|Saudi Arabian Fairy Tales
It is not fair to lay at the door of the Carter Administration the full blame for the dramatic failures of American policy over half the globe. These began with the previous administrations.
President Carter, moreover, has been ill served by his Intelligence services. In Iran, by all accounts, they were completely unaware of what was brewing. Whichever way the blame is apportioned, however, the painful fact emerging from the Iranian debacle, as it emerged from previous debacles (in Afghanistan or Angola), is that part of the time Washington does not know what is happening and the rest of the time it does not seem to understand the implications of what it is doing.
For a long time now, Washington has tried through a variety of unofficial channels to disseminate the theme that the requirements of the global confrontation lead rationally to a cooperative front which should include Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel. This idea, however, has not been coupled with proposals for making Israel stronger, but precisely the opposite: Israel (presumably in sheer gratitude for being offered membership of this exclusive club) is required to reduce herself to approximately the 1949 armistice lines that is to weaken herself, by miraculous coincidence, to precisely the extent required by the traditional Arab doctrine for the next attack on her. Six months ago, President Anwar Sadat put forward the same childish idea to Mr. Shimon Peres.
Had he stopped to think, Peres would have seen through this confidence trick designed to trap Israel into complete compliance with Arab demands. The truth is that the prime concern of the Arab states is not to fight the Soviets, but to find the ways and means for eliminating the Jewish State. The immense Saudi military build up is patently directed at Israel: And the same Americans who have tried to purvey the idea of a joint anti Soviet front have been cooperating with the Saudis in camouflaging the anti Israel purpose of their armaments.
On the one hand, the Tabuk airfield near the north western border with Israel was described as a base for defensive operations against Iraq, five times the distance to the north cast; against possible attacks on the oilfields hundreds of miles to the east. On the other hand (they said untruthfully), there were no Hawk missiles at Tabuk. And so on.
Significantly, the much publicized softening of the Saudi attitude to the Egyptian negotiations with Israel came only after Sadat's repeated public assurances that the "peace treaty" with Israel would not affect his intention of fulfilling his obligations to the sister Arab states and to the PLO. Israel is the prime subject of the Saudi military programme.
Among the far reaching reverberations of the upheaval in Iran, however, there is noticeable disquiet in Saudi Arabia. In spite of the substantive constitutional and social differences between the two countries, their frailties are essentially no less real; and the dangers to the regime are uncomfortably evident.
The example of Iran, therefore, provides reason enough for disquiet. It is evident, however, that the Saudis find in the Iranian debacle another lesson no less serious: that in an emergency it is not much use depending on the Americans to save the regime or even the nation. American discernment of this reason for Saudi disquiet has been sharply demonstrated by the dispatch of 12 sophisticated warplanes as token witness that Saudi dependence on the US for its integrity and its security will not be betrayed.
From the tumult of these developments, however, a jarring note comes through. The Saudis are worried lest their dependence on the US may be their undoing? The Saudis dependent on the US? But for years now we have had it drummed into our heads by American spokesmen, diplomats, politicians, businessmen, that the boot is on the other foot. We have been warned that it is the US that is dependent on Saudi Arabia. We have been told that Washington is compelled to heed Riyadh's bidding.
It has become the conventional wisdom that the determining factor in US policy on any issue in which Saudi Arabia has an interest is the Saudis' capacity and readiness to stop the flow of oil and petrodollars to the West, or to withdraw crippling sums from the American economy. Now the flames of revolution in Iran have lit up the glaring truth that the whole story is, in plain American, phony.
This is not, of course, a newly revealed truth, but for years its voice has been blocked out by the drums of Arab and pro Arab propaganda. Saudi Arabia and, indeed, all the OPEC countries, have never been capable of taking and maintaining such measures against the US and the West in general as to force them to accept political dictates.
On the contrary, the measures themselves would soon begin to react unfavourably on their own economies. None of them, not "even" the Saudi economy, is invulnerable. Today, the most up to date studies of the economic relations between the US and the oil countries suggest that all the OPEC countries are heading for financial trouble.
