The next time you read about the Saudis bitching about the U.S. showing insufficient zeal for military adventure in the Middle East, recall this encounter between Robert Gates and the Saudi King in the summer of 2007, as recounted by Gates in his new memoir. I offer it without comment, just as a benchmark and reminder to be returned to when appropriate.
It was also the only encounter with a foreign leader in which I lost my cool. Abdullah, a heavyset man in his eighties with a history of health problems, was very sharp and did not mince words as he smoked one cigarette after another. He wanted a full-scale military attack on Iranian military targets, not just the nuclear sites. He warned that if we did not attack, the Saudis “must go our own way to protect our interests.” As far as I was concerned, he was asking the United States to send its sons and daughters into a war with Iran in order to protect the Saudi position in the Gulf and the region, as if we were mercenaries. He was asking us to shed American blood, but at no time did he suggest that any Saudi blood might be spilled. He went on and
on about how the United States was seen as weak by governments in the region. The longer he talked, the angrier I got, and I responded quite undiplomatically. I told him that absent an Iranian military attack on U.S. forces or our allies, if the president launched another preventive war in the Middle East, he would likely be impeached; that we had our hands full in Iraq; and that the president would use military force only to protect vital American interests. I also told him that what he considered America’s greatest weakness— showing restraint— was actually great strength because we could crush any adversary. I told him that neither he nor anyone else should ever underestimate the strength and power of the United States: those who had— Imperial Germany, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and the Soviet Union— were all now in the ashcan of history. I was pretty wound up. And then we were done.
Nearly four years later, in my last meeting as secretary with the king, he referred— smiling— to that discussion in Jeddah as the night I “turned the table over.” He told me that he had been seeking clarity from the United States on what we were likely to do about Iran and had been unable to get it— until that night. He said my candor demonstrated to him that he could trust what I said.Gates, Robert M (2014-01-14). Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (Kindle Locations 3360-3374). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.