Thank you for inviting me back to Carlisle Barracks. Last year when I spoke at the War College, my remarks centered on the theme of “community and cooperation.” I talked about the importance of Saudi Arabia and the United States working together to bring resolution to global concerns.
A year later, I would say the need for our cooperation is no less vital. However, I would note that there has been a decided change to our relationship since last I spoke here. The critical nature of security in the Arabian Gulf has increased. As a result, our governments today are actively redefining their strategic relationship. And from Saudi Arabia’s perspective, we are also encouraging a reassessment of policy and activity in the Middle East.
As two nations with unique roles and influence in the region, Saudi Arabia and the US have an obligation to align themselves on a series of cooperative efforts to address political and military issues. The obligation is not only for the sake of our peoples, but for the sake of the global community. While we may have a duty to work together, our willingness to cooperate is more deeply rooted. So before addressing where our nations are headed – and what policies need to be pursued – we must first examine the basis for our ongoing relationship.
Ladies and gentlemen: Some 50 years ago – in 1953 – the first US military training mission arrived in Saudi Arabia to supervise Saudi military assistance and training activities. A few years later, Dhahran Airbase began hosting American forces to contain the former Soviet Union. Saudi Arabia has always been inherently anti-Communist, so on both an ideological and strategic basis, our nations had reason to cooperate.
During this period – over which the Eisenhower administration presided – American commitment to Saudi Arabia was affirmed officially. In March of 1957, a joint resolution of both houses of Congress was passed. It declared that “the preservation of the independence and integrity of the nations of the Middle East” would be vital to US national interests. In this, the US committed to using armed force to assist the countries of the region to fend off armed aggression.
Clearly aimed at countering Soviet advances, one of the first actions by the US was Operation Hard Surface to respond to Egyptian threats to Saudi Arabia. That was under President Kennedy. Then under President Johnson, our military coordination increased, and Saudi Arabia commenced a comprehensive program for the expansion of the Saudi armed forces with US help.
Throughout the late 1960s, and into the 70s, as the US and Saudi governments realized their relations were enduring, our joint military cooperation spread to new areas. When the British withdrew from the Gulf in 1970, Saudi Arabia became one of the “twin pillars” of gulf security. At the time the Dhofar rebellion in Oman was raging, and the Kingdom and the US cooperated with Oman to bring that insurgency to an end. When the US withdrew from Vietnam, and became crippled by the Church Amendment, Saudi Arabia stepped in quietly to provide aid to anti-Communist movements in countries such as Zaire, Somalia, Angola, and Nicaragua. Most importantly, we both supported the mujahideen in Afghanistan during 1980s, contributing to the end of the Cold War.
After Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Saudi Arabia began hosting a coalition of international forces, including over a half-million US troops. We paid for all of their in-country support – including free fuel for all military operations. Of all countries in the world, Saudi Arabia made the largest direct financial contributions to liberate Kuwait. Saudi Arabia also fielded the largest military contingent after the US, and our army, navy, air force and National Guard engaged fully in the military operations of both Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
After this point – following four decades of successes in the face of clear threats – military coordination between our two nations cooled. This component of our relationship simply was no longer a necessity. Saddam was contained, and other global and regional players were quiet. During the Clinton administration, military packages were discussed, but ultimately they were not needed.
I do not believe Osama bin Laden took this long history into account when he brought terrorism onto the global stage in 2001. He may have seen that the more strategic elements of the Saudi-US relationship were diminished. But he did not count on the enduring strength of the nations’ bond, which had been solidified by our working together for those many years.
So the world’s most horrific terrorist act, which was intended to drive our nations apart, actually figured to bring our nations closer together. In subsequent years, the successes we’ve experienced cooperating in the war on terror have confirmed our longstanding ability and willingness to work together. Our joint task forces have captured hundreds of terrorists. Our governments have made joint designations of terror financiers, preventing millions of dollars going to terrorist causes. Our history of success together has been renewed.
Now, however, we are confronted with an additional series of challenges: Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel, and other situations in the region.
Overall security in the Middle East has diminished to a great extent. The instability and uncertainty that exists within the region is not contained to the region. Nor is it limited to affecting a particular country. It affects the world.
So after almost a decade, our two nations are once again aligning our resources and capabilities to deal with the political threats that face the global community.
In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee earlier this year, John Hillen, US Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs, summarized the situation. He stated, quote: “I think we have an opportunity in front of us to re-frame Gulf security, understand their security concerns and work [to] form closer and more productive and integrated defense relationships in the region.”
Indeed, this “opportunity” arises out of unfortunate circumstances, but it is an opportunity nonetheless. So at the highest level of government we have been advancing security cooperation.
