Press TV – Very quickly after the 9/11 attacks in the United States, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, now the king of Saudi Arabia and then the panicked governor of Riyadh, called the US’s ambassador to the kingdom at the time, Robert Jordan, to tell him that Israel “must have done this.”
“This had to have been an Israeli plot. The Mossad must have done this,” Mr. Jordan in 2015 recalled Salman telling him back in 2001.
Since becoming king little more than 14 years later, a fickle Salman has also made nice with Israel. US President Donald Trump has described that cozying-up as necessary for the survival of Tel Aviv, and apparently against a perceived foe in Iran.
“If you look at Israel… Israel would be in big trouble without Saudi Arabia. So what does that mean? Israel is going to leave? You want Israel to leave? We have a very strong ally in Saudi Arabia,” Mr. Trump said on November 22 while attempting to justify an earlier decision in defense of the Saudi leadership in a murder scandal.
But, also according to Mr. Trump, “a very strong ally” doesn’t really mean “a very strong” ally.
Earlier, in October, he had said this: “We protect Saudi Arabia. Would you say they’re rich? And I love the king, King Salman. But I said ‘King! We’re protecting you… you might not be there for two weeks without us… you have to pay for your military.’”
What that means is Saudi Arabia needs protection from the US so that it can survive to provide protection for Israel, so that it can survive. If I were Mr. Trump, I would in no way worry about regimes that are that impotent.
Partly because of its incapability to hold its own, and partly because of its sponsorship of terrorism that affects the entire world, including America, Saudi Arabia has had to appear nice to the US for much longer than it has had to Israel. But Saudi attempts to appease the US are superficial and hypocritical. It accommodates US demands to increase oil output and bring down oil prices at one time; at another, it gluts the market to strip American shale oil of its competitiveness. Once, it buys billions of dollars’ worth of American weapons, but regularly spends much more than that on funding so-called madrasas across the world that promote radical ideologies and produce the kinds of murderers who, only in one act of terrorism against America, brought down the Twin Towers in New York back in 2001.
Mr. Trump seems to understand Riyadh’s dubious nature. Despite his bombastic rhetoric against Iran and in support of Saudi Arabia (and his alleged personal business ties to Riyadh), his calculations in dealing with Saudi Arabia seem to boil down to extracting money from the Riyadh regime.
“Saudi Arabia is a very wealthy nation, and they’re going to give the United States some of that wealth, hopefully, in the form of jobs, in the form of the purchase of the finest military equipment anywhere in the world,” Mr. Trump said in March when he received Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the White House. And he said it to Mohammed’s face.
But Mr. Trump does not have to spare that much public attention to a regime that — although rich — also uses its wealth to bring catastrophe or humiliation to America. The 45th president does not have to go through the embarrassment of defending Mohammed — now globally isolated because of the murder scandal — by awkwardly attempting to justify that defense with references to Iran, as he did in a recent statement.
Business ties may lend themselves more to such an attempted justification, and Mr. Trump not coincidentally did refer to those interests in the statement. Mr. Trump likes to describe himself as first and foremost a businessman. As such, he must understand the merits of large-scale business with countries. Saudi Arabia is rich, but it is also a destabilizing and volatile regime, and precisely because of that, it is more of a liability than an asset — especially business-wise.
Iran, on the other hand, is a politically stable country, where a nuclear deal that Mr. Trump hastily withdrew from has prompted unprecedented international cooperation with it to ensure that inter-governmental business with Iran would continue as usual.
When the deal was struck, Iran was described as one of the world’s last great untapped markets. That market is now open to the world minus America. Partially in realization of that potential, the European Union (EU) has been securing its financial transactions with the Islamic Republic even at the cost of antagonizing America.
Before Mr. Trump unilaterally withdrew from the Iran deal, America had by no means been excluded. In fact, under the deal, American aerospace giant Boeing was contracted to build 20 billion dollars’ worth of aircraft for Iranian airliners. (On the day of the US withdrawal, Boeing’s shares ended 0.6 percent down, and the company subsequently lost the contract.)
Mr. Trump may soon recognize that the American economy needs attention now. Just on Monday, November 26, his trade war with China and the European Union (EU) claimed its most noticeable casualty when General Motors announced plans to idle five factories — and a cut of 14,000 jobs.
