Saudis Know That U.S. Power Can Bring Lasting Peace
President Trump’s decision to order missile strikes in Syria earlier this month, along with his statement that the country’s future cannot include Bashar Assad, shows that the U.S. will not give the Assad regime and its allies a free hand. These moves instead have encouraged America’s allies, including my country, Saudi Arabia.
The U.S. has been working closely with us for a long time to combat terror groups and to deter Iran and Hezbollah, often in ways the public doesn’t see. Our support has been critical, but there are certain definitive actions that only the U.S. can take, certain voids that only the U.S. can fill.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia stands by our American ally, as we invariably have. We appreciate the many sacrifices the American people have made in our part of the world, and we understand their fatigue with combat. But the region is still very dangerous. Any perception that the U.S. lacks the resolve to act when necessary only encourages those who do not share America’s noble values to step in.
This happened in Syria, where the Assad regime has waged unrelenting warfare on its people for six years. The Syrian government—supported by Russia, Iran and its terrorist proxies in Hezbollah—has killed hundreds of thousands of Syrians, created one of the worst refugee crises the world has ever witnessed, and facilitated the growth of Islamic State.
Iran continues to destabilize the region, both by stoking sectarian tensions and by aiding extremist groups. It is supporting subversive and terrorist activities in the Middle East and beyond, and it has even given sanctuary to the top-ranking leaders of al Qaeda.
Saudi Arabia is sandwiched between Iraq and Yemen, both of which are fighting to determine their future despite Iranian meddling. Iraq is in a struggle against ISIS while still trying to bridge the sectarian divides Tehran has been exploiting and provoking since the 1979 Iranian revolution. Yemen has been a base for attacks against Saudi Arabia. Its civil war—provoked, fueled and sustained by Iran—has cost thousands of lives while generating political and economic chaos.
Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have a shared view of the situation in the Middle East, and the major elements of our policies largely coincide. This augurs well for the possibility of bringing stability and peace to the region, but we are in for a long slog.
In Syria, our policy is to ensure a diplomatic solution to the crisis through the implementation of the 2012 Geneva I Declaration, which calls for a “transitional government body” with full executive powers that would include members of the present Syrian government and the opposition. Saudi Arabia believes that a political solution and a peaceful transition of power cannot be obtained without the removal of Mr. Assad. The Syrian people cannot accept or believe in a peace with him in power.
Last year, we stated our willingness to commit ground forces to Syria should the U.S. decide to lead a ground campaign against ISIS. Our objective would be to liberate territory from these terrorists and ensure that such areas do not fall under the control of Iranian-backed sectarian militias or the Assad regime. Saudi Royal Air Force jets operating out of the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey have conducted more than 340 strikes against ISIS targets in Syria as of February.
In Yemen we have rolled back Iran’s attempt to gain a foothold in the region and supported the forces of the elected government. We want the Houthis to commit to a political solution based on U.N. Security Council Resolution 2216. This resolution requires the Houthis to withdraw from areas they have seized, relinquish their arms and cease all activities that properly belong to the government of Yemen.
Saudi Arabia is in the midst of a period of rapid modernization, and the quality of life of our people is our foremost concern. But that quality of life is at risk if we cannot make our region more secure. We will gladly bring our resources to bear on efforts to bring that about, but we have seen that it is only in working closely with the U.S. that our contribution can be truly effective.
We value our alliance with the U.S., and we believe that American power—and the demonstrated willingness to use it judiciously—can change the dynamics in the Middle East for the better. In the end, it is American power, reinforcing and complementing the work of America’s allies in the region, that will bring stability and lasting peace.
Mr. Al-Saud is Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S.
Appeared in the Apr. 19, 2017, print edition.