2003 September 23 Tuesday
US Combat Troops Quit Saudi Arabia
US forces have quietly left Prince Sultan Air Base.
The drastically reduced American profile could simplify the government's position among Saudis who espouse Osama bin Laden's contention that the American military foothold was an affront to the kingdom's sovereignty. For years, the American presence not far from Islam's two holiest sites, at Mecca and Medina, has provided Al Qaeda with an important rallying cry.
The US Air Force has completed its shift of operations to Al Udeid Air Base which has been undergoing expansion in Qatar.The only remaining US soldiers are 500 advisors training Saudi National Guard.
The US kept forces in Saudi Arabia for too long after the first war was fought against Saddam to kick his forces out of Kuwait. But the logic for keeping them was to contain Saddam since he was left in power. Half measures require continued management of a problem. Now that Saddam is gone so is the rationale for the US troop presence in Saudi Arabia.
In part, Pentagon officials say, the shift is a logical outgrowth of the fall of Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq. Thirteen years after it began, the officials say, the American base's original Iraqi mission had been accomplished.
Critics can rightly claim that the US now has to intervene in Iraq in a way that creates even bigger effects than the effects created by the presence US forces in Saudi Arabia. But previous policy was not sustainable. The presence of US forces in the country which contains the two holiest cities in Islam presented an on-going propaganda tool for extremists to appeal to the Muslim masses. Iraq at least is less important to Sunni Islam.
We could have easily maintained the no-fly zones that cheaply kept Saddam from being any kind of threat to his neighbors from our bases in Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman.
Then the world would have continued blaming us for high infant mortality rates in Iraq and everything else that went wrong there. Plus, we would have been spending years fighting the French and Russians over the terms of the sanctions as the amount of smuggling thru Turkey, Jordan, Syria, and even Iran steadily rose. Sanctions regimes are halfway measures that make us more responsible for what happens and yet they don't solve whatever problem they are supposed to handle.
We could have just totally withdrawn. But as long as oil is so important that is not going to happen. Recall Jim Baker's initial reaction to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait before the war officially became about freedom and the New World Order. It was all about oil.
What the bulk of the pro-war and anti-war commentators never address is really what we ought to do about the world's dependency on Middle Eastern oil.
We have 5 major problems in the Middle East:
- Arab-Israeli conflict
- World Dependence on Middle Eastern Oil
- WMD Proliferation
None of those problems is being handled well enough under current US policy. Which is being handled most poorly? I say its a toss-up between WMD proliferation and the oil dependence. Iran is on its way to being a nuclear power and other countries will follow suit. Our energy policy is pretty weak and looks set to remain so. At least the White House is arguing with the Israelis about the path of the wall construction and lots of CIA people are running around hunting terrorists.
Also, Islam isn't being handled well either since it is politically incorrect to say that a religious ideology can be an enemy the way an secular ideology can be.