General Motors is only one and only one medium-scale example. Many small-scale businesses have already been affected.
Saudi recklessness may also take a toll on oil prices, yet another area where Mr. Trump is vulnerable. As an instance, an ongoing standoff that was initiated by Riyadh with Qatar may prove to have implications for global crude prices that Mr. Trump may not particularly like.
Qatar announced on Monday, December 3, 2018 that it would withdraw from OPEC in January. While Doha is of course an ally of the United States and has relied on Washington in the dispute with Saudi Arabia, one can perfectly conceive emergency conditions under which the small but oil-rich country may be forced by Saudi Arabia to act not in America’s interest but in its own. (Out of OPEC and free from Saudi influence, Doha will potentially be able to affect global oil prices independently even if modestly.)
Here again, Mr. Trump does not have to be a victim of Saudi Arabia’s score-settling with its putative rivals such as Qatar.
With former Vice President Joe Biden effectively throwing his hat in the presidential ring for 2020, Mr. Trump must have electoral considerations as well. Mr. Biden, after all, “appeals to the same white, working-class males and rural Americans who dominate when it comes to the Electoral College,” an American journalist once told me.
Of course, Mr. Trump alienated Iran (and America’s own partners) when he decided to pull the US out of the Iran deal. But he should not have to be bound by that decision, which may have been taken because it had been a campaign promise. For Mr. Trump, now can be a different time. He can, if he chooses to, rally his base around the idea of returning to the deal with the goal of having a share of its economic dividends. (Those dividends may have been delayed by the American withdrawal, but when they come into bloom, America will be deprived of them.)
Who is tying Mr. Trump’s hands?
Still, Mr. Trump faces difficult obstacles on a potential path to a return to the Iran deal.
As a politician, John Bolton, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, has been too resentfully focused on Iran for too long. Recent revelations about his personal business motives in that opposition to Iran should also be cause for concern for an apparently business-minded Mr. Trump.
Mr. Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, politically radical novices like Stephen Miller and Stephen Bannon, and Mr. Trump’s young and aspiring son-in-law, Jared Kushner, are devoid of sharp business acumen, and they may be needlessly dragging Mr. Trump down a path that is not business-friendly.
Purely from the White House’s point of view, while Mr. Bolton served the president’s anti-Iran agenda at a particular point — when he wanted to withdraw from the Iran deal — his inherently short-sighted focus on Iran could now prove an impediment that ties the president’s hands. (Just like the billions of dollars that Saudi Arabia and Israel spend on lobbying attempts to unnaturally alter or even hinder the decisions of American presidents.)
Theoretically, Mr. Trump may want to deliver. If he really wants to, Mr. Trump can bring more wealth to America than can any politician who is entangled in either personal grudge or private business interests against Iran. Mr. Trump does not have to be dragged along by such narrow interests.
Furthermore, there is no real reason why Saudi Arabia’s sectarian and Israel’s paranoid struggle against Iran should be America’s, too.
Opportunities abound in a healthy and mutually respectable relationship with Iran. The Boeing deal was but one small example. If Mr. Trump does return to the Iran deal — and if he starts to respect the Iranian government and nation — he can have much more to offer to his base, and not just economically.
Iranian officials had said on several occasions that if the US stood the test of the Iran deal, cooperation in other fields would follow. The US has now failed that test. But it can correct past mistakes. Even in the wake of Mr. Trump’s withdrawal, Iranian officials have left the door open to an American return to the deal. Iran, after all, is clear-eyed about global cooperation (and it of course has its own benefits to gain from such cooperation), unlike an ideologically-driven Saudi Arabia that keeps hiding its true colors, including from America.
All Mr. Trump needs to do is to also be clear-eyed as to the many more merits of business with a stable and rational government, push back against the politically- or personally-motivated people around him, and know that Iran is a proud nation that has been around for millennia — astronomically more than the Saudi and Israeli regimes have been, combined.
President Rouhani said it only very tacitly when he said peace with Iran would be the mother of all peace. No American president ever has tried that before. What American president is it who can’t, hypothetically, become the first?