What will Saudi Arabia's growing role as a regional leader mean for the Middle East?
55% Very little: The Sunni Arab states will prove ineffective as counterweights to Iran

"Saudi Arabia, at least, is incurably ineffective in everything except oil production. Its diplomacy has always been feckless."

"At the moment very little but if Saudi Arabia really adopts a new outward look and plays its hand as effectively as it can, it could be a very useful counterweight to Iran without tipping into war. But, that remains to be seen."

23% The containment of Iranian influence throughout the Middle East

“Saudi Arabia, even if it succeeds in increasing its regional influence, will have little impact on developments in Iraq.  It should, however, be somewhat more effective in countering Shiite radicalism in Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East.” 

“Remember, the great advantage the Saudis have (beyond money) in the region is that they are Arabs the Iranians are Persians. This alone limits the power the Iranians have over the entire region and is a tremendous demographic asset for the Saudis.” 

16% Increased sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shias, particularly in Iraq

“I'm not sure I agree with the premise that Saudi Arabia's role is growing that much, and in particular its very dependent on Abdullah's continued health.” 

“I check only one of these possibilities, and that reluctantly, because I doubt the premise of the question: that Saudi Arabia does have a “growing role as a regional leader.”  It has done a few things, but very tentatively and without evidence that it will confront the most serious regional security problems.  It remains highly “risk averse.”  Also, as Saudi policies evolve, they will almost certainly continue to be more subtle than bold, and thus the prospect of Saudi-Iranian confrontation is far from assured. The most important factor will be what the US does in the Iraqi “end game” and in its future political and security engagements in the region, including its ability to act as a serious partner and protector.  That the US will act in ways that are reassuring to Saudi Arabia and other regional states is far from assured, and the Saudis will continue to “hedge their bets;” one aspect of which will likely be not to press Iran too hard.” 

“I'm not sure I agree with the premise that Saudi Arabia's role is growing that much, and in particular its very dependent on Abdullah's continued health.” 

5% A heightened possibility of conventional war between Iran and the Sunni Arab states
2% The containment of Iranian influence in Iraq
None of the above

“All of the above and none of the above.  A greater Saudi role in the region could help check Iranian influence in Iraq and more generally across the region, but this in itself could trigger proxy conflict between them in Iraq.  Overall, a more active Saudi role in the region can only be a plus from the American perspective, although we should not assume that the Saudis have anything like the ability to solve the problems of the region.” 

“None of the above.  Saudi Arabia lacks the population, unity, and appeal needed to lead the region or to contain Iran.  Riyadh's strategy instead is essentially defensive:  It will play both sides and try to keep the region's problems at bay.”

How friendly to US interests will Saudi Arabia be over the next five years?
69% Friendly enough

“Saudi Arabia under King Abdullah is a very responsible and important nation.  They remain better friends to the United States than we deserve.” 

“On some issues, the Saudis will be very friendly (oil in particular), but will not always match US interests with regard to the peace process,
Iran, and terrorism—though it won't be truly adversarial.” 

“America's weakened position in the Middle East is forcing Saudi Arabia to hedge its bets.  It needs to put distance between itself and Washington--witness King Abdullah's statement in March that the U.S. occupation of Iraq is illegal.  But Riyadh has no illusions about what Iran's ascendancy means for the region--or why it the United States as an ally.  So the House of Saud won't venture too far from Washington's side.”

“Saudi Arabia has no love for Iran, it needs the US to stay engaged to help contain the spillover from Iraq, but it has no interest in being seen as "close" to a U.S. Administration that is hated throughout the Middle East.  So Saudi Arabia will be friendly enough to keep the U.S. engaged, while trying to create a perception of distance and independence from the U.S.” 

“Saudi Arabia is good on oil and bad on virtually everything else.  As long s we're so addicted to that oil, it—and, sadly, we—are friendly enough.”

“The Saudi's won't want to be left entirely on their own to deal with Iran. But that depends on the royal family staying in control, which is reasonably likely for the next five year, though much more uncertain for the next ten.” 

“A conservative regime keen to save its own skin, and fearful of the same threats (Iran, Shiite resurgence, terrorism) that confront US interests, will be in alignment with the US more often than not.” 

“The answer to this question will turn in the main on the quality of US policy, commitment, engagement, and actions in the region. The answer checked is based on the premise that the US gets things more right then wrong.  Even if the latter, however, Saudi Arabia will still not be in a position where it can antagonize the US with impunity.”

“the Saudi's won't want to be left entirely on their own to deal with Iran. But that depends on the royal family staying in control, which is reasonably likely for the next five year, though much more uncertain for the next ten.” 

“(But) this depends on how we define our interests.” 

31% Not very friendly

“Increasingly the Saudis see the bush administration (and the US as a whole) as a busted flush, unable to get much done following the disaster in Iraq, the stalemate in the peace process and the rise of Iran. It is precisely because of their feelings of US ineptitude that the Saudis are stepping up to the plate.” 

“S.A. will be increasingly pressured by the Wahhabist clerics and jihadists to provide more financial and political support against Israel and the US.” 

PARTICIPANTS (39): Kenneth Adelman, Graham Allison, Ronald Asmus, Samuel Berger, Daniel Blumenthal, Stephen Bosworth, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Daniel Byman, Warren Christopher, Wesley Clark, Richard Clarke, William Cohen, Ivo Daalder, Lawrence Eagleburger, Jay Garner, Leslie Gelb, Marc Grossman, Gary Hart, Bruce Hoffman, John Hulsman, Robert Hunter, Robert Kagan, David Kay, Andrew Krepinevich, Charles Kupchan, John Lehman, James Lindsay, Edward Luttwak, Richard Myers, William Nash, Joseph Nye, Carlos Pascual, Thomas Pickering, Kenneth Pollack, Joseph Ralston, Susan Rice, Wendy Sherman, James Steinberg, Anthony Zinni.

Totals do not always add to 100% due to rounding.