Saudi Arabia’s Rise?

The Atlantic recently asked a group of foreign-policy authorities about Saudi Arabia and how it could shape the future of the Middle East.
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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.”

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