Why Obama should intervene in Riyadh's succession crisis.
This post is part of "Obama and the Middle East: Act Two," a series produced with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on U.S. foreign policy in the president's second term. See our full coverage here.
On December 25, while many Americans were eating turkey or Chinese meals and otherwise distracted from the rest of the world, leaders of the Arab states of the Persian Gulf met in Manama, the capital of the island state of Bahrain, for their annual summit.
The meeting was scarcely noticed by American newspapers and other media, which is a pity. The countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are on the frontline of one of the likely top news stories of 2013 - Iran's nuclear program. And Saudi Arabia, the GCC's largest, richest and dominant member, is facing a succession crisis.
If the United States and the rest of the international community are ever going to succeed in persuading Tehran to stick to peaceful use of nuclear technology, Saudi Arabia is likely a crucial player. But, right now, Riyadh is increasingly politically incapacitated. The world's largest oil exporter and the self-declared leader of the Islamic world, is almost rudderless.
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King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, who recently had back surgery, is, at 90 years old, increasingly frail. His half-brother and designated successor, Crown Prince Salman, 77 this year, stood in for him in Manama. But although Salman's visage appeared focused, his contribution was limited - the future king's brain is befuddled by dementia.