Since the beginning of last summer, Saudi Arabia has been working with the US to find ways to update and maintain its military infrastructure and technology. Last month, the Saudi assistant defense minister came to the US to lead the first session, after the long hiatus, of the Joint Strategic Planning Committee. This was the first meeting in five years. He also met with top US officials, from vice president on down. US officials who have recently traveled to the Kingdom include Vice President Cheney, Secretary Rice and the US Undersecretary for Defense among others.
Our long history allows us to join together again with confidence. It also enables us to be very clear with one another about our goals and what methods we feel will work to address the challenges before us. With regard to these challenges, I would like to make Saudi Arabia’s position absolutely clear: While we prepare to defend, we first push for diplomacy.
I say this with the full understanding that if an escalated conflict ever broke out in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia would be in the crossfire. We understand the stakes, and we insist on open dialogue. We also understand that if you’re going to address a problem, you need to get to the heart of it. This is the message we’ve shared.
King Abdullah of Jordan a few a days ago said that the Middle East is descending into three civil wars, in Palestine, Lebanon, and Iraq.
As a way to illustrate this, let us look at one of the more snarled situations facing the region: Iran, which is involved in all three conflicts.
Iran’s state of affairs causes consternation among its neighbors, particularly those countries on the western shore of the Gulf. It is no secret to anyone that Iran has made various intimations regarding the free flow of oil. Just last week, Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, chief commander of Iran’s armed forces, commented to this end. General Safavi stated that in the event of any hostilities with the US, Iran would halt the flow of the 17 million barrels of oil that pass through the Strait of Hormuz each day.
To provide some perspective to this statement, 17 million barrels of oil represent roughly 20 percent of the world’s daily oil production. I would say, therefore, that the free flow of oil in the Gulf is of paramount interest to the global community.
Faced with this situation, the Kingdom has continued the frank discussions that we have with Iran. We cannot discount statements made by other Iranian officials, who have assured Gulf Arabs that they have no hostile intent. Our experience has been that talking with the Iranians is better than not talking with them.
President Bush has consistently stated that the US is going to stick to a diplomatic course to deal with Iran’s nuclear program. As our two countries work together for security, Saudi Arabia and the US have to hope that the diplomatic track works.
But there are ways of working to deflate this issue. We have asked Iran as we have asked the permanent members of the Security Council to join us in calling for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, including Israel. This will remove any stigma of double-dealings or double standards that those in Iran, who wish to continue on the nuclear proliferation path, point to in making their claims of unfair treatment. Iran, after all, is not an isolated entity in the Middle East. As a nation, its politics and behavior is influenced and impacted by its neighbors. Therefore, compartmentalizing Iran – and other issues, such as what is occurring in Lebanon – is not helpful. But that has been the approach taken largely by the US up to now.
General George S. Patton once advised: “Make your plans to fit the circumstances.” Right now, the circumstances require a comprehensive, holistic approach to healing the divisiveness that exists in the Middle East. That divisiveness is rooted in one single problem: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Besides being a dispute between two peoples, the situation has become an impediment to both regional and international stability. Without forging a solution, we will continue to be unable to secure lasting peace throughout the Middle East. And this turmoil, as we have all witnessed, has echoed across the world.
No one can deny that the resolution of the Palestinian Israeli conflict will drive solutions to other regional issues – Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, terrorism, and others – all problems impacting the stability and prosperity of the entire global community.
Since peace is manifestly in the interest of the region and the world at large, it is that much more incumbent on leading powers, including Saudi Arabia and the United States, to be consistent – and insistent – in moving Palestine and Israel towards the known outlines of a durable settlement.
When this issue is removed from the table – or at the very least, allowed to move towards resolution – then it will be taken away as an excuse for those who use it to justify divisiveness or terrorism.
Already there are many parties supporting this approach. British Prime Minister Blair recently called for a “whole Middle East” strategy – one that emphasizes the importance of working to find a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Such an approach requires support.
Despite the horrific bombing of Palestine and Lebanon last summer. Despite the tragic assignation last week of Lebanese minister Pierre Gemayel. Despite the recent deadly Israeli shelling of Beit Hanoun. We still have the Road Map – as outlined by President Bush – and the King Abdullah peace plan. We need to finally bring these parties to the negotiating table. Implementation is not just achievable, it is necessary.
The British author P.G. Wodehouse once remarked that, quote: “in this life…we must always distinguish between the unlikely and the impossible.”
Will Saudi Arabia and the United States be able to find a comprehensive peace for the region tomorrow, or next year, or five years down the road? It is unlikely. However, we must recognize that regional peace is not impossible.
The unique and respective positions held by our two countries give us the ability to find solutions. Our long history of cooperation – in matters both military and diplomatic – gives us the strength to implement them. All that is left is for us to act.
Let us act to bring parties together. Let us act to open up dialogue. Let us act to heal wounds. If we accomplish all of this first, then any preparations we will need to make in the future will only be in anticipation of our progress.
Thank you, and God’s peace and blessings are upon you.