A study by Dr. Theodore Mann, now a member of the State Department's policy planning staff (quoted in a brilliant analysis by Craig Karpet in the December issue of "Harper's Magazine") establishes that while "even rosy estimates" of OPEC exports for 1980 fall below those of 1973, the cost of basic industrial, military and social welfare items in the OPEC countries' budgets have escalated explosively.
"Taken together, this means that by the end of the 1970's" writes Dr. Mann, "OPEC will not generate enough revenues to cover even much scaled down versions of the spending needs of its members."
Karpel himself quotes figures on Saudi Arabia which show that even she will not have enough money in her coffers to meet her obligations in 1980.
These analyses, and a large number of studies made since 1973 by leading independent oil economists and other experts, confirm and reconfirm that the information disseminated in order to create panic over Saudi Arabia's capacity to hold America to ransom is quite unrelated to the facts. It is clear that the US, and the world generally, have for years been, and continue to be, the victims of a major hoax.
The capacity and the likelihood of Saudi Arabia damaging the US economy have been inflated and exaggerated; the damage the Saudis would inflict on their own economy has been ignored; the measures the US could apply to offset and overcome any damage has been brushed aside; the counter measures the US could take to convince the Saudi Arabians and their allies of their folly in particular the withholding of supplies, and especially military supplies never surfaced.
The twisting of this truth into a story of American dependence on Saudi Arabia has inevitably weakened the strategic stance of the US. Whom has it benefited? Goods and Services rendered to the Saudis have brought in billions of dollars to the oil companies, the big banks, to big exporters, to advisers of various kinds and, inevitably to the public relations firms whose direct business it is to propagate the views of their employers, including the myth of their ineluctable power.
Altogether, they represent a tremendous lobby, perhaps the most powerful the US has known. The oil and business interests have always been heavily represented in the bureaucracy dealing with foreign affairs. Their direct influence in the counsels of government is incalculable.
Already, in 1948, Israel experienced its efficacy (when the Truman Administration withdrew its support from the partition proposal and imposed an embargo on arms); and it helps explain in large part the illogicality, from the point of view of American interests, of American policy in the Middle East. This is not unprecedented. Was it not an American Secretary for Defence Charles Wilson brought into Eisenhower's cabinet from his post at the head of General Motors, who took decisions on the principle that "What is good for General Motors is good for the United States?" And he probably believed it.
The doctrine establishing Iran as the central pillar of the US strategic structure in the Middle East was related to the policy of weakening Israel in order to satisfy the Arabs, which had begun to receive practical application in the course of the Yom Kippur War. Whatever may still happen in Iran, the Iran centred doctrine is no longer viable. If the administration will now take a fresh look (as it surely must) at the Middle East, it will discover a very disturbing state: Iran, at best an undependable ally, Saudi Arabia incapable of independent action and requiring American manpower (except, of course, for attacking Israel).
If the concessions made by Israel in the negotiations with Egypt are consummated, and all the more if she now succumbs to the further pressures being exerted on her by the US, she ceases to be a powerful factor for deterrence and for safeguarding the Middle East against further pro Soviet erosion. She will become a mini State whose ever present concern will be her own immediate defence and the maintenance of her very existence in the face of the combined threat of the Arab coalition.
Let nobody in the Washington corridors pretend that he does not know this.
This situation, still developing from day to day, surely cries out for a reassessment in Jerusalem, for a pause and a standstill, and for taking steps to hasten the awakening of opinion in the US to the new situation, its dangers and its demands. There can be no doubt that there are in the US already the beginnings of an awakening to the unhappy implications for the US of the Iran revolution and to the vital need for ensuring the efficacy of Israel's role in repairing the situation.
If only Jerusalem takes the initiative, and Israel's friends and her potential allies can be assured that she herself will stand firm, there is still hope that Israel can be drawn back from the state of distress into which she is being led. Is there nobody in Government with the courage to cry, "Stop!"