To make a 'Faisal' out of King Salman - AKIF EMRE

To make a 'Faisal' out of King Salman

Some people might be likening the Saudi King's giving a cold shoulder to US President Barack Obama to King Faisal's attitude during the oil embargo. As we can all remember, King Faisal was assassinated during a time the Saudi dynasty was under US protection. The political message this assassination sends is no secret. King Faisal was punished by the US for implementing an oil embargo as a reaction to the West for supporting Israel during the 1973 Middle East war. They wanted this to be a lesson for the satellite leaders of the period.

It is a well-known story: The Arab countries got a huge backlash from the West, especially the US, for deciding to use oil for sanctions. King Faisal announced that if need be they would bomb the oil wells if the West continued to threaten. Then-US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger came to Saudi Arabia to discuss this, or more likely to warn Faisal. It is said that King Faisal welcomed his guest in a Bedouin tent in an unorthodox manner. The diplomatic message sent was very clear: “Our ancestors lived on dates and camel milk; we can continue to live like this. But there is no way you can live without oil.”

The story which turned into how Kissinger should have been hosted in the tent aside, the US's most effective secretary of state would later explain the meeting like this: “King Faisal looked rather nervous. Hoping that a dialogue would start between us, I said to him in a waggish manner, “My plane's fuel finished, if you order them to fill my tank I am ready to pay for it.” The king smiled, lifted his head and firmly said: “I am an old man, all I hope to do before I die is pray by Al-Aqsa. Can you help me on this one?”

The price of this political attitude, or better said this challenge, was the murder of King Faisal in his own palace in 1975.

This week Obama was treated with a protocol he wasn't accustomed to in Riyadh; King Salman did not greet him at the airport...

One cannot argue that King Salman's attitude toward Obama is similar to King Faisal's attitude toward Kissinger.

Although it is an odd attitude in terms of Saudi-US relations, we would have to note that the nature of the relations that are reflected to the protocol are rather different.

Although it seems that this attitude has similarities with the past, it is different for two reasons.

The first is, Saudi's strategic value due to the value the US places on oil. The second is, whether Obama's US is the US of the Cold War period.

US President Roosevelt came to Cairo after the 1945 Yalta conference and signed an agreement with the Saudi Royals, promising to protect the throne in exchange for guaranteeing oil flow and income. Keeping this strategic resource in good hands is of utmost importance for petrol-dependent Western countries. No one who tried to threaten this equation would be tolerated. Therefore, King Faisal's attitude would openly be punished. However today, the US neither cares about the Middle East as it did earlier, nor is it as dependent on petrol as it was in those days.

The US isn't expected to spend blood and money on the Middle East any time soon, which is known as the Obama doctrine. The reason for this is the US's priorities and its capacity to become involved... If the dependency on petrol continued as it did during King Faisal's time, the US probably would not allow (or make agreements to) developments that isolated Saudi Arabia, encouraged its competitors and threatened the status quo.

The rich sheikhdoms feeling threatened by the US agreeing with Iran on oil is an open example of this. It is clear that the petrol sheikhs, especially the Saudi dynasty, are feeling threatened by this development. Although Obama hasn't totally given up on these countries and their leaders, it is clear that the balances in the Middle East have changed and the US supports this to a certain extent.

It is doubtful whether King Salman's diplomatic message and decision to remain aloof will be effective on the US. In return, it is clear that the US does not want to be involved in the Middle East's matters as in the past. The attitude the US adopted in Syria despite Saudi's request, it coming to peace with Iran and a Shiite majority being brought to government administration in Iraq show that many things have changed.

The US withdrawing as a global power to a point of isolation is evidence of the shifting balnce. In the new balance, the panic of feeling the protection over things other than oil without “value” is lifted.

Turkey should be aware that we are in a period of new strategic alliances and that the content has changed.


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