ambassador Chris Stevens killed when the Obama administration decided to cease the weapons shipment.

While this was going on, the Islamic State–a predominantly Sunni jihadist group–grew in strength, took over nearly half of Syria, and invaded Iraq and got as far as the outskirts of Baghdad.

Iran vs. ISIS and the Arab Panic

The effort to push ISIS out of Iraq was done mainly through cooperation between the regular Iraqi Army, Iranian advisers and units from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and local Iraqi Shi’ite militias. There were some air sorties flown against ISIS by the U.S.-Gulf State air coalition, but the majority of the strikes carried out by the coalition were mostly against targets in Syria. The Saudis viewed the events in Iraq as horrifying because, as they saw it, the Iranians were solidifying their relationship with, not just the Shi’ite dominated government of Iraq, but the majority Shi’ite population. This fear on the part of the Arabs has subsided only slightly due to political developments in Iraq, but rest assured there is still great concern that Iraq is still under the influence of Iran.

The military advances against ISIS in Iraq, coupled with a perception among many in the Gulf world–most notably the Saudis–that the United States was beginning to shift toward cooperation with Iran, the Arabs panicked and looked for another way to lash out. The opportunity to do so happened in 2015 when the weak regime in Yemen was ousted by that country’s version of Appalachian hillbillies, the Houthis.

The Houthis are a Shi’ite tribe from the mountainous region in the north of Yemen. They share the same sectarian beliefs as the Iranians, but aside from that they are not the puppets of Iran that many have attempted to make them out to be. The Saudis and the Emiratis of the United Arab Emirates view them as a Yemen Hizbollah and thus have made it a matter of national security that the Houthis not be allowed to govern Yemen. In March of 2015, the Saudis and the UAE acted on this policy and began a bombing campaign that has turned into a ground war that has led to numerous missile attacks into Saudi Arabia and one of the largest humanitarian crises in the last 100 years. Once more, in an effort to show the Arabs that the United States was not turning from them and to the Iranians, the United States actively backed the Saudi-led military operations and have for the past four years.

Yemen was an important political victory for the Arabs because their ability to carry out a proxy war against Iran was coming to any end in Iraq when the United States began focusing on removing ISIS from Iraq, the United States entering into talks with Iran that resulted in the JCPOA agreement, and no end in sight of the Assad regime in Syria. With the 2016 election looming, Saudi Arabia became nervous of what might happen.

Arab Hedging

The Saudis were huge supporters of a potential presidency of Hillary Clinton because they did not know what they might get with a President Donald Trump. Based on his rhetoric during the campaign and his voicing support for removing the United States from the Middle East, the Saudis were frightened that there would not be any means of strategically countering Iran’s influence in the region. Without a major power in the region, there is no military power capable of countering Iran aside from Israel, and is a prospect that no party in the Middle East wants.

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, a new strategy was employed, but it used old tactics. In order the ensure that the elected administration of Donald Trump would stay in the Middle East, the Arabs concocted a plan to pressure Trump on multiple fronts through the use of money and political pressure. First, the Saudis played to Trump’s business sense and a desire to see blue collar jobs in the United States grow by increasing the amount of arms deals between defense manufactures and Saudi Arabia. Second, and on a much more clandestine level, the Saudi Arabia and the UAE would influence officials in Washington D.C. to ensure any attempt to make good on Trump’s promises to withdrawal from at least some portion of the Middle East would be met with “the sky is falling” rhetoric from those officials.

Saudi Arabia has benefitted greatly from the presidency of D. J. Trump in that they have received some fo the most sophisticated weapons systems through arms deals negotiated on behalf of Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, and General Dynamics. This arrangement allows Saudi Arabia to continue its murderous campaign against the Houthis–and the rest of Yemen really–while providing Trump with the ability to claim that these deals are good for the U.S. economy. Simultaneously, some of the loudest voices criticizing Trump for daring to suggest that the United States should not be militarily involved in so many areas have benefited from the companies directly involved in these weapons deals.

Lindsey Graham has characterized Trump’s recent move to disengage from the northeast portion of Syria and acting as a buffer between Turkey and Syrian Kurdish forces in that portion of Syria as a “shot in the arm for the bad guys.” However, look at who the biggest campaign contributor to Graham has been during the course of 2015 to 2020. You guessed it, Lockheed Martin with $57,200.

Another big critic of Trump’s desire to “cut and run” has been former Secretary of Defense James Mattis. Mattis is said to have resigned as Sec Def because of Trump’s insistence back in 2018 that there be an exit plan for Syria. Well, guess what ol’ Mad Dog is up to these days when he is not out receiving awards and yucking it up with the elite set. That is right, he is back on the board of directors for General Dynamics. Just looking at Lockheed and G.D., these two companies are parties to 21 major arms deals to Saudi Arabia over the course of ten years (2009-2019).

The other aspect of messaging for the Gulf states is influencing the “scholarly” set within the think tanks of Washington D.C. This part of the operation is carried out by the UAE. When one considers who is being contacted and influenced by money and other perks, there is little wonder why, when mention of troop withdrawals from Syria is made, everyone from the Washington Post to Fox News in the media and the Center for American Progress to the American Enterprise Institute have pretty much the same message: “That will destroy the Middle East!”

Conclusion

The United States is being played. The people have voiced their desire to end the forever war in the Middle East, and yet these voices are ignored by officials in Washington who are financially benefiting from these very same wars. At the same time, the United States is being played by a supposed group of allies attempting to manipulate the United States into conducting strategic initiatives that those allies cannot conduct on their own.

A wise man recently told me that it is not always about the money when discussing interventionist foreign policy, but there is no denying that, at least for the Americans who vociferously push such a policy, money is one of the most influential factors. It is time to finish what President Trump started this past week with Syria. It is time to abandon empire and tell the rest of the world that their regional problems are theirs, not ours. We can no longer afford to expend lives and treasure for people–both in those foreign countries and here at home in the national security elite–who do not give one damn about the family in Middle America that suffers the invisible punishment of public debt and the emotional turmoil of loss of loved ones. Saudis are despicable people and there is not one Saudi worth the life of one boy from Iowa. Bring them home.

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