1/17/2007

Saudis may send troops to Iraq...

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A senior White House official says Saudi Arabia would be ready and willing to deploy its own troops into Sunni-dominated areas of Iraq if the Bush Administration plan to crush the insurrection fails, leading to total chaos.

Chaos, indeed, is precisely the direction the Saudi Government see the situation heading - even though it has not yet made an official offer to escalate involvement beyond logistical and political support for the US in the Middle East.

The active Saudi military stands at 200,000 troops. And my only question is: Why wait? This is an alternative the entire world could back. And certainly the new Democratic majority in the US Congress, with all their talk of "US forces standing down and Iraqi forces standing up."

Here's a new development for Congressional leaders to grasp onto - a surprising show of generosity from the one Middle Eastern government most likely to identify with the primary catalyst of current problems: the minority Sunni population in Iraq's western Anbar Province. But in view of far-left rhetoric about the Saudi government during the 2004 election, I doubt the Democrats are willing to embrace the most controversial US ally, especially with the hype of the 2008 election already heating up. I also doubt the Republican Party would support insertion of thousands of Saudi militiamen, though for different reasons.

Republicans, I believe, will be inclined to assert that the Shiite majority in Iraq would most likely lash out violently to purge their country of a foreign military representing a Sunni Muslim state - a valid point on either side of the aisle. However, if the Saudi move has any chance of dampening Sunni-driven violence, does this not outweigh competing concerns?

What think mainstream media?

I have yet to detect mainstream media reaction to the Saudi proposal, but considering the propensity of pundits to blame the Saudis for rising prices at the gas pump, I see no reason to expect much of a reasoned discourse. More likely, the Saudis will find that their extended hand will be bitten off by the liberal-minded American media that would sooner debate why women cannot drive in the Kingdom.

All American administrations recognize the unique relationship we enjoy with the Saudi royal family, and most presidents have maintained an open-door policy with the Kingdom's diplomats. Hopefully, the Administration will not reserve consideration of the reported offer as a last resort, and instead use it as a bargaining chip with other Middle Eastern nations. They should be encouraged to follow their neighbor's example and commit their own troops to a multinational force representing the Arab League. The peacekeeping force representing the African Union in Darfur should be used as a model, and with the tactical support of the American-led coalition. This kind of alliance could lead to a genuine political settlement among now warring factions in Iraq.

Status quo in Middle East: unacceptable

I do not pretend to be an expert on Middle Eastern politics. But I do think the status quo in the region is unsustainable, and without innovative solutions nothing is going to change. Though I think the President is on the right track when he escalates rhetoric about Iranian-backed elements in Iraq, I don't think he has any idea what to actually do to get Iraqis to start settling their internal disputes with the pen rather than sword.

If anything, an insurgence of Saudi troops into the Sunni-dominated regions could broach a new relationship between Americans and the more belligerent elements in Anbar Province. It is still unclear exactly how many troops the Saudi government would be willing to deploy, but I suspect it would defer commitments until consultations and coordination with the Pentagon.

The Saudi government maintains an active military of 200,000 troops, the 25th largest in the world. In term of military spending, the Kingdom spares not a penny. In 2006 they spent roughly $31.25 Billion, or 10% of their GDP, and since 2003 their military spending has ranked 9th in the world as a percentage of GDP. Additionally, the cooperation between the Saudi armed forces and the Pentagon has been hand-in-glove for decades, and in 2005 the Saudis were the number one customer of US supplied weaponry. I suspect that the King and his ministers are willing to spare whatever it takes to insure the stability of its neighbor, and thus its borders. I also think the White House will not be modest in any request they make of the Kingdom to join the coalition.

Perhaps the presence of a fully trained and self-reliant Arab military in Iraq would allow the US to focus on rooting out Iran and leaning on the Shiite government to take control of al-Sadr and his militia, while delegating responsibility for the counter-insurgency to a more qualified arbiter. Many of our current problems, I believe, stem from bearing primary responsibility for all the problems Iraq faces, while the Iraqi government and our allies play back-seat driver. Maybe the Saudi initiative is the key element missing in the equation.

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