May 17, 2010

Saudi frustrations with Obama's foreign policy failures

In a rather blunt assessment of President Barack Obama's foreign policy performance over the last 16 months, former Saudi intelligence chief and former ambassador in London and Washington Prince Turki al-Faysal criticized the President's efforts in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and the Middle East peace process.

According to Prince Turki (and as I have complaned about before), Obama is pursuing an "inept" strategy in Afghanistan. Prince Turki decries Obama's nation-building in Afghanistan when he should have American forces hunting down the terrorists on both side of the Afghan-Pakistan border. Obama's claims that American troops are in Afghanistan to defeat al-Qa'idah are ludicrous.

On the Iranian nuclear issue, the Saudi prince blamed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for making the situation worse. I assume he is referring to the failure of the Obama Administration's policy of "engagement" with the regime in Tehran, followed by the Mrs. Clinton's failure to secure sanctions in the United Nations. The Iranians have outmaneuvered this White House at every turn.

The situation in Iran is of major concern to the Saudis - they are regional rivals in the Persian Gulf. Riyadh is watching the Iranians successfully evade sanctions while undoubtedly developing nuclear weapons and more capable ballistic missiles. Obama and Clinton have been claiming sanctions on Iran are imminent for months - we are no closer now than when Obama took office. The Saudis are frustrated that their primary ally - the United States - seems to be losing it position as key power broker in the region.

Likewise, on the peace process, the Saudis have yet to see any progress. While Obama's somewhat hostile attitude toward Israel might meet with Saudi approval on one level, they are disappointed that it has achieved virtually nothing. Despite trying to "engage" Syria, the parties are no closer now than when Obama took office.

Turki was fairly terse in his advice, "I (will) ask President Obama to do the morally decent gesture and recognize the Palestinian state that he so ardently wishes to exist. He can then pack up and leave us in peace and let the Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese negotiate directly with the Israelis. No more platitudes and good wishes and visions, please."

On Iraq, Turki is concerned about a dramatic rise in violence after American forces pull out on the Obama-announced timetable. Since the groups know exactly when American forces will depart, they know when to plan to again resort to violence to achieve their aims. This is the fallacy of time-certain withdrawals. Of course, Saudi Arabia is concerned with instability on its northern border. Here, I will take issue with the Saudis - they refused to help after the U.S. invasion in 2003, and did little to stop the influx of Saudi and foreign jihadists into Iraq through the Kingdom.

Prince Turki is no longer an official of the Saudi government, but he remains one of the most influential members of the royal family. If he is publicly voicing criticism of, and frustration with, the Obama Administration, you can safely assume this is what the senior Saudi leadership - read: the King - thinks.

Although I have had my differences with Prince Turki in the past, mostly when he was the director general of Saudi intelligence, I think he's pretty much on target here.