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The recent wrangling in Washington over the debt ceiling, with both sides promising to return to battle early next year, never got around to considering this proposition: Maybe debt ceilings are a bad idea, because they may lead to increased spending.
Lamentations about what has become of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East miss the point. The remarkable thing about President Obama's diplomacy in the region is that it has come full circle—to the very beginning of his presidency.
Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief, is venting to journalists and foreign diplomats about his irritation at feckless Obama administration policies in the Middle East, ominously suggesting his country is at the point of making a "major shift" away from the United States. Prince Turki al-Faisal, former director of Saudi intelligence, joined in with an address to the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, saying, "The current charade of international control over Bashar's chemical arsenal would be funny if it were not so blatantly perfidious and designed not only to give Mr. Obama an opportunity to back down, but also to help Assad to butcher his people." The Saudi complaints include not attacking Syria, not providing weapons and support to Syrian rebels, American support for the elected Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, U.S. cuts of assistance to the military that overthrew that government, and a lack of consultation on negotiations with Iran. The Saudis are not alone, of course, in their criticism. Every country in the region is exasperated, as are many Americans. As former Centcom commander Jim Mattis so memorably put it, "I defy anyone to tell me what U.S. strategy is in the Middle East." But the Saudis' unhappiness is not proof that U.S. policies are wrong. Obama administration policies are wrong, but not in the ways or for the reasons the Saudis excoriate them. And bringing U.S. policies into alignment with Saudi Arabia is likely to create a Middle East even less in America's interests than the Obama administration's bungling has. Saudi Arabia wants a very different Middle East than we do. The Saudis oppose democracy. They oppose freedom of the press. They oppose freedom of conscience and practice of faiths other than Islam. They oppose women's equality before the law. They oppose the idea that individuals have rights and loan them in limited ways and for limited purposes to governments. They deny rights to their own Shiite citizens in Saudi Arabia, while advocating and enforcing the same in Bahrain. They denigrate domestic opposition as solely agents of Iran. Not only do the Saudis oppose these fundamental values of American society, but they have funded and armed some of the most virulent jihadists. Rachel Bronson's superb history of U.S.-Saudi relations, Thicker Than Oil, makes clear that the United States was complicit in Saudi Arabia's fostering of the mujahideen in Afghanistan; the Saudis now want U.S. complicity in supporting jihadists in Syria and the return to power of the deep state in Egypt (a model they would perpetuate throughout the region). Secretary of State John Kerry did a fine diplomatic turn in London on Tuesday, outlining the areas of U.S.-Saudi common interest, toning down the problem, and conveying a calm confidence that the two countries will continue to work together. The policy question is what form greater Saudi opposition to U.S. policies might take.