US soldiers based in Saudi Arabia practice hand-to-hand combat techniques in November 1990 during the buildup to Operation Desert Shield following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. (Jacques Langevin/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images)

US Forces are No Longer an Issue

Al-Sharq al-Awsat, London, July 24

Last week, the Pentagon announced its plan to deploy about 1,000 US troops to Saudi Arabia. Few in the Gulf bothered to comment on this announcement, let alone criticize it. The only criticism I encountered came from voices in Qatar, a country that makes it a point to spread hostility toward its Saudi neighbor and makes contradictory positions to those of Riyadh with the hope of stirring up emotions against it. But I have seen no one echo the Qatari claim. Why did this news not become a public issue? Is it because people are tired of Qatar’s hostile campaigns? Or has the region changed? I think a lot has changed. The new generation has reached an age where it is finally politically aware, and we see its members adopting more realistic and pragmatic political positions. In 1990, when about 100,000 US troops were deployed to Saudi Arabia in preparation for the liberation of Kuwait, none of these massive forces were seen in the cities. Their presence was arranged to be far removed from people’s daily lives so that they would not feel the presence of US troops in their country. Even after the war ended, the few hundred US soldiers deployed at the Prince Sultan base in Al-Kharj were rarely noticed. Baathist and Muslim propaganda sought to intimidate the Saudis by convincing them that the Americans had come to occupy their country and would never leave. The deployment of US troops to Saudi Arabia now is a symbolic manifestation of Washington’s commitment to its strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia. It is meant to send a direct message to Iran. At the same time, the number of troops is small because there is no intention to wage war on Iran. Saudi citizens are no longer so sensitive to such military ties despite religious and nationalist hardliners attempting to incite people through hostile means. Even those who are wary of a growing US presence in Saudi Arabia admit that their hate of Iran outweighs their fear of America. Indeed, public opinion has turned against Iran. Today, there is a broad Arab public opinion that hates Tehran and its actions in the region. All of this destroyed