The Salman doctrine

Jamal Khashoggi
Jamal Khashoggi
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A few months ago, I wrote an article entitled “Each era has its state, men and foreign policy.” Today, following the Decisive Storm campaign, time will produce even more than that. It’s King Salman’s principle.

The word principle doesn’t express my idea much but the word “doctrine,” which means “a policy based on moral principles and commitments,” does. The most famous doctrine in modern history is the Eisenhower doctrine. Eisenhower is the only American president who was fair to Arabs when he ordered the Israelis, Britons and French to withdraw from Egypt following their tripartite aggression in 1956. However, his doctrine was famous before that and it was based on the United States’ commitment to aid and militarily or financially support any state threatened by another.

So what’s Salman’s principle? The statement of the five Gulf countries that laid the basis of the alliance of the Decisive Storm campaign can explain it. It’s a response to the Yemeni president who addressed Gulf leaders about the deterioration of the situation in his country and explained how Houthis were attacking state institutions and people with foreign support and imposing their opinion on the Yemeni people by resorting to the power of arms and intimidation.

Saudi Arabia no longer cares if this U.S. silence is the passing weakness of a president whose term ends in two years

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) responded by promising to deter the aggression and restore security via the political process. Many Arab people are currently subjected to attacks by tyrannical dictatorial regimes or by arrogant sectarian ones or by groups who either work outside the context of legitimacy or within it but impose their agenda on others via violence and intimidation. However, can a regional state, no matter how powerful it is in its surrounding, implement such a doctrine without superpowers, and particularly the U.S.?

This is what King Salman bin Abdulaziz did and he established a new rule in international relations. This is what veteran Senator John McCain noticed last Thursday, and hours after launching the Decisive Storm campaign, he said that “Arab countries no longer trust the U.S. and this is why they planned this alliance on their own.” He added that there had been no such alliance in decades.

‘Saudi Arabia no longer cares’

So this is an act that establishes a new image laid out by King Salman. So how did this happen and can it go on? I think the first step was when the Saudi king decided his country could no longer bear the provocative Iranian expansive policy in the region, and the American silence over it.

Saudi Arabia no longer cares if this U.S. silence is the passing weakness of a president whose term ends in two years, or if it’s a conspiracy or a major deal that President Barack Obama is negotiating with the Iranians as they address the latter’s nuclear program.

It seems the Saudi king decided that Saudi interest comes first. He decided that if Saudi Arabia has to act alone, then it will. Of course, it would have preferred this old tested scenario of alliance to be with its old ally; however it could not link the fate of the country to this alliance - although it first resorted to forming an alliance with its brothers and friends from the Arab and Muslim world.

Someone must’ve told the American president (it’s said it was deputy crown prince and minister of interior Mohammed bin Nayef) that Saudi Arabia will go ahead with a military operation in Yemen “with or without (the U.S.)” and informed him of the names of the countries allied with the Saudi kingdom.

The Americans may have procrastinated and requested time. They expected the Saudis to be testing their determination and pressuring them; however when they sensed “decisiveness,” they agreed to cooperate even though without participating and Obama promised to provide intelligence and logistical support.

How can this benefit us later?

The first benefit is that strong regional countries like Saudi Arabia can lead even if history, or at least its history, changes. The second is that when the U.S. senses “decisiveness,” it will respond and follow the regional leader as long as there’s an independent leader who enjoys popular legitimacy and support and who’s determined to go on with what he thinks is best to do especially if it’s something which is morally agreed on.

“Resolving crises”

A third benefit is that allies may be disappointing at times of hesitation and may even shift their stances and take policies independent from others and thus obstruct what has been achieved and what’s being planned for later achievement. However when they sense the leader’s decisiveness, they get over their desire to alter their policies and - either willingly or reluctantly - go on with the leader’s plan and eventually benefit themselves before benefitting anyone else.

Now that Decisive Storm is on, there must be someone observing the situation. What happened is setting a new rule in the science of “resolving crises,” and if this succeeds, it will encourage other regional powers to try it somewhere else.

The Syrians called for such an approach once operations began as they felt that there’s a clear similarity between their case and the Yemeni case, and they hoped that their illegitimate president and regime were targeted by a storm like that of the Decisive Storm.

The Turks, who are the upcoming partner of Saudi Arabia in the process of “resolving crises” without U.S., think so too. The president’s consultant Ibrahim Kalin, who I met in Ankara last Thursday, told me: “Yes, there are similarities and differences between Syria and Yemen. However the problems, circumstances and rivals are the same. The Saudi operation may repeat there and we must think about that.”

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has several times voiced his desire to impose a no-fly zone - and later - a buffer zone in north Syria. He even suggested this latter idea to King Salman during their last summit and his idea was supported by the king.

However what’s common is that achieving such a desire cannot be without U.S. approval. If the Decisive Storm campaign succeeds, this rule may change and the American condition may no longer be a condition and Erdogan might say: “If the Saudis did it, why don’t I do like them?”

Let’s wait’s and see. Just like Erdogan supported Saudi Arabia’s operation in Yemen, Saudi Arabia will of course support him if he decides to adopt Salman’s doctrine.

This article was first published in al-Hayat on March 28, 2015.


(Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels.)

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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