There are a lot of opinions on what Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia means. Most are wrong. They are wrong because they do not understand the geopolitical map has shifted enough that it warrants a major change.
You will not hear this from the policy wonks in D.C. The Stratfors, Ford Foundations, Councils on Foreign Relations, etc. They are all wedded to the old game of divide and rule. Keep the Arabs fighting among themselves.
Trump is not. His speech on Sunday to the leaders of the Arab world was a game-changer. Yes, it was effusive in its praise of his hosts. That’s what we call good manners. But, it was his reading them the riot act about radical Wahabi terrorism coupled with his one line that addressed a meeting between himself, and the leaders of Israel and Palestine that is the key take-away.
Trump went to the Middle East to begin crafting the biggest deal of his life.
And, as always, he has Vladimir Putin to thank for it. Why? Because it has been Putin that has done the diplomatic and military work during the latter stages of the Obama administration to put a stop to our destructive foreign policy and set the table for everyone to come together and sue for peace.
Yes, I said peace.
The Saudi-Israeli Connection
It all hinges on the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Most opinions are wrong because they discount this relationship, which is far stronger than even they will admit publicly.
Saudi Arabia is facing an existential crisis, along with the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Low oil prices for the foreseeable future means it will continue hemorrhaging money to a primary budget deficit that was 19% of GDP in 2015 and 2016. That’s around $180 billion per year burn rate.
They are losing market share to Russia and the U.S. Venezuela’s collapse has helped them to some extent. Iran is Egypt’s largest oil supplier now.
Putin’s intervention in Syria thwarted the Saudi-Israeli-US-Turkish plan to oust Assad and push back Iran and neutralize Hezbollah. Assad will likely step down once his country is relatively stable and ISIS is driven out.
And Russia will likely expand its permanent presence in Syria to ensure everything proceeds according to his specifications.
So, the Saudis have to sue for peace now or face losing everything. And that’s why Trump read them the riot act about radical terrorism in their home and wasn’t lynched.
We know they and Israel are responsible for destroying the secular Arab regimes of the world along with our State Department’s blessing.
Trump told everyone willing to actually listen that time is past. The Empire of Chaos, to quote Pepe Escobar, is ending.
By proposing an Arab version of NATO and selling them the arms they need to defend themselves, the GCC can become a nexus to stop Iran’s push westward. It raises the stakes on Iran’s theocrats who Trump called out – too strongly in my opinion – and tells them stop trying to encircle Israel and the Saudis.
The arms deal will be paid for with the Saudi Aramco IPO.
But, the Saudis won’t go along with any of this without Israel. They both have to sign on. The U.S. can be the guarantor to Iran that this group will go no further. Because, make no mistake, the North Koreans are testing ballistic missiles for Iran by proxy [H/T Halsey English for this insight].
So, on the one side we have the U.S. acting like the grown up guaranteeing Israeli and Saudi good behavior. Now all we need is the other side. That’s where Putin and Russia come in.
The Putin Gambit
Russia’s alliance with Iran and China is unbreakable at this point. They have designs to build a trade empire across Asia that the world hasn’t seen in centuries. Putin has the means and the respect by all parties on both sides to remove Iran’s troops from Syria and get Hezbollah to stand down if the right deal is signed.
He has the military might to make it all stick.
The Turks and President Erdogan have over-played their hand and have been abandoned by both Putin and Trump. He will behave himself or be removed from power. His days of playing both sides against each other are over.
If you don’t believe me, Trump put U.S. troops on the Turkish border to stop further attacks against the YPG Kurds. At the same time, Putin put Russian troops in the Kurdish enclave northwest of Aleppo.
Putin is a real deal-maker. He knows how to use both the carrot and the stick. He ramped up Russian oil production to trap the Saudis. Rosneft and Gazprom took hits to their bottom lines to gain market share and, by extension, real political control over OPEC.
And it is this leverage that has the Saudis ready to cry uncle.
Remember this, Putin doesn’t care about credit. He cares about results. He and Trump are in opposite domestic positions. Trump needs this win to shut up the loony left. Putin doesn’t, even though he’s facing a re-election campaign in 2018.
So, setting the table for Trump to come in, statesmanlike, and broker an historic peace deal is exactly his style.
We’re not there yet, but the pieces are in place. As long as Trump doesn’t make another mistake like the al-Shairat bombing and keeps a lid on his military commanders he will eventually gain Putin’s trust.
Putin and and his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov consider the U.S. “not-agreement capable.” Trump has his work cut out for himself to reverse that. But, if he does he will prove a lot of people wrong.