Friday, 24 May 2024

    Bulldogs, Soccer, and Foreign Policy

    by Pete O’Brien

    One of the marvelous scenes in the movie Man For All Seasons has Thomas More talking to his friend the Duke of Norfolk, about More’s refusal to endorse the King’s divorce of Catherine, or his marriage to Anne Boleyn. In the dialogue that follows More comments on the English nobility’s apathy to their religion, but its fascination with the material world: 

    “The English nobility, my Lord, would have snored through the Sermon on the Mount. But you’ll labor like scholars over a bulldog’s pedigree.”

    He might have been speaking of American academicians or the experts at Foggy Bottom, even worse, the journalists of the modern media.

    Two weeks ago there was summit in the Mid East, with some countries – Iran in particular – pushing for, among other things, refusing to allow the US to remove any munitions or arms stockpiled in their countries if the weapons might be transferred to Israel, as well as threatening an oil embargo – a la 1973. Saudi Arabia held its ground, the summit issued what was labeled a watered-down statement by the press, but basically, Saudi Arabia said “No” as did Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan and the UAE. The key country in all that was Saudi Arabia, whose leadership insisted on what might be called a more balanced approach. If they had folded, who knows what might have happened.

    Given how poorly the US has dealt with the Saudis over the past two years, that was substantially more than we should have expected.

    But was it really unanticipated? A surprise? No. In fact, it should have been understood. If the State Department, the DC think tank academicians, and the press were paying attention, it would have been something the US might have been better positioned to both support and reward.

    Why is that? Consider this development, one that might have been appropriately recognized to great effect, if Foggy Bottom, or the Pentagon, or the press had bothered to pay attention.

    On October 2nd this year, the Saudi soccer team Al Ittihad, was in Isfahan, Iran to play Sepahan FC at Naghsh-e Jahan stadium. But the Saudis withdrew from the game just as play was about start. Why? Because there was a bust of Qasem Soleimani, the dead former commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force right next to the field. You remember him, he was killed by a hellfire missile on January 3rd, 2020.

    To the Saudis, and to most of the Arab world, he was, and still is, the embodiment of evil, a terrorist of the worst sort, who did more to destabilize the Middle East than virtually any other single man. 

    The Saudis walked off the field, passing the bust, refusing to play at a field that honored Soleimani.

    The Saudi soccer team’s action was not only exemplary, it was an opportunity that we, as allies of the Saudis and as de facto leader of the international community, concerned about stability in the Middle East, should have gone after like a dog going after bone.

    Instead, the event was mainly covered on sports pages. It certainly didn’t receive a public “Attaboy” from any senior US government officials. Wouldn’t that have been handy? Would it have been worth it to raise that issue in any discussions? Would it have been a good thing if we had recognized the Saudi soccer players and their stand-up behavior and thanked them for their moral courage?

    Especially since 5 days later Hamas attacked Israel and everything started going sideways. Wouldn’t it have been nice to have built up just a little extra good will in the region? 

    Apparently not. 

    Was the Saudi action even covered in the daily briefs at Foggy Bottom or the Pentagon? Did the intelligence community notice? Did the CIA or the ODNI slip it into the President’s daily brief? Was the CentCom Commander told and made to appreciate the import and then did he pick up the phone and call the Saudi Chief of the General Staff and tell him “well done?”

    Perhaps all that happened. But I would bet not.

    Meanwhile, the illuminati at Foggy Bottom are probably wrestling over their bulldog pedigrees…