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January 5, 2016

Saudi Arabia and Iran Grow Heated as U.S. Steps Back

Middle Eastern countries take matters into their own hands.

The Middle East is splitting (again) along sectarian lines. Saudi Arabia and its allies United Arab Emirates and Bahrain severed diplomatic ties with Iran over the weekend. It’s part of a trend where Middle Eastern countries can no longer trust the United States to provide the stability it has provided in decades past. On Saturday, Saudi Arabia, a predominantly Sunni country, executed a Shia Sheikh, Nimr Baqr al-Nimr. The predominantly Shia Iran reacted violently, as a mob ransacked and set fire to the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. In the midst of this, the Obama administration, fresh off “ensuring peace” in the region through the Iran nuke deal, backed away from this squabble. “I guess the point is there’s plenty of blame to go around,” Barack Obama’s spokesman Josh Earnest said, “and what we would like to see is all sides begin to take the kinds of steps that will deescalate and not inflame the tensions that are obviously pretty raw right now.”

But this kind of hands-off approach is exactly what got the region to this point in the first place. Commentator Charles Krauthammer noted that America’s modern relationship with the Saudis dates back to the 1930s, when the two countries agreed to trade oil for security. Now that Obama has emboldened Iran by giving it billions of dollars and dropping sanctions, Saudi Arabia must ensure its own peace. “I think they are acting fairly desperately,” Krauthammer said.

The net effect will be greater insecurity for the West. While Middle Eastern counties focus on each other, the terrorism cells in the region can operate with greater freedom to carry out their aspirations. As Mark Alexander said in his essay on the Iran nuke deal, “Terror does not tolerate a power vacuum.”

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