In his recent speech in Saudi Arabia, President Donald Trump declared on behalf of the American people that we are on the side of the Sunni Muslims, including the Saudis, and against the Shias, such as the Iranians. To enter into this 1300-year-old war is unbelievable, irresponsible and dangerous.
His payment was a huge sale of military material to the Saudis, which presumably (the components have not yet been made public) can be used against Iran. He didn’t ask the American people or their representatives in the Congress for permission to do this. Has he committed us to join the Saudis if they start a war with Iran?
Is his administration thinking of picking up where the Bush administration left off after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, when Vice President Dick Cheney had his eye on regime change for neighboring Iran? While strategic control of the region has long been an aspiration of the world’s superpowers, Trump’s calculation of a military alliance with Saudi Arabia — a sworn enemy of Iran — carries grim potential for a resounding backlash; one that would greatly compound the misery of the peoples of the Middle East, while igniting a redoubling of ripple effects worldwide.
It is ironic that while the Saudis were successfully wooing our president with banquets and arms purchases, the Iranians were re-electing, in a somewhat democratic election, the moderate President Hassan Rouhani who made the nuclear agreement with us. In his victory speech, Rouhani had fun pointing out that no Saudi had ever seen a ballot box. Rouhani also mentioned that Saudi women — unlike Iranian women — cannot even drive cars. In his Riyadh speech, President Trump devoted one sentence to women’s rights.
We lifted some but not all sanctions against Iran as part of the nuclear agreement, but some remain, and Congress is considering more. Yes, we have reasons for opposing Iran’s actions in Syria. But don’t we have at least as many reasons to oppose Saudi Arabia, which tries to spread its radical Wahhabi version of Islam throughout the Islamic world, gives financial aid to terrorist organizations and was the home of most of the 9/11 hijackers?
Iran is the most stable country in that part of the world. Its highly educated population is justly proud of its culture and history. It has access to the internet and wants to open paths to the rest of the world. It will not be pushed around by us.
Moreover, Trump’s newly enunciated policy for the Middle East will worsen the underlying causes of the plight of the Arab countries that scholars and diplomats have long depicted: severe social inequalities, oppressive governments, Saudi incubation of jihadist political movements and proxy military interventions.
Instead of following President George W. Bush’s placing Iran in an “Axis of Evil,” let’s sit down with them, discuss our problems and listen to the problems they have with us. The road to a better relationship was opened with the nuclear agreement and continues with our sale of commercial Boeing aircraft to Iran and their active involvement in efforts to end the Syrian war. Trump’s shortsighted speech in Riyadh was a call to further undermine long-sought stability in the Middle East.
Ted Eliot, a resident of Sonoma, is a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. Donna Brasset-Shearer of Petaluma is a cultural-anthropologist with a background in international relations.