Former US allies cutting ties to Iran

Most of the reporting on the diplomatic dominos falling in the Middle East focuses on Saudi Arabia’s efforts to isolate Iran, which appear to be succeeding. As the Washington Post notes in two different articles this morning, Riyadh’s foreign-relations offensive has met with considerable success:

"The Middle East slid dangerously closer to regional conflict Monday after Saudi Arabia rallied its Sunni allies to sever diplomatic ties with Iran, prompting alarmed appeals for restraint from powers across the globe.

Bahrain and Sudan joined Saudi Arabia in cutting off relations with Iran, and the United Arab Emirates, a key Iranian trading partner, recalled its ambassador from Tehran, as the fallout from the execution of a prominent Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia on Saturday heightened sectarian tensions across the Middle East."

Shortly afterward, Kuwait announced that it would also cut ties with Iran:

"Kuwait became the latest in a growing list of Saudi Arabian allies to cut or downgrade ties with Iran, saying Tuesday that it had recalled its ambassador to Tehran in solidarity with the kingdom.

The widening rift between Western-backed Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies with the Shiite government in Tehran has pushed the region dangerously closer to conflict, prompting alarmed appeals for restraint from powers across the globe.

Bahrain and Sudan joined Saudi Arabia in severing diplomatic relations with Iran on Monday, and the United Arab Emirates, a key Iranian trading partner, recalled its ambassador, as the fallout from the execution of a prominent Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia on Saturday sharpened sectarian tensions across the Middle East."

Mostly missing in analyses of these developments is the fact that most of these nations — the Sudan being a notable exception — aren’t just allies of Saudi Arabia. They also formed the bulwark of American policy in the Middle East for the last several decades, and still do. The US liberated Kuwait from the pan-Arabist army of Saddam Hussein in large part because of the threat he posed to Saudi Arabia and the other emirates in the neighborhood. This bloc continues to be part of American strategic calculations, especially when it comes to the fight against ISIS; in fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that Barack Obama’s plan is to shove most of that fight onto these allies with no backup plan if they fail to perform.

What does it portend, then, that these key allies in a strategically critical region have rejected Obama’s attempts to engage Iran? There is no other way to read this in a geopolitical sense. The WaPo’s Liz Sly hints at it when describing the White House response to the crisis, which consists mostly of handwringing on the sidelines:

"The Obama administration, caught in the middle by its quest for a closer relationship with Iran and its long-standing alliance with Saudi Arabia, said it hoped Tehran and Riyadh would dial back the hostile rhetoric that has fueled the worst crisis between the regional rivals in decades.

“We’re urging all sides to show some restraint and to not further inflame tensions that are on quite vivid display in the region,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters in Washington."

Russia, on the other hand, is getting ready to expand its role as superpower arbiter in the region:

Russia is ready to serve as an intermediary to resolve the dispute between Saudi Arabia and Iran that saw the kingdom break off diplomatic relations with Tehran, a Russian foreign ministry source told AFP on Monday.

"“Russia is ready to serve as an intermediary between Riyadh and Tehran,” the source said, without providing any specifics about Moscow’s potential role in resolving the crisis.

Another unnamed Russian diplomatic source quoted by TASS news agency said Moscow was ready to host the Saudi and Iranian foreign ministers — Adel al-Jubeir and Mohammad Javad Zarif — for talks.

“If our partners Saudi Arabia and Iran show they are ready and willing (to meet), our initiative will remain on the table,” the source said."

Why can’t the Obama administration make this offer? Because they have squandered American standing with the Sunni regimes while gaining literally nothing from Tehran. No one respects Obama in the region any longer; Tehran played him for a fool to get their hands on more than $100 billion in assets to use against the Sunni regimes in terror proxy fights, and the Saudis and others think Obama sold them out to get a bad deal with Iran. Russia aligns with Iran all the way down the line, and their attention now is to keep Iranian satellite Bashar al-Assad propped up in Syria, but the Saudis have to take into consideration Putin’s willingness to project Russian power — especially with the US leaving a vacuum in the region.

Obama and John Kerry keep insisting that they made a good deal with Iran. Now is the test of that claim. If all they can do is cluck their tongues from the sideline, that will tell us all we need to know about the impact on American influence from their bargain with the Iranian mullahs.