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Follow-up on Saudi ambassador's resignation

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Several people in the comments Tuesday asked about the sudden resignation of Prince Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. His predecessor, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, served for a whopping 22 years and was extremely close with the Bush family (many reports indicated that Bandar was one of the first primary foreign policy advisers to George W. Bush) so such a short tenure for Turki is quite surprising.

In the context of the current Middle East maelstrom, there has been plenty of speculation about the real reason for departure (in a nice nod to traditional American political lies, the official reason is that the ambassador wants to spend more time with his family -- ohhhhkayyy).

In just the past few weeks, the Saudis have made constant headlines. First with a highly inflammatory WaPo op-ed by a consultant to the ambassador, which indicated that the Kingdom was planning to intervene in Iraq on the side of the Sunnis and drastically increase oil production to lower world prices and put economic pressure on Iran. The consultant was subsequently fired and his writing disavowed by the Saudis. Aside from the fact that the Kingdom doesn't have the military firepower to do much in Iraq (or especially against Iran) and my extreme skepticism about their ability to ramp up oil production to the levels needed to carry out such a plan, the fact that they'd even be talking about these things is significant. Then there was Vice President Cheney's trip to Saudi, which supposedly involved a tongue-lashing and warnings about U.S. actions, and finally protests against rumors of a U.S. plan to support the Shia against the Sunnis in Iraq's civil war.

Clearly U.S.-Saudi relations are at a difficult moment. Even with all that, however, it's important to remember that all politics is local (despite the American urge to make everything about us), and from what I can glean, this fight appears to be basically an internal Saudi one. Bandar is said to be offended at how much everyone in D.C. liked Turki, and Bandar is trying to keep moving up in the Kingdom's government, while Turki's brother, Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal is in poor health, as is his wife. Add that to speculation of a shakeup in the Kingdom's government, and the internal machinations may have overtaken Turki's ability and/or willingness to do the job.

While it doesn't seem to be a resignation in protest, at least not against the U.S., it certainly is another indicator of problems with U.S. foreign affairs and growing discontent within the region over Iraq and the future of U.S. policy.

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