I’ve been saying for a while now that the Saudi role in suppressing Arab uprisings will have a far larger short- to medium-term negative impact on the region than any of Iran’s many machinations. Read Hossein Askari at the National Interest to get a better picture of why.
The irony is rich. By association, the U.S. is on the wrong side of history in Bahrain and, more importantly, with Riyadh. Note the analysis that Askari posits: Saudi repression of the Shia in Bahrain is more about repression in its own Shia Eastern province (where there’s oil) than about the spectre of Iranian meddling. Indeed, the aggressive Saudi game plan legitimizes Iran’s regional hegemonic aspirations.
Iran has no choice but to stand up for Shia rights if it wants to play a regional role now and in the future. The Saudi misstep affords Iran the perfect invitation to take on such a role more overtly and with much more justification than in the past. What sense of justice could allow Saudi Arabia to enter into Bahrain with force, to kill peaceful Shia protestors and rob them of their basic human rights, but outlaw Iran coming to the defense of oppressed Shia?
This lays bare the depravity of the proposed Israeli-Saudi alliance nonsense — proffered by rightists in Israel and hardline neocons in the U.S. — which is bad for Israel and bad for the region. I understand Israel’s attraction to counter-revolutionary forces, inspired by vestiges of the notion that autocracies are actually stable and viable in the long term. And, of course, Saudi’s hostility toward Iran and indifference about the Palestinians must also be attractive. But it’s a Faustian bargain for a state which we are constantly reminded is the only liberal Western democracy in the region.
It also goes a long way toward showing that, if the people of Iran matter at all, the U.S. shouldn’t be giving a hoot what either the Israelis or the Saudis have to say about the Islamic Republic. Both U.S. allies have been exposed as caring little for democracy in the region. Perhaps, as Askari recommends, at this critical juncture in Middle Eastern history, the U.S. should be putting some pressure on Saudi Arabia itself.