Saudi Arabia has started policy of getting closer to America: professor
TEHRAN – Professor Farhang Jahanpour, a former senior research fellow at Harvard University, says President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia is not a sign that the kingdom is important in “global politics.”
“The importance of that trip lies in the fact that Saudi Arabia has started a policy of getting closer to America, mainly aimed at forming an alliance against Iran whom she accuses of interfering in Arab countries,” Jahanpour tells the Tehran Times in an exclusive interview.
Following is the text of the interview:
Q: President Donald Trump has started his first foreign trip by visiting Saudi Arabia first. What is the significance of this trip?
A: President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia is not the sign of that country’s importance in global politics or in U.S.’s foreign policy calculations. The importance of that trip lies in the fact that Saudi Arabia has started a policy of getting closer to America, mainly aimed at forming an alliance against Iran whom she accuses of interfering in Arab countries.
Ever since the emergence of the Arab uprisings in various countries against oppressive and autocratic governments, the Saudi rulers have become very nervous about their own survival. So they have tried to define those uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria and elsewhere as sectarian conflicts, which they have blamed on Iran. The fact is that in most of those countries the oppressed masses rose up against their despotic leaders to demand greater representation, and their religious affiliation played a very small role in those uprisings.
Q: Why is the United States accepting that version of events?
A: I do not believe that American politicians accept that interpretation, but at the moment Saudi hostility towards Iran suits their purpose. Ever since the start of the Iranian revolution, most American governments have been very hostile towards Iran, but this hostility has reached a new fever pitch under President Trump and many of his senior officials, as well as some Republican Congressmen who had been trying to impede the nuclear agreement between Iran and the Obama Administration. They now have found a common cause with Saudi Arabia and Israel to push their anti-Iranian agenda. This is a very dangerous game that Saudi Arabia is playing because if there were further conflict in the region she would suffer most from it.
Q: So what is the real reason behind President Trump’s decision to visit Saudi Arabia before any other country?
A: It is due to the role that Saudi Arabia plays as a major source of oil, as well as being a U.S. client state, buying the largest amount of weapons from the United States. During the past eight years, Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries have spent a record $350 billion on U.S. weaponry. According to the U.S. media, during Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia agreements will be signed for the sale of another $100 billion worth of advanced weapons, and apparently Riyadh will also invest a staggering $200 billion on American infrastructure. These are basically a form of ransom and they go a long way towards meeting President Trump’s demand that Persian Gulf states should pay for the cost of American protection for them.
Q: But President Trump and those around him are not only hostile to Iran, but are also extremely hostile to Islam and radicalism. How can a Saudi leader who calls himself “the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques” welcome a president who is so anti-Muslim?
A: This is another extreme irony of this visit. During his presidential campaign, one of Mr Trump’s most publicized policies was his ban on Muslims. In a famous broadcast, Mr Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” He strongly condemned “Islamic terrorism”. After becoming president, he moved very fast to implement his Islamic ban. He issued two executive orders banning immigrants or visitors from seven Muslim majority countries (later reduced to six). Even American courts have declared that those executive orders had nothing to do with terrorism, but were based on religious affiliation, which is contrary to the U.S. constitution.
It is significant that no one from any of those countries had ever carried out a terrorist act in America, while the majority of the 19 terrorists who attacked the United States on 9/11 came from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. So if the ban was about terrorism, the nationals of those two countries should have been the first to be banned.
In order to defeat terrorism the most important point is to discover its causes and to eliminate them. If President Trump is serious about wanting to end terrorism, he should address the causes of radicalization, which unfortunately are mainly based on the intolerant, Salafi ideology that has been exported from Saudi Arabia for decades.
He should then look for the sources of funding for those militant groups and the mosques that have been built all over the region and even in Europe, preaching a message of hatred and exclusion. Persian Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia, have been the main sources of funding for them. Thirdly, he should try to encourage those countries to change course and embrace human rights and democracy, something that he is very unlikely to do.
Q: Will this visit help Saudi rulers and the U.S. president achieve their aims?
A: I believe that both sides’ hopes are premature and unrealistic. First of all, as far as Saudi Arabia is concerned, it is grappling with massive economic problems, including a $100 billion budget deficit. Furthermore, she has engaged in a costly and destructive war in Yemen and proxy wars in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere. She is also going on a spending spree buying hundreds of billions of dollars worth of arms.
Saudi oil revenue will in no way pay for all that extravagant spending. This is why, as the saying goes, the Saudis have started selling the family silver. Not only are they not content with huge oil revenues, they are now floating the ARAMCO. Saudi Arabia is planning to sign oil-related agreements with 12 US companies during President Trump’s visit. This level of the sale of the country’s chief asset is unprecedented and may give rise to some domestic opposition.
Saudi Arabia’s problem is not the lack of funds or weapons. It is a deficit of democratic legitimacy and the continuation of a feudal system that is totally at odds with modern realities in the 21th century. It is ironic that President Trump arrived in Saudi Arabia on the day when a vibrant, noisy and competitive election was being held in neighbouring Iran, while he cozied up to some undemocratic, unelected feudal sheikhs.
Q: What do you think U.S. priorities should be in the region?
A: I believe that instead of fuelling an arms race in the region, the president should try to work for greater stability that would benefit both the United States and the regional countries.
1- He should try to bring about more democracy, as that is the most stable form of government.
2- He should try to resolve regional crises, above all the carnage in Syria and Yemen. This would require persuading those who are engaged in those wars to work for a peaceful solution.
3- He should try to resolve the long-lasting Arab-Israeli conflict in a fair and equitable way, not imposing a solution on the Palestinians who seem to have now been abandoned by most Arab countries. A one-sided solution based on domination might work in the short term, but it will only lead to more conflict in the future.
4- He should try to persuade the GCC countries to agree to a system of regional security that would include Iran and Iraq, as well as other regional countries, including Turkey and Egypt.
5- He should facilitate a dialog between Islam and the West, which cannot include a harsh and intolerant Salafi and fundamentalist version of Islam, but a moderate Islam that lives up to the best Islamic ideals of tolerance, respect for the followers of other faiths, peace, reconciliation and respecting human rights.
There are thousands of mosques in various Western countries. There is no reason why Saudi Arabia should not allow the building of a few churches in all Saudi cities where Christians reside, including in Mecca and Medina.
6- President Trump should preach the equality of the sexes in a country where women play no role at all.
7- Instead of encouraging the Arab rulers to spend their oil wealth on weapons as though there is no tomorrow, he should try to encourage them to move away from dependence on oil and to rely on sustainable economy, with clean energy.
These principles are in keeping with American values and will also be of the greatest help to Arab countries.