Past mistakes should be guide in dealing with Saudi Arabia

Past mistakes should be guide in dealing with Saudi Arabia
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The United States relationships with Saudi Arabia and the Middle East region now face a very important crossroad.

The situation is eerily similar to 1979 when we had to decide the direction our Middle Eastern policy. At that time the Camp David peace agreement between Israel and Egypt was viewed as a harbinger of a new chapter in a turbulent Middle East.

But major events that year shattered the relative calm. Not only do we still suffer the consequences, we may be in danger of repeating the mistakes we made.


First, based on Iran’s alleged human rights’ abuses, the Carter administration withdrew its support for the Shah, resulting in Ayatollah Khomeini’s return to Iran.

Second, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.

Third, Saddam Hussein seized power in Iraq and, after Khomeini took power, invaded Iran.

Then the Grand Mosque in Mecca was seized by Islamic terrorists opposed to the modernization of Islam, particularly in Saudi Arabia.

America’s security policy remained oblivious to the threats being created. Is history now repeating itself?

Today, like then, the United States has allies that do not have our system of constitutional law – and they do not respect human rights as we do. But, as we should have asked ourselves in 1979, should we jettison important allies because of their human rights abuses?

Consider, for example, that Pakistan created the Taliban subsequent to the Soviets' defeat in Afghanistan but is still considered an ally, receiving billions in assistance.

Russia arbitrarily murders or jails its dissident citizens, yet we buy more than 3.5 million barrels of oil a week  from Moscow and sign nuclear arms deals that affect the most serious parts of our national security.

Americans support trade with Mexico, but look the other way as millions of their citizens come here illegally, work off the books, and send tens of billions in remittances back to a nation whose drug cartels export opioids and drugs.

Just as in 1979 with Iran’s Shah, Americans are now outraged with the Saudis’ human rights record despite their efforts at reform.

Like our 1979 error that helped the Iranian mullahs into power, too many Americans are being shortsighted in  urging the upending of our important alliance with Saudi Arabia. Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungShelton's Fed nomination on knife's edge amid coronavirus-fueled absences Grassley quarantining after exposure to coronavirus Rick Scott to quarantine after contact with person who tested positive for COVID-19 MORE (R-Ind) and Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenTop Democrat calls Trump's Afghan drawdown 'the right policy decision' as others warn of 'mistake' Overnight Defense: How members of the Armed Services committees fared in Tuesday's elections | Military ballots among those uncounted in too-close-to-call presidential race | Ninth US service member killed by COVID-19 Biden wins New Hampshire MORE (D-NH) question the administration’s support for the Yemeni coalition; ranking House Armed Services Committee member Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithTrump threatens to veto defense bill over tech liability shield Mike Rogers set to serve as top House Armed Services Republican Congress set for chaotic year-end sprint MORE, calls for the end of Yemeni-related US assistance to Saudi Arabia; other members of Congress want to sanction Saudi Arabia or limit arms sales.

Why would we strengthen Iran while weakening the coalition seeking to check Iran’s hegemonic ambitions?

The internationally recognized Yemeni government is being supported by the Saudis and the U.S., among others, to prevent the transport lanes of regional oil and gas from falling into Iran’s hands.

And the Yemen civil war is indeed terrible for civilians – particularly because the Houthis are armed by Iran with indiscriminate anti-personnel weapons and bombs, especially land mines.

Iran is a revolutionary terrorist state and Saudi Arabia is not. In fact, the Saudis are trying to jettison decades of adherence to the spread of jihadist Islam.

Giving Iran and proxies and allies greater control over the Gulf oil and gas resources is just plain nuts.

We should place our relationship with Saudi Arabia into perspective. While Europe and the Iran lobby in Washington clamor for trade and investment deals with Iran, Iran is responsible for 500 deaths of American soldiers caused by IEDs.

As Yankee baseball great, Yogi Berra, once remarked, it is “Deja Vu All Over Again”. Indeed, the U.S. is in danger of giving Iran’s mullahs more control of the Middle East.

In 1979, we might have pleaded ignorance because we hadn’t a clue about the nature (totalitarian) of the new Iranian regime. We eventually woke up, but only after Iran seized our embassy and began four decades of attacking us and our allies.

This time, we have no excuse.

Peter Huessy is the director of Strategic Deterrent Studies at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies of the Air Force Association, which receives industry donations. He has been a guest professor on Nuclear Policy and Congressional Relations at the U.S. Naval Academy since 2011. Previously, Huessy was a senior defense fellow at American Foreign Policy Council.