July 30, 2007

Iran Objects To Its Isolation

The proposed multibillion-dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia has raised the hackles of Congress, which objects to arming the Saudis as long as they tolerate extremism. Tom Lantos (D-CA), Anthony Weiner (D-NY), and Robert Wexler (D-FL), and seven other Democratic co-sponsors will propose a resolution to block the deals once Congress has officially been notified of the sale. The Democrats, as it turns out, are not the only ones to object, but to be fair, Iran actually understands the geopolitical goals of the sale:

Iran's foreign ministry spokesman on Monday criticized a U.S. plan to sell state-of-the-art weapons to Saudi Arabia, saying it would undermine security in the Middle East, the state broadcasting company reported. ....

"What the Persian Gulf region needs is stability and security," Hosseini was quoted as saying on the Web site of the state broadcasting company. "Americans have been trying to disturb it by selling weapons to the region."

Administration officials have also said the U.S. will extend additional aid to other friendly nations in the Middle East, including Israel and Egypt.

Iran sees a disturbance in the balance of power, not in stability and certainly not in security. The Iranians have spent a fortune developing nuclear weapons which they still do not have. Their goal has been to establish themselves as the regional superpower and to dominate the Arab, primarily Sunni states of the Middle East. They also want to wipe Israel off the map, a desire made explicitly by its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

However, Iran does not have the resources to bolster its conventional forces, in large part because of their nuclear program. American arms sales to Saudi Arabia and Egypt make it possible for those nations to prepare a deterrent to Iranian adventurism. If the US doesn't want to conduct a war against the Iranians -- and we have plenty of reasons to avoid one -- we can rely on our friends in the region to present Iran with a mini-MAD doctrine with real teeth that will keep them from gaining enough military confidence to put their plans into play.

Israel understands the stakes involved. Ehud Olmert told his Cabinet that the US has made the right decision:

In a break from traditional Israeli opposition to U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday that his country understood Washington's plan to supply state-of-the-art weapons to Riyadh as a counterweight to Iranian influence.

Aware of Israel's sensitivity about arms sales in the region, the United States is also offering a sharp increase in military aid to Israel and has assured it that it will retain a fighting edge over its neighbors, he added.

"We understand the need of the United States to support the Arab moderate states, and there is a need for a united front between the U.S. and us regarding Iran," Olmert said at a weekly Cabinet meeting.

Israel and the moderate Arab states (which only arguably includes Saudi Arabia) know where the real threat to stability and security lies. While small percentages of the people in the Arab nations support extremism and jihad, the entire Iranian government funds and promotes them. The Iranians contribute greatly to the extremism in these nations, either directly by providing support for groups dedicated to jihad or by example with their support for Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and reportedly Hamas as well.

Arming the Saudis entails some risk. The large and sprawling royal family has an uncomfortable diversity of belief, which includes radical jihadist impulses. The ruling clique has kept those princes at the margins, but that doesn't mean they'll remain there forever. Part of the American effort has been to bolster the moderates in the royal family by trading with them and providing arms to strengthen them militarily -- and so far, they have remained moderate in their foreign policy, even willing to engage Israel under certain circumstances.

Until liberal democracies rise in the Middle East, we have to deal with the least egregious regimes there in order to contain our real enemies. It's worth noting that our efforts in Iraq intended us to have better choices in the region, and that those who appear uncomfortable with diplomatic and military engagement with the Saudis might be more supportive of those efforts.


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Comments (7)

Posted by ahem | July 30, 2007 7:00 AM

The Saudis aren't our real enemies? SInce when?

Posted by lexhamfox | July 30, 2007 9:33 AM

The Saudis are not our enemies but the majority of foreigners fighting with the Iraqi insurgency are Saudies... not Iranians, not Syrians, they are clearly Saudis and those Iraqi terror groups receive most of their funding from Saudi sources. The Saudis already have a fairly strong military capability yet they fail to suppress the movement of men and financing into Iraq over the easiest of Iraq's borders to police.

Posted by OurPaul | July 30, 2007 11:35 AM

Read the fine print, we sell to the Saudis, but we "give" to Israel...
It's win win all the way around, the Saudi money cancel our tax payer 30 billion to Israel, the defense contractors (forget Ike, he was a wimp who played golf) get to make approximately 60 billion in armament (Saudi+Israel) which will of course "trickle down to America's poor, and the two natural enemies of Iran are now armed to to teeth.
Brilliant, I can see no problems, but I bet the libs will go nuts over this one!!!

Posted by KauaiBoy | July 30, 2007 2:34 PM

"the moderate Arab states " and "Until liberal democracies rise in the Middle East"

Now here is the making of a fairy tale. Where are the happy dancing elves and candy cane streetlights. This policy is about as reckless as giving whiskey to the Indians until they kill themselves. Wait---maybe that is the policy. But let's play it safe and throw in a few cases of whiskey for insurance.

Posted by TW | July 30, 2007 3:51 PM

Until liberal democracies rise in the Middle East,

Wow, a positive use of the term 'liberal'! ;-)

I spent much of last night surfing through all the articles related to 'Islam' at Wikipedia, trying to get my head better wrapped around where we stand in the ME. Highly recommended to get a better picture if anyone hasn't done so and you're not already an expert. The history links alone will take you far and wide.

From what I gathered the Shia are the nutty branch and they are just 15% of all Muslims, mostly concentrated in...Iran. By nutty, I mean they are waiting for the 12th Imam and all that rot. The Sunni, by comparison, seem somewhat more benign and practical.

But Iraq is 60% Shia, 40% Sunni. What I can't figure out is why we deposed a Sunni government and want democracy that will install a Shia government, that is presumably going to be more in league with Iran. Which we supposedly dislike. And who dislike us because of a nasty bit of CIA work back in the 50's when we deposed a democratically elected government that had nationalized the oil industry. My, what a surprise....so we could install the Shah.

All very interesting stuff.

Posted by Poker Player | July 30, 2007 9:00 PM

TW - You fail to mention that the reason we installed the Sha was to prevent the Soviets from having a warm water port in the ME/FE. During the mid 50's that was considered an important thing. Iran was slowly become a western style secular country with a stable culture and good movement towards a democracy... and no, I'm not saying they were near perfect, just a 100 times better than what replaced them.

Enter Carter, who foolishly stopped our support and didn't oppose the overthrow of the Sha and the establishment of a radical theocracy. To be brief, he is the Godfather of all that has happened since.

Posted by JEM | July 30, 2007 11:20 PM

We've been selling to the Saudis for a very, very long time, and with reasonably good judgment they've tended to avoid being locked into a single supplier, playing kind of a round-robin game amongst arms vendors.

We know the British value the Saudis as customers highly enough to sacrifice a whole lot of principle in hushing up the BAe baksheesh.

Historically, at least - I'm not so familiar with the present-day situation - the Saudis also tended to contract out the maintenance and support of their purchased equipment; if this situation still obtains, and a palace squabble ensued that chased all the Western staff out of the country, their forces would degrade pretty quickly.