The New Yorker features a new piece (in many cases if a publication has a paywall you may bypass it by accessing the link using your browser’s Incognito mode) about Saudi Arabia’s rape of Yemen. It’s depressing, but necessary reading because of the immense suffering the ambitious Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has wrought there. It’s reminiscent of a similar bit of genocide unfolding against another Muslim ethnic group in Burma, the Rohingya.
But what struck me additionally was the text in this graphic tweet promoting the New Yorker article. Saudi Arabia has intervened in two conflicts which began as “domestic power struggles.” In the beginning of the Syria conflict, the Sunni Saudi regime intervened out of concern for the majority Sunni population being slaughtered by the Alawite butcher, Bashar al Assad. In one sense, the concern and desperation to help their Sunni brethren was understandable. But the way in which they pursued this mission was fatally flawed and destined to fail. A massive intervention exploiting the worst of the Islamist scum allied with al Qaeda and ISIS was a terrible miscalculation.
Whatever the Saudi original intent in intervening in the Yemeni civil conflict, its vast overkill, massacre of thousands of civilians, mass starvation of children–all of this once again guarantees the House of Saud will fail here as well.
When you are a major power or seek to become one, the secret to success is being judicious in the exercise of power. You decide when it’s absolutely necessary to act. You do not act when action is not necessary. And in acting, you carefully calculate the possible outcomes in order to avoid the worst. Saudi Arabia’s current leadership is deliberately flouting this approach. It is using power wildly without calculating any outcomes. It is acting rashly and provocatively. When it fails it pulls back but offers no alternative approach. It is making enemies where before there were none.
Much as we might criticize Iran for its various sins (and they certainly exist), its foreign policy seems much more carefully calibrated. It seeks to determine what its core interests are and to defend them. It tries not to overextend itself. It does not hit out wildly at imagined enemies nor does it make new enemies unless absolutely necessary. And it is open to re-evaluating relations with former enemies to turn them into, if not allies, then at least neutral parties. By the way, these are rules Turkey’s President Erdogan might consider adopting as well.
I’m similarly struck by how similar Israeli policy is toward its own frontline neighbors. Israel’s security policy has no long-term strategy to achieve its national goals. All it does is engage in tactical actions which preserve short-term advantage. Its leaders, both political and military, have no vision of the future nor any sense of how to get there. They like and want the status quo, which as any medieval poet or metaphysician will tell you, cannot remain the same forever. Heraclitus taught that the only constant in life is change. It is a fundamental truth of human existence, but one which Israel rejects. The more you seek for the world to remain as it is, the more it will slip through your hands like sand.
Instead of seeking long-term stability through forging constructive relations with former enemies, Israel prefers to dominate through military superiority and constant acts of war and belligerency. Though it has not generally acted as precipitously as the Saudis have over the past few years, Israel has more than made up for that by its serial and perpetual hostility over many decades toward almost all its frontline neighbors (at one time or another).
Israel too has intervened regularly in the internal affairs of neighboring states, most notably Lebanon and Palestine. It’s sought to direct domestic political developments of sovereign states and peoples against the will of the inhabitants. When it’s found itself unable to do this through threats or intimidation it’s turned to assassination and military aggression. These efforts have, like the Saudis, universally failed. Israel’s decade long siege against Gaza has not toppled Hamas. It’s two decade occupation of southern Lebanon failed to create the pliant client state Israel had hoped for. Nor has Israel’s alliance with al-Nusra in Syria brought success. The Shiite alliance of Assad, HEzbollah and Iran has triumphed over the Sunni Islamists.
So in all these senses, Israel and Saudi Arabia both are pursuing belligerent, rash, ill-considered policies which repeatedly end in bloodshed and failure. They are birds of a feather. They think alike and act alike. One is an Islamist theocracy clawing its way toward a society that is, at least internally, slightly less brutal, kleptocratic, and misogynist, while the other is a former secular state clawing its way toward an Orthodox settler theocracy that is brutal, kleptocratic and misogynist.