There's a rather interesting article buried on page A12 of the WaPo today. It says that Cheney's entire trip to the Middle East has the purpose of trying to convince the Saudis to change their minds - because they've already given up on both Maliki and Bush's surge.
Vice President Cheney faces a diplomatic rescue mission tomorrow in Saudi Arabia, where King Abdullah has told top State Department and Pentagon officials over the past six weeks that the kingdom no longer supports Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and does not believe the new U.S. military strategy to secure Baghdad will work, U.S. officials and Arab diplomats said.Meanwhile, Iran is putting on its own diplomatic offensive in an attempt to convince Sunni regional leaders that it doesn't pose the threat they believe it does. It's aim, according to some analysts, is to agree a carve-up of regional security with those Sunni leaders and exclude the U.S. from the region thereby. It may not succeed, but that it can even try speaks volumes for the credibility gap that Bush's misadventure in Iraq has created.
The oil-rich kingdom, which has taken an increasingly tough position on Iraq, believes Maliki has proven a weak leader during his first year in power and is too tied to Iran and pro-Iranian Shiite parties to bring about real reconciliation with Iraq's Sunni minority, Arab sources said.
Assuaging Saudi concerns is the primary reason for the vice president's trip -- and even a key reason he went to Baghdad this week, U.S. and Arab officials say...U.S. officials are already skeptical that the visit will produce a significant breakthrough, beyond underscoring common interests in regional stability.
The Gulf Arab countries are longtime U.S. allies, but the Bush administration's unpopular war in Iraq has triggered a strong effort by Iran to woo them out of the American camp.This time, Cheney's pretence of "straight-talking" is likely to be seen as the simple bullying it is. The Saudis won't change their minds and they may yet bring other Arab leaders in the Gulf along with them. That raises a worrying spectre - if relations deteriorate far enough then it's possible that Kuwait and others could become far more reluctant to have U.S. troops on their soil. Which would complicate supply lines for Iraq (that's an understatement) and create a danger of the exit being slammed in the faces of U.S. forces in Iraq.
But for its part, Iran has many across the region scared over its insistence on developing a nuclear program which can be used for nuclear arms making.
Washington has countered Iran's growing assertiveness in the region with a flurry of diplomatic visits and sent a second U.S. aircraft carrier steaming off Iran's coast.
Leaders in the Gulf, now in the midst of a lucrative economic boom, fear being sandwiched in a disastrous U.S.-Iran war. Neither Cheney nor Ahmadinejad is expected to win big concessions from the Gulf Arabs.
"We have a deep mistrust of both sides," said Mustafa Alani of the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center. "Each is trying to defend his corner on major issues in the region. But neither is likely to accomplish very much."
..."We have a common interest with the U.S. in preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power and intervening in Iraq and Lebanon," Alani said. "But the problem is that we have a huge mistrust of the U.S. and cannot publicly support its position."