Thursday, November 8, 2007

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Can the U.S. leverage the House of Saud?

Forget Pakistan -- Shadi Hamid and Stephen McInerney argue in The New Republic that the United States should be pressing the Saudis on human rights reform:

America can leverage its support to shape Arab regimes' decisions on democratization. This is particularly true for the ruling al-Saud family, which is intimately tied to the U.S. and dependent on its military backing. The arms deal presents an opportunity for Washington to exert influence in Riyadh. This opening should be seized to push the Saudis along the path of reform, the only path that will lead to long-term security.

We have leverage, and we should use it. First, all arms sales should be contingent on the implementation of the promised educational and judicial reforms. Second, the United States should require progress on political reform, beginning with greater freedoms of press and assembly, and allowing public dissent on policy matters. Beyond this, deadlines should be set for long-awaited Shura (Consultative) Council elections, followed by benchmarks for the steady evolution of the council from an advisory role to a genuine legislative body. Third, transparency and fairness in the justice system, even when dealing with terror suspects, should be required. Such measures can be enforced much as Saudi cooperation on counterterrorism efforts is maintained today--through a certification process mandated by law.

I was certainly sympathetic to this argument a few years ago. The problem is that America's strategic situation in the region has deteriorated so badly since 2004 that I'm not sure the United States can afford to alienate another ally.

posted by Dan on 11.08.07 at 01:47 PM


To what extent are Saudis funding those madrassas which are part of the problem? Is there a basic split within the Saudi government's regional policy? Are the Saudis trying to play both sides? Overall how much of the problem is due to Saudi policy?

posted by: CRW on 11.08.07 at 01:47 PM [permalink]

I would certainly like to see the Americans try to pressure the Saudis on human rights and democracy more. But, if the Administration actually believes the garbage they are saying about "terrorism" and Iran, then they will just be stuck between a rock and a hard place, just like they are with Musharraf.

Also, as Walt and Mearsheimer have conclusively shown, there is a very large "bubble" in terms of American middle east policy. And until the Israel bubble bursts, the USA will never be able to have a stable and positive foreign policy in the Arab world.

posted by: Joe M. on 11.08.07 at 01:47 PM [permalink]

"The problem is that America's strategic situation in the region has deteriorated so badly since 2004 that I'm not sure the United States can afford to alienate another ally."

I question whether having the House of Saud as an ally does us more harm than good, given that we are seen to be supporting a regime that is unpopular in the Arab Street, and particularly because we are occupying the holy lands of the Arabian peninsula.

Anyway, as a political candidate I get all my foreign policy opinions from Fareed Zakaria. I think it is important to distinguish our support for the reform-minded elements of Saudi society, who are our natural allies (and vice versa) from our support for the current Saudi establishment, which is corrupt, repressive, and unpopular.

posted by: VentrueCapital on 11.08.07 at 01:47 PM [permalink]

This is the same Shadi Hamid who sees the Muslim Brotherhood as a good coalition partner in Egypt.
The Brotherhood being the local counterpart to the Saudi Wahhabi Ilkwan

posted by: narciso on 11.08.07 at 01:47 PM [permalink]

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