The chatter is all abuzz these days on the increasing dynamism, if not activism, of the Saudi regime's role in the area. The common thread of the narratives is; Saudi Arabia, land of the two Holy Shrines, with its fabled wealth, American backed and educated elite, has become comfortable with itself to stretch its legs beyond its borders to untangle the morass of Arab politics. In other words, the Saudis are ready to use their clout to lend hand for to the solution of the area's pressing problems. The subtext of all of this, Saudi Arabia has realized the best way to assure the world of its political stability and in the same time to ward off the threatening clouds inside its borders, is by increasing its prestige beyond them. That's a variation on the old strategy of the best way for defense is offense as applied by the troubled Saudi regime.
The trouble with such reasoning is manifold: 1- Saudi Arabia only in appearance is an independent state. 2- The political system has no credibility or political legitimacy. 3-Its political, social, and cultural -if any of these do really exist in their contemporary meanings- are medievalistic. 4- Saudi Arabia never was a model for anything and has no an overriding idea or ideology to take the minds and hearts and appeal to a large segments of the Arabs. Thus, contrary to what some may think, the few scattered and seemingly not well thought about and uncoordinated baby steps that have been taken so far, have instead of shining a spot light on the facelift of an anachronistic regime, only reaffirmed the old images of a sterile and an enfeebled regime. Though apparently emboldened, the regime has yet a long way to go to slough what habitually was known for: its clumsiness and passivity, on top of its timidity. Due perhaps to a variety of reasons, among them: lack of legitimacy, medievalist mindset, bizarre and anachronistic practices, etc. since its inception, the Saudi regime was notorious for its subterfuge ways, malicious maneuverings, and under the radar schemings. The latest few wishy-washy sidekicks have exposed more the inherent and structural weaknesses of the country and that of the regime in particular than showing any bolder Saudi Arabia as becoming a responsible stakeholder, at least in the Middle East!
One has only to guess what made this sleepy regime, made out of greedy and voracious bunches of princes, their allied tribal notables, and religious fanatics, to stretch its neck and dare to lead. Is it a case of one eyed blind in the presence of all blinds? Otherwise how one can explain the audacity of such a hobbled and blind regime to attempt to leave its habitual cocoon and pretend to lead: where and to what? A country that has been spending hundreds of billions on the so-called its security only to run for help anytime there's the minimum disturbance around its borders is not in a position to mediate conflicts, negotiate differences, or offer constructive solutions....
The emerging Saudi role seems to coincide with the new re-alignments emerging as the war goes on in Iraq. The alignment of the Shia in Iraq with both US and its nemesis in the area, Iran, not only has ruffled the feathers of the not-well-glued regimes but also has nudged the already frayed tense nerves a few notches up. The new strategy is paring slowly out: a- Iraqization of the civil war in Iraq by stoking the fires of sectarianism and siccing one group against another. b- keeping the conflict local, la, Lebanon. c- parring off others from getting involved in Iraq's civil war, that's, keeping them busy with each other by raising the tensions between Sunna and Shia, Iran versus Arabs. If so far the Iraqi conflicted has not been declared a full-fledged civil war is because, depicting Iraqi strife as sectarian is a way for the Bush Administration to buy time and postpone the reckoning day to come to terms with unpopular war. The strategy is also to prolong as long as possible the necessity of occupation. Therefore pitting Sunnis against Shiites is another way of pitting Arabs against Persians to keep the surrounding countries busy with their own fights. Nothing new, old and hackneyed cliche: divide and rule!
However, there's a light at the end of the tunnel. The USA and Iran may eventually see eye to eye. If at this point still differ is because each is bent of securing as much negotiating chip as possible. For, an outsider power, if it's not going to get involved directly as in colonial times, is in need for a local prop to stand on. As ironic -and tragic- as it may seem, Iran may well fill that role. The vacuum created by the re-directing of the Egyptian state's axis and attention (Camp David Accords), the dismantling of the Iraqi state, the re-falling of the Gulf states under the camouflaged neo-protectorate's status (if ever had left it), the weakening of the Syrian state, the neutralizing of the North African states, and the chaotic messes in Sudan, Somalia, etc. all have left the area boiling, exhausted, and in disarray. In typical fashion the turmoil has created new wounds and re-opened old ones, intensifying the self-loathing typical of stages of despair and failures. The mutual distrust has reached an alarming point edging on anarchy. No state in the present layout of the area has enough clout, prestige or the ability to stand on its own feet, let alone to represent and lead the rest. Part of this is a result perhaps of the law of unintended consequences -or were indeed intended[?]- when more rot was thrown on the pile heap, another major complication has been created: the strengthening of the Mullahs's regime in Iran. Though this may resonate well with some people these days, Iran, since at least the Savafid's Dynasty, was true to a strange yet damaging role, as played historically, that of a partypooper in the area's affairs! And now is trying hard to take advantage of the Manna from God or Uncle Sam, or both -who together seems to have conspired to offer Iran unique historical opportunity on a silver platter, that of becoming the big boy -or bully?- of the Middle East! Iran, both as part of stoking the burning flames -and which now it says is attempting to squelch!- and as a contender for settling the scores with the USA, maybe the only state positioned to reap what Britain and France had reaped after WWII, in Europe, the status of co-manager of the new architectural edifice to be designed in place of the one being demolished. As it's habitually the case, there will be some sort of Versailles, Yaltas, and Potsdams, if not to settle the controversial issues once and for all, to reach an understanding and to divide the tasks ahead of them. The classical rules for the game of nations will dictate that the winners should reach an agreement on how to divide the spoils of their spelled bloods and treasures. As the fog of war clears a bit off, the USA and Iran will soon realize that necessity.
For this game to have some sort of plausibility and to appear legit, a local 'power,' representing the losing side(s) has to be present so it blesses the deal and puts its seal of approval on it. Thus, Saudi Arabia, as both the loyal and traditional ally to the West and the big boy in the GCC, on its own[?] or under instigation from its leash-holder, has been lately squirming uncomfortably by showing how nervous it's in looking left and right, and back and forth for a role, she seems to be the least qualified to play, that of a leadership position. Truth be said, there's not much, historically, for Saudi Arabia to be judged for. As an impoverished and forsaken piece of real estate, the land now named Saudi Arabia, has been known more for its half-wits religious fanatics and vagrants than for perspicuous insights, wisdom, and wit, let alone dynamism and risk-taking. Granted, the competition is not about who calls the shots in the area, that has been already resolved by the USA, but rather one more modest role, that of mere role-playing: who appears to be genuinely concerned about the area's future, and by implication stands on the side of the multitudes. Because of the area's historical rumblings and legacy, there's more than one state ready to assume the mantle and be the hired gun. Thus, even such a modest and less ambition role, that of a local watch-dog, is generating a heated bickerings and a fierce rivalry among the contenders. Though the sparring takes strange tones and follows an unsynchronized drumbeats, sometimes religious, other times strategic options for the future, the fact remains it's more than a purely local issue, between Iran on one side, and whoever happens to muster enough clout among the Arab states. True to the golden rule of international relations: between nations there're no permanent enmity or friendship, there're only perceived interests. Globalization aside, the coming to terms, whoever comes out of the rat- race will have to enter into, call it, a historical compromise, which will deal with the core issues at the heart of the area's existential survival and its future map. The Mullahs will eventually strike a deal, their acceptance and security, in exchange for Iran's return to its pre-Islamic Revolution, and be the hired watchdog for the West in the area! Which of the Arab states will do the job, is not clear yet? Certainly will not be Saudi Arabia , if for no other reasons than for its bad reputation and ragged historical baggage.
In this long and what is going to be far stretched debate, why it matters which one of the area will step up and lead"? The option is between Iran on one side, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, etc. on the other. Well, it does matter. If the Arabs have ever learned anything from their past, they could face another Versailles, without them, of course. If, for no other reason, then it's to be present at the table when the pie is divided and to take notice on who gets what. Who will clear the shuffle and represents the others? It all depends on how the War in Iraq comes out, though which state wins the competition and comes out at the top, may influence greatly not only how the War ends but most importantly its results. Which sect gets what and what form the new Iraqi state will take. If the War ends with Iraqi state in the hands of the Shia, then Iran and the rest of the potential "Shia Crescent" axis -from Herat to Beirut will represent a real axis of contention vis-a-vis the rest of Islamdom. Another wedge -the first was the Zionist one- of the followers of Ali, with their different number of Imams, with their bearded and turbaned Mullahs, will be inserted at the heart of the Sunni world. Is this will be good or bad? Again it all depends on one's perspectives and future developments. One thing, though, is apparently disturbing, that's, the Shia Crescent, unlike that of the Protestant wave In Europe, which extended in a northern tier on top of a southern Catholic tier, this one divides the "Umma" into segments and fragments. There's also a positive side to the new architecture: The rise of the Shia may well turn out to be a manna from High up or a curse from down below. If the Shia will play the role of true modernizers and honest competitors, to goad and poke the sleepy and disorganized Sunni world to wake them up to join the caravan, then that will be a welcome event. If the Shias are pent on turning to bygone eras, mores, and practices, then the retrograde actions will only exasperate further the wretchedness of the area to fall prey for the many predators standing at its gates.
The USA has been in the area since at least the end of WWII. Its companies dominated the oil fields of the Peninsula and its surrounding Gulf States. And whoever controls the oil in this area controls also the rest of what matters. In matter of fact, the Peninsula and the Gulf states, in particular, have never left the vassal states status, that's, mere protectorates! Now the protector has extended its shadow a bit further to secure the core the oil states. Actual lines delimiting the security zone for the oil fields, was traced. This goes from the Atlantic to the Indian borders and from the Sahara to the Russian borders. Of course the further away a state, from the core, the less vigilance it required.
If this geopolitical settlement worked for more than half a century until the end of the Cold War. Contrary to commonsense and what some may have expected, the USA has increased the tensions in this area considerably. What prompted the USA to tighten its grip on the area by direct presence and control is a matter of conjecturing. In the absence of direct competitor, to the USA, at least for now, why the US has invaded Iraq and generated all the consequent now taking place are also a matter of guessing and analysis. Is the US parring off the potential dangerous from China by controlling the world's supply of energy for the foreseeable future? And if so, why reverting openly by crude power? Perhaps to signal to all and sundry, don't mess with me, I've strong and long claws that reach far and in between. There's a warning and bit of intimidations too to the various dictators to heed the call and to both kow the line and to know their limits and heed to who calls the shots.
When the rich eat the poor wait for the crumbs! As a consequence of the US's invasion and occupation of Iraq, its strong presence in most of the neighboring states, and the surrounding waterways, a condition close to a state of siege was created. This is generating -and will only intensify- of two phenomena: a- A classical fratricide among the oppressed, as F. Fanon had described it; and, b- A high competition among the vassal state of who will get the favorite position and graces of the dominant power. Just as in slavery times, "the house nigger" was a highly sought after position, the leader, "local power" is highly valuable these days.