FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

When Saudi Arabia’s Credibility is Damaged, So is America’s

Photo Source POMED | CC BY 2.0

The Khashoggi affair has weakened President Trump’s campaign to impose stringent economic sanctions on Iran aimed at reducing its influence or forcing regime change. Saudi Arabia is America’s main ally in the Arab world so when its credibility is damaged so is that of the US.

On 5 November the US will impose tough restrictions on Iranian oil exports which have already been cut by more than half since Mr Trump announced the withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement.

Other signatories, who disagree with him, are seeking to keep the nuclear deal afloat, but the threat of secondary sanctions on oil companies, banks and commercial companies for doing business with Iran is too great a risk for them to resist.

Iran is facing economic isolation but the US will find it more difficult to maintain a tight economic siege of the country without the sort of international cooperation it enjoyed before 2015 when sanctions were lifted as part of the nuclear deal – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

For sanctions to put irresistible pressure on Iran, they would need to be in place for years and to be enforced by many other nations. Paradoxically, the successful implementation of sanctions requires just the sort of international collaboration that Mr Trump has repeatedly denounced as being against American interests.

Mr Trump can scarcely back away from his confrontation with Iran because he has made it the principle test case for making America great again; or, in other words, the unilateral exercise of US power.

Saudi Arabia and Israel are exceptions but few other countries have a genuine interest in Mr Trump succeeding here even if they do not care much about what happens to Iran.

How has the prospect for sanctions succeeding been affected since dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi walked into the Saudi embassy in Istanbul on 2 October and failed to re-emerge?

Saudi Arabia has certainly been weakened by turning a minor critic and dissident into a martyr and cause célèbre, a mistake that is convincing many US foreign policy and intelligence experts that the operational capacity of the kingdom is even more limited than they had imagined.

The alleged murder of Mr Khashoggi is only the latest of a series of Saudi ventures since 2015 that have failed to turn out as planned. The list includes a stalemated war in Yemen that has almost provoked a famine; escalation in Syria that provoked Russian military intervention; the blockade of Qatar; and the detention of Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri.

For the first time, the US media is giving wall-to-wall coverage to negative stories about Saudi Arabia. One effect of this is to undermine Mr Trump’s effort to sell his confrontational policy towards Iran by demonising it as a uniquely criminal and terrorist regime. These denunciations are now being undercut by the drip-drip of allegations about the fate of Mr Khashoggi with even the case for the defence apparently resting on the claim that he was accidentally tortured to death by an overly enthusiastic security officer.

The importance of all this is that the essential political underpinnings of sanctions are being eroded.

The Iranian leadership is probably enjoying the Khashoggi scandal and wondering how it affects their long-term interests. The Iranians have a well-established reputation in the region for political cunning, but this often amounts to no more than patiently waiting for their enemies to make a mistake. They like to avoid direct confrontations and prefer long drawn out messy situations in which they can gradually outmanoeuvre their opponents.

The evidence so far is that Iran is choosing an unconfrontational response to impending sanctions. In Iraq, it has helped orchestrate the formation of a government that will once again balance between the US and Iran, but will not be vastly more pro-Iranian than its predecessor.

“It looks to me as if the Iranians were making a sort of peace offer to the Americans,” said one Iraqi politician who asked to remain anonymous.

Support free-thinking journalism and subscribe to Independent MindsIran will need to make sure Iraq remains one of the many breaches in the wall of sanctions that the US is trying to build. It will probably arrange barter deals that avoid cash transactions in which, for instance, Iranian gas is exchanged for pharmaceuticals, vehicles and other imports from Iraq.

Another channel for Iranian sanction busting under Mr Obama was Turkey, so Iran will be pleased by anything that worsens US and Saudi relations with Ankara.

If sanctions fail, could Washington decide that military action might be a better option? For all his verbal belligerence, Mr Trump has yet to start a war anywhere and sounds as if he intends to force Iran to negotiate by using economic pressure alone. On the other hand, as the Khashoggi affair has demonstrated, almost anything could happen and not everybody acts in their own best interests.

More articles by:

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
August 16, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Uncle Sam was Born Lethal
Jennifer Matsui
La Danse Mossad: Robert Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein
Rob Urie
Neoliberalism and Environmental Calamity
Stuart A. Newman
The Biotech-Industrial Complex Gets Ready to Define What is Human
Nick Alexandrov
Prevention Through Deterrence: The Strategy Shared by the El Paso Shooter and the U.S. Border Patrol
Jeffrey St. Clair
The First Dambuster: a Coyote Tale
Eric Draitser
“Bernie is Trump” (and other Corporate Media Bullsh*t)
Nick Pemberton
Is White Supremacism a Mental Illness?
Jim Kavanagh
Dead Man’s Hand: The Impeachment Gambit
Andrew Levine
Have They No Decency?
David Yearsley
Kind of Blue at 60
Ramzy Baroud
Manifestos of Hate: What White Terrorists Have in Common
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The War on Nature
Martha Rosenberg
Catch and Hang Live Chickens for Slaughter: $11 an Hour Possible!
Yoav Litvin
Israel Fears a Visit by Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib
Neve Gordon
It’s No Wonder the Military likes Violent Video Games, They Can Help Train Civilians to Become Warriors
Susan Miller
That Debacle at the Border is Genocide
Ralph Nader
With the Boeing 737 MAX Grounded, Top Boeing Bosses Must Testify Before Congress Now
Victor Grossman
Warnings, Ancient and Modern
Meena Miriam Yust - Arshad Khan
The Microplastic Threat
Kavitha Muralidharan
‘Today We Seek Those Fish in Discovery Channel’
Louis Proyect
The Vanity Cinema of Quentin Tarantino
Bob Scofield
Tit For Tat: Baltimore Takes Another Hit, This Time From Uruguay
Nozomi Hayase
The Prosecution of Julian Assange Affects Us All
Ron Jacobs
People’s Music for the Soul
John Feffer
Is America Crazy?
Jonathan Power
Russia and China are Growing Closer Again
John W. Whitehead
Who Inflicts the Most Gun Violence in America? The U.S. Government and Its Police Forces
Justin Vest
ICE: You’re Not Welcome in the South
Jill Richardson
Race is a Social Construct, But It Still Matters
Dean Baker
The NYT Gets the Story on Automation and Inequality Completely Wrong
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Retains Political Control After New US Coercive Measures
Gary Leupp
MSNBC and the Next Election: Racism is the Issue (and Don’t Talk about Socialism)
R. G. Davis
Paul Krassner: Investigative Satirist
Negin Owliaei
Red State Rip Off: Cutting Worker Pay by $1.5 Billion
Christopher Brauchli
The Side of Trump We Rarely See
Curtis Johnson
The Unbroken Line: From Slavery to the El Paso Shooting
Jesse Jackson
End Endless War and Bring Peace to Korea
Adolf Alzuphar
Diary: What About a New City Center?
Tracey L. Rogers
Candidates Need a Moral Vision
Nicky Reid
I Was a Red Flag Kid
John Kendall Hawkins
The Sixties Victory Lap in an Empty Arena
Stephen Cooper
Tony Chin’s Unstoppable, Historic Career in Music
Charles R. Larson
Review: Bruno Latour’s Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime
Elizabeth Keyes
Haiku Fighting
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail