In his analysis of Prince Turki’s interview in the Financial Times, John Burgess gave a valuable list of low-key, bilateral steps the Saudis could take to make good on Turki’s warning (I extracted the points and added the numbering below):
- The Saudis have already said that they will not use oil as a ‘weapon’, i.e., no repetition of the 1973 boycott. That does not mean that they will continue to offer preferential prices to the
for oil. US
- Simply by refusing to grant the
USmilitary permission to overfly the country, the Kingdom can wreak havoc for US military planners with concerns east of . Suez
- It could stop being the piggy bank to which the
USgovernment goes to find funding for international aid programs for which there is nothing in the budget. US
- It could stop buying Boeing or Sikorsky or General Electric weapons and weapon systems and instead buy from Europe,
Russia, or . China
- Rather than voting with the
in international fora, it could simply vote ‘present’. US
The Saudis also have some multilateral cards that they could play:
- The Iranian Card. They could follow up on Turki’s positive depiction of Ahmadinejad’s letter with some substantive move, such as convening a meeting to discuss
Palestineand inviting . This would delight Tehran , which has vigorously been seeking to participate in regional diplomacy as part of its rise in regional prominence. Tehran
- The Pakistani Card. Long actively involved in Pakistani politics, both as an economic supporter of the government and as one source of religious inspiration for various groups in Pakistani society, not to mention allegedly having close military ties, there are any number of ways in which Saudi influence could promote or undermine U.S. influence in Pakistan.
has been displaying notable diplomatic flexibility in regional affairs over the last couple years, in the face of apparent Saudi displeasure, which the Saudis might take steps to mitigate. The intention of each country to provide aid to Gaza may provide an opening. Minimizing differences with Qatar would imply a Saudi openness to getting very far in front of where Washington has been and would make much more difficult diplomatic calculations by blurring the lines between Israel/Washington/Egypt on one side and Iran/Hezbollah/Syria/Hamas on the other. The Qatar Card. Qatar
- The Syrian Card. The Saudis might similarly take steps to improve cool ties with
, something that might not be too difficult now that the Lebanese political standoff has cooled off. Indeed, Syria Israel’s attack on seems already to have launched this process. Gaza
- The Iraqi Card. Saudi Arabia has considerable room for maneuver with regard to Iraq, as well, in terms of legitimizing the U.S. presence, regulating the flow of salafi influence, and providing or denying state support to Iraqi Sunnis whose tenuous political status in Iraq continues to make that country a potential powerkeg.
- The Afghani Card. Saudi Arabia also has contacts in Afghanistan that it can choose to use to influence the willingness of various parties to compromise with the U.S. Simply postponing a decision to take action might impose significant cost on Western forces looking for options.