July 21, 2007


In an otherwise relatively routine op-ed calling for the U.N. to ratchet up its involvement in Iraq (wise), Zal Khalilzad writes: "(s)everal of Iraq’s neighbors — not only Syria and Iran but also some friends of the United States — are pursuing destabilizing policies." "Several" and "friends" plural connotes more than one, so ostensibly he's not just speaking of Turkish saber-rattling in the north. Surely the Kuwaitis or Jordanians aren't causing any trouble? Is there a message for the Saudis here, or?

Posted by Gregory at July 21, 2007 01:52 AM

It's surely a message to both Turks and Saudis. The question is whether it's a message from the Bush administration, or just from Amb. Khalilzad.

Previous American administrations have often communicated messages to Riyadh privately or, in public, cryptically. This saves face for Saudi leaders, allowing them room to adjust their country's foreign policy to accomodate American interests without appearing to yield to American pressure. However, it also requires that the United States keep a close eye on what the Saudis are actually doing -- and it makes essential Saudi understanding of who speaks authoritatively for the American government.

We've been in bad shape as far as communications with the Saudis go for a while. Preoccupied with conveying a message to its domestic audience (about Arab "moderates" battling Arab "extremists"), the Bush administration has chosen not to emphasize the support given by Saudi nationals to the Sunni Arab insurgency in Iraq. It has also sent confusing signals as far as who speaks for the President -- now the Secretary of State, now the Vice President, again, perhaps, the UN Ambassador. The problem has been compounded from time to time recently by infighting within the Saudi government as to who makes policy there.

Personally, I think it might be a good idea for American initiatives in the region to be communicated to Riyadh through Khalilzad, irregular though the channel would be. Khalilzad is abler than Secretary of State Rice and has sounder instincts than Vice President Cheney. But is this what is actually happening? I don't have any idea. For all I know Khalilzad may just be sending up a trial balloon in the hope that if no one in Washington shoots it down the governments in the region may start to look to him as Washington's point man for Middle Eastern diplomacy. Of course, his advocacy of greater UN involvement in Iraq-related problems would be consistent with this also. It might even be the case that this is more than Khalilzad's personal trial balloon -- the administration's feuding factions may have gotten together and decided to pursue policy in the region using his office as its focal point. That's not something I'd bet money on, given what we've seen to date, but I suppose it's possible.

Posted by: Zathras at July 21, 2007 03:47 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.

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