Sunnis Are Talking ­ US And
Israel Should Listen

Terrell E. Arnold

Breaking the polite silence that has pervaded Sunni public reactions to American behavior in the Middle East, Saudi King Abdullah warned his Arab government peers yesterday that the US occupation of Iraq is illegal, and Arabs had better wake up unless they want to be told what to do by the United States. With that he publicly connected the dots that read, no matter how it turns out, the US invasion of Iraq has been a bad move for stability in the region. Moreover, all the American talk about democracy, even if it is calculated and false, sets off bad vibes in a number of autocratic Arab societies, not least of which is Saudi Arabia itself. There are not really any Arab societies where such talk is tame and completely tolerable. Between the lines, however, at least part of Abdullah's message was: It is time for the United States to stop meddling in Middle Eastern country internal affairs; and it is time for Arab governments to recognize that the meddling does not really serve US objectives or theirs, because it is ultimately destructive of Middle East country interests.
In another show of rising Arab independence, Qatar has indicated that the US cannot use its extensive US air base, Al Udeid, and US forces in that country to launch an attack from Qatar on Iran. This follows from Saudi Arabia's earlier denial of bases in its territory for attacks on Iraq. And it bespeaks the growing nervousness in Arab capitals about the consequences of a US attack on Iran, even though the country is mostly Shi'a. That nervousness was heightened by the just completed US naval exercises in the Persian Gulf, including simulated attacks that, quite properly, would be seen as dress rehearsal for an attack on Iran. Saudi King Abdullah appears to be counseling anyone who will listen against that attack, while working with Iran in his own bilateral channels to lessen the tensions.
While the Arab leaders in attendance on Abdullah's remarks probably needed no more reminders of the risks to their regimes posed by US activities, John Bolton gave them more to think about in an interview with BBC. Apparently pressed on the delays in arranging a ceasefire in Lebanon last summer, Bolton told his BBC interviewer, that he was " damned proud of what we (the US) did" to "prevent an early ceasefire." While the US stalled that ceasefire the Israelis mercilessly bombed Lebanon from north to south, using cluster bombs that had been supplied by the United States only hours before they were used. Since those cluster bombs left thousands of unexploded bomblets everywhere they were dropped, Lebanon now has a major hazard for farmers and children that the UN is helping to alleviate. How the US-friendly Lebanese government led by Prime Minister Fouad Seniora will weather such a demonstration of US complicity in the country's destruction remains to be seen. But the message of the Bolton bomb story to Arab leaders is that US uses of force or support for them in the region are entirely self-serving and insensitive to Arab rights or interests.
In such a regional atmosphere, one can ask what the British had in mind by sending naval personnel so obviously close to, and arguably into Iranian territory. It had to be understood that such a move was provocative, probably would be challenged, and could lead to the capture of the force involved. Since there is no line in the water of the Tigris/Euphrates estuary, the smart move would have been to stay well clear of it. As one retired British diplomat has suggested, the Iranians were well within their rights to capture the force. On the other side, the Iranians had to know that such a move would provoke the West, but they moved anyway to protect their interest in the waterway. Such apparently hasty moves are hardly unknown in US and British behavior. But if the Iranians are smart, they will be satisfied with having made their point and let the British sailors go.
However, another and more sinister reading of the incident is entirely possible. With the report that the White House and the Pentagon have a battle plan in place to attack Iran by mid April, the Iranians quite prudently could have assumed that the British were doing attack-related reconnaissance. That would fit with the pattern of US encroachments along the Iranian frontier with Iraq, as well as with the obvious display of US spy equipment now riding the waves and the decks of US carriers in the Persian Gulf. In this context, one can only hope that the British will be convincing in making the case that the incident is all an innocent misunderstanding.
But with the regional noise level as high as it now is, the real purport of King Abdullah's remarks to his Arab brethren could well be: Don't be distracted by the noise level; pay real attention to your roles and responsibilities at home; don't take your cues from US mistakes; listen up to the voice of reason and help me pull this region together. The US, pursuing its bifurcated policy of never talking to people who annoy it, might well take note of the fact that Abdullah is talking to everybody. Moreover, virtually everybody else appears to be listening, except the United States and Israel.
The writer is the author of the recently published work, A World Less Safe, now available on Amazon, and he is a regular columnist on He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State whose immediate pre-retirement positions were as Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National War College and as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counter-Terrorism and Emergency Planning. He will welcome comment at



This Site Served by TheHostPros