Saudi Arabia’s “dream” of becoming the dominant power in the Arab and Muslim world has ended in “disastrous” failure, an article on a British online newspaper says, suggesting that such an ambition was always beyond Riyadh’s capabilities.
The article, written by Patrick Cockburn and published on The Independent on Friday, enumerated a host of foreign and domestic policy fiascos by Saudi Arabian rulers over the past years.
It pointed, among other things, to Saudi “intervention” in other countries and said such interference, instead of its declared goal of countering perceived Iranian influence, went in the exact opposite direction to undermine the Saudi regime itself.
“Instead of Iranian influence being curtailed by a more energetic Saudi policy, the exact opposite has happened.”
‘Things well beyond their strength’
Indirect Saudi intervention in Syria failed when Saudi-funded militants were defeated in their last big urban stronghold in the conflict-hit country — east Aleppo — and Riyadh’s direct military intervention was botched, in Yemen, when it failed to reinstate a former ally as president, the article said.
Although Riyadh’s support for the militants in Syria was aimed at overthrowing President Bashar al-Assad, “greater military pressure on Assad served only to make him seek more help from Russia and Iran and precipitated Russian military intervention in September 2015 which the US was not prepared to oppose,” the article read.
Moreover, 15 months of Saudi war on Yemen to defeat Houthis has only led to a “humanitarian catastrophe” in the poor Arab country, while the group still holds the capital, Sana’a, and northern Yemen, it added.
“Nothing has gone well for the Saudis in Yemen and Syria,” it said.
‘Defeated on almost every front’
“The danger for the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the other [Persian] Gulf states is rather that hubris and wishful thinking have tempted them to try to do things well beyond their strength,” the article said.
The article referred to concern among the traditional Western allies of Saudi Arabia, Germany in particular, about the “destabilising impact” of Saudi policies not thought through.
It said such concerns prompted the German foreign intelligence service BND to take “the extraordinary step of producing a memo” in December 2015 that expressed concern that “an impulsive policy of intervention” was taking hold of the minds of the Saudi leadership.
“An embarrassed German government forced the BND to recant, but over the last year its fears about the destabilizing impact of more aggressive Saudi policies were more than fulfilled. What it did not foresee was the speed with which Saudi Arabia would see its high ambitions defeated or frustrated on almost every front,” the article read.
In the US, the prospect of growing hostility toward Riyadh over the belligerent foreign policy of king Salman has not been restricted to the executive branch, it said.
“At a popular level, there is growing hostility to Saudi Arabia reflected in the near unanimous vote in Congress to allow families of 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi government as bearing responsibility for the attack,” the article read.
‘Skepticism and derision’ on the home front
On the economic front, the Independent piece cast doubt on deputy crown prince and defense minister Mohammed bin Salman’s so-called Vision 2030 project, which aims to wean the Saudi economy off petrodollars and more like “a normal non-oil state.”
That policy, the article said, “attracted scepticism mixed with derision from the beginning.”
“It is doubtful if there will be much change in the patronage system whereby a high proportion of oil revenues are spent on employing Saudis regardless of their qualifications or willingness to work.”