SAUDI BASHING….Matt Yglesias thinks Glenn Reynolds is right to “consistently point out that the Democratic Party could get a lot of mileage from criticizing the Bush administration’s coddling of Saudi Arabia.” Bob Graham has been pushing this line pretty hard, and the idea that we should get tough on Saudi Arabia seems to have considerable support on both the left and the right on the blogosphere. This is an issue I need to learn more about.
The problem is, I can’t help but think that as emotionally attractive as this idea may be, it’s fundamentally barroom talk. It’s like that hardy election year perennial, promising to “get tough” with China, which magically disappears whenever a challenger takes office and starts seriously looking at the upsides (minimal) and downsides (substantial) of actually doing anything to make good on his promise.
Now, there’s no question that we would all like Saudi Arabia to stop subsidizing Wahabbist extremism and do more to clamp down on terrorist activity within its borders. On the other hand, “getting tough” with Saudi Arabia might have just the opposite effect:
Whatever their faults, the House of Saud is basically friendly toward the United States. Destabilizing them has a very high probability of bringing to power someone even worse from a U.S. perspective. Much worse, in fact.
We could send in troops, of course, but surely no one is seriously considering that? Aside from the fact that we’re stretched thin already, it’s hard to imagine anything we could do that would stir up more hatred toward us in the Arab world. An American presence in Mecca and Medina would set the entire region in flames.
Economic sanctions are a possibility, but the Saudis, needless to say, can fight back. They depend on oil money, to be sure, but even so they can probably withstand a decrease in oil revenue far better than the industrialized world can withstand oil at $100 a barrel. The Saudis are instinctively committed to stability, but piss them off enough and they might decide to fight back.
With the exception of the GCC states, which are small and mostly take their cues from Saudi Arabia anyway, the United States has no friends in the Arab world. And while we may be powerful, I really don’t think we can take on the entire Middle East all by ourselves if every single country in the region is our sworn enemy.
Saudi bashing might feel good, but my instinct tells me that it’s mostly uninformed and counterproductive, and I’d just as soon the Democrats avoided it. It truly would be purely partisan posturing that accomplishes nothing except undermining U.S. objectives.
Of course, there are various levels of getting tough, and some may be more workable than others. I think I’ll read up on this subject a bit more.
UPDATE: Speaking of Bob Graham, did you know that he’s one of the Washington Post Grahams? I didn’t.
UPDATE 2: In comments, John points out that Jordan and Egypt are both friendly powers. I’m not entirely convinced of the reliability of either of these countries, but it’s a fair point.