So what's happening in Saudi Arabia these days? Basically this:
- Saudi Arabia and Iran have been in a Cold War ever since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Needless to say, we've always been on the Saudi side. The deal is pretty simple: they provide oil, and we provide military protection.
- Lately, though, Saudi Arabia has gotten more than normally scared. The US failed to support Egypt's Hosni Mubarak during the Arab Spring, which raised fears that the US wouldn't support Saudi leaders if Iran managed to instigate a popular revolt by Saudi Arabia's Shiite minority. Then came the much loathed nuclear deal with Iran, which threatened to change the Mideast balance of power in Iran's favor. And of course, low oil prices are taking a toll on the kingdom too. Not to mention the fact that America doesn't really need Saudi oil these days, which makes the longtime partnership between the two a little shaky. Plus the Saudis are fighting a proxy war against Iran in Yemen that's not going well.
- So the Saudis decided to give Iran a great big middle finger, despite American objections. They executed the Shiite dissident Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, knowing full well how this would be taken in Iran.
- Sure enough, that's how it was taken. Iran reacted just as expected, by putting together a mob to trash the Saudi embassy.
- Saudi Arabia escalated the crisis they created by severing diplomatic ties with Iran and urging their allies to do the same.
And that's more or less where we stand at the moment. So why did Saudi Arabia do this? There are a few possibilities:
- It's basically a signal aimed at President Obama: if you won't stand up to Iran, we'll do it ourselves.
- Or maybe it's more serious. Perhaps the Saudis are trying to bait Iran into overreacting, which might somehow torpedo the nuclear deal and force America to get involved militarily on Saudi Arabia's side.
- Alternatively, maybe it's not really aimed at America at all. Maybe it's designed to increase regional sectarian tensions, which will rally Saudi Arabia's Sunni allies against the Shia menace from Iran.
One way or another, there's not much question that this was a calculated move by Saudi Arabia. They knew how Iran would react—and they hoped that it might scuttle the Syrian peace talks, maybe the Iranian nuclear deal too, and at the very least, create some chaos that they could take advantage of.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is our great and good ally. They flog apostates. They export Sunni extremism. They treat women as chattel. They flog and imprison gays. They import slave labor from abroad. They have no truck with freedom of religion or freedom of speech. Their royal family is famously corrupt. And they really, really want to start up a whole bunch of wars that they would very much like America to fight for them.
Your mileage may vary, but I'm not really very keen on allies like that.