By Mohammad Mazhari

S. Arabia key pillar of U.S. presence in the region: researcher

July 3, 2021 - 18:40

TEHRAN - An assistant professor at the Defense Studies Department of King's College London says that Washington uses Riyadh as a means to maintain its presence in the region.

“Saudi Arabia remains a key pillar of U.S. presence in the region,” Andreas Krieg tells the Tehran Times.

 “Leading from behind means that Washington uses military support to its partners in the (Persian) Gulf as a means to maintain a presence there,” the strategic risk consultant says.

The war on Yemen has turned into a dark chapter in the history of Saudi Arabia. However, Western powers, including the U.S., are keeping to arm tyrannical states in the Persian Gulf region. 
Following is the text of the interview:

Q:  While Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have ended the blockade on Qatar under the Al Ula declaration, don’t you think that disputes surface again?

A: The root causes of the (Persian) Gulf crisis have not been addressed – particularly not between Qatar and the UAE. So, while the symptoms of the crisis are currently suppressed at least in the (Persian) Gulf, we see the symptoms of this ideational conflict already surfacing in other parts of the Middle East (West Asia). The Al Ula summit has brought about a good working relationship at least between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, but also here there are some fundamental ideological differences that have not been bridged. Saudi Arabia has been pragmatic in recent months but it does not mean that should opportunities arise; they might strike again. The relationship between all parties to the crisis is now characterized by mistrust and suspicion.
Q: What are the main differences between Qatar and the Saudi -Emirati axis?
A: The main ideological differences are between Doha and Abu Dhabi, mainly about the regional order after the Arab Spring. While Qatar has actively supported the revolutions and engaged with civil society and Islamist groups, the UAE has fought the revolutions and civil society in the region. The UAE has securitized independent civil society and fears its mobilization while Qatar actively supports civil society in the region, not least through Al Jazeera.

Q: How do you evaluate the U.S. influence on policies of Persian Gulf Arab states?

A: The United States has gradually withdrawn from the region since the late 2000s but still plays an important protector role in the background. However, since the Arab Spring, the United States is leading from behind, leaving much of the burden of security in the region to local actors in the (Persian) Gulf. The new tone struck by the Biden administration towards Iran also means that the most hawkish actors in the region, such as Saudi Arabia, have switched from escalation to de-escalation. There is a greater willingness now even by the anti-Iran hawks in the (Persian) Gulf to attempt a multilateral framework that involves Iran, if Iran under the new Raisi administration proves to be a constructive player. There is a window of opportunity under Biden for both the Arab (Persian) Gulf states and Iran to come together.

Q: How do you see the repercussions of the war on Yemen on the economies and policies of the Persian Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia and the Emirates?

A: The War in Yemen constitutes a major burden on Saudi Arabia – both economically and militarily. While the UAE has been able to subvert the coalition to advance its own interests in the south of the country, Saudi Arabia is stuck on its own trying to win an unwinnable war. There has been a genuine change of direction in Saudi Arabia in recent months with a serious attempt to find a peaceful way out of the war. However, the Houthis appear to not grant Saudi Arabia a way out of the conflict on Saudi terms. Meanwhile, the UAE is continuing to leverage its surrogate, the STC, to deepen influence and control of key choke points along Yemen’s coast.

Q: Why do Western countries keep arming tyrannical states like Saudi Arabia despite their long notorious record in violation of human rights?

A: Saudi Arabia remains a key pillar of U.S. presence in the region. Leading from behind means that Washington uses military support to its partners in the (Persian) Gulf as a means to maintain a presence there. However, it becomes increasingly clear that the old vassal states in the (Persian) Gulf might not necessarily follow U.S. interests in the region. This is particularly true for the UAE who uses U.S. arms and support to advance their own interests, often at the expense of U.S. strategic security interests. Looking at the UAE’s policies in Yemen and Libya, Abu Dhabi is working more closely with Russia than with Western partners.

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