The puzzles in Saudi policy
A puzzling aspect of the Middle East today is Saudi Arabia. Egyptians complain that Saudi leaders are the principal impediment to their again assuming an active part in Arab politics. King Hussein sees the Saudi attitude as an obstacle to a Jordanian role in Camp David negotiations. And the Lebanese consider the Saudis unsympathetic. For fear of ''contamination'' from goods Israel forcibly places on the Lebanese market, the Saudis have banned all imports from Lebanon at a time when that country desperately needs to revive exports and restore entrepot trade.Skip to next paragraph
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The trouble, of course, begins with oil - or rather with the influence that naturally gravitates toward those having close to inestimable wealth. With this influence comes responsibility. A lot of Arabs look to Saudi Arabia for leadership. When Saudi behavior fails to conform to preconceived notions of a government occupying this role, apprehension develops among those who would use Saudi wealth and commitment as a cover for their own weakness. Just about everyone is perplexed by King Fahd's continued silence - his seeming refusal to exercise the influence that is his.
In fact, the Saudis have been exceedingly busy in recent months attempting to stabilize the international oil market. That has been more than enough to occupy any government. In addition to dealing with Iran, Libya, and Nigeria - and holding together the constituency of oil-producing Arab states in the Gulf - the Saudis have faced the problem of devising a domestic economic strategy that takes into account the declining price of oil.
Financial analysts contend that the Saudis only have to slow down implementation on development projects to adjust to falling revenues. Expatriot labor and foreign contractors would bear the brunt of the cutbacks. Some specialists even argue that this approach would mollify religious and conservative elements who have opposed the rapid rate of change taking place in the kingdom.
What then is the trouble? It is that this type of financial assessment ignores contracts, commitments, partnerships, and expectations - the structure and momentum that emerge from the development process and that soon come to embody the political dynamics of a country. Fahd has problems and he knows it.
In turning to the political side of the agenda, we can discern little aggressiveness in the Saudis' diplomacy. They have only interposed oil directly into politics once. That was the embargo of 1973. Since then, oil incomem has been used in politics - to support those identified with an array of political positions, notably Iraq against Iran, Syria and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in opposition to Israel, and Jordan seemingly in pursuit of a more moderate course. There have also been several billion dollars for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and additional billions to protect the French franc.