By M.A. Saki

S. Arabia pursuing hysterical gunboat diplomacy: scholar 

July 3, 2017

TEHRAN – A professor of global thought and comparative philosophies tells the Tehran Times that “Saudi Arabia pursues a form of hysterical gunboat diplomacy that is the outgrowth of an anxious state.”

In an exclusive interview with the Tehran Times, Arshin Adib-Moghaddam says “Saudi Arabia is not pursuing a knowledge based, strategic foreign policy exactly because the state is cloistered and impenetrable”.

Following is the text of the interview with Adib-Moghaddam, chair of the Centre for Iranian Studies at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies:

Q: What are the reasons behind the Saudi King's decision to depose the sitting crown prince and replace him with his son through a royal decree? 

“Current world order is not only post-American, it is non-American.”

A: King Salman wanted to resolve the succession issue at a turbulent stage of the kingdom's history. Mohammad bin Salman is his favorite son, and his appointment at a tender age is meant to signal a generational change in Saudi Arabia which goes hand in hand with several grand initiatives of the state, in particular the privatization of Saudi Aramco and the Vision 2030 project. Saudi Arabia intends to present itself as a reformed state, a progressive country which is capable of dealing with the challenges of a rapidly changing world order. Yet the appointment of Mohammad Bin Salman itself, is an indicator for the arbitrariness of this absolutist form of governance: As you rightly imply the appointment was made possible because of several royal decrees which supersede any other legal system in Saudi Arabia. Such sudden and rather hectic announcement is only possible in an absolute monarchy.

“The Trump Presidency has accelerated the demise of the United States as a global power.”

This form of governance remains the country's Achilles Heel at a time when Arabs, Iranians and other peoples of the region demand democracy, social justice and human rights. Saudi Arabia is simply not a model to emulate for any country in the region. Any system of governance based on overt forms of suppression is unsustainable in the long run in the current juncture of world history. In particular mainstream Muslim politics, as the Arab revolts showed, cannot be bought or ideologically manipulated to be compliant with forms of tyranny.

Politics today is interrogated by functioning and globally networked civil societies and a caste of intellectuals whose duty remains to interrogate the state in order to promote a rather more just form of politics devoid of psycho-nationalism. I have explored these dynamics in my new book which will be published by Cambridge University Press by the end of this year.   

“He (Trump) remains the most dangerous man on the planet, because he was elected as commander in chief of the most dangerous military power in the world. But his danger is not due to these potential military resources, it is because he is politically illiterate.”

Q: Can the Saudi reshuffle be considered a soft coup d’état backed by the U.S. and the UAE?

A: Neither the UAE, nor the United States has the power to determine the politics of Saudi Arabia. It is true that the U.S. is a chaperone of the Saudi monarchy, but the current world order is not only post-American, it is non-American. In actual fact, the Trump Presidency has accelerated the demise of the United States as a global power. He remains the most dangerous man on the planet, because he was elected as commander in chief of the most dangerous military power in the world. But his danger is not due to these potential military resources, it is because he is politically illiterate. It remains surprising to me that a man with such obvious stupidity can be voted into office. The progressive strata of society in the United States must ask themselves serious questions. How can you hand nuclear weapons over to someone like Trump? It is comparable to giving a gun to a toddler to play with. And yet, in analytical terms the Iraq war in 2003 demonstrated that raw military power does not guarantee strategic gains. The U.S. won the war on the battlefield, but the country lost strategically. Iraq is now firmly placed on the right side of history.

Q: What might be the influence of such a major reshuffle in Saudi foreign policy especially in the region? Is the shakeup somehow related to Trump's recent trip to Riyadh?

A: Saudi Arabia has pursued an assertive foreign policy in recent years and this is likely to continue in the short run. The confrontation with Qatar is an obvious outcome, the strategic competition with Iran another. Saudi Arabia pursues a form of hysterical gunboat diplomacy that is the outgrowth of an anxious state. Anyone with a sense of strategy would have advised against alienating Qatar at this stage of regional politics.

How can you hand nuclear weapons over to someone like Trump? It is comparable to giving a gun to a toddler to play with.The condescending tone adopted towards Doha (and Tehran) is a reflection of the authoritarian mentality that permeates the Saudi state. Such psycho-politics never succeed; history has proven that. Saudi Arabia is not pursuing a knowledge based, strategic foreign policy exactly because the state is cloistered and impenetrable. There is no breathing room for strategic thinking, because the palace is hermetically closed to a knowledge based society. 

I anticipate that the country will be further drained in Yemen, that it will understand very soon that Syria is lost to the axis that will connect Beirut and Damascus to Baghdad and Tehran and that it will be forced to accept those emerging realities. There is no doubt in my mind, that once Saudi Arabia is politically marginalized further and economically drained, the United States will withdraw its support.

“Berlin, Paris, Rome are valuable partners to Iran, in terms of technology transfer, cultural affinity, economic prospect and political stability.”There is no loyalty in U.S. foreign policy. The shah of Iran is one example, other dictators such as Hosni Mubarak and Ben Ali in Tunisia are others. The Trump administration is not even loyal to longstanding allies such as Germany which is why Angela Merkel recently announced that Europe must rely on its own resources, rather than merely on the United States. In this multipolar world order, Iran is well advised to stand firmly with the Europeans. Berlin, Paris, Rome are valuable partners to Iran, in terms of technology transfer, cultural affinity, economic prospect and political stability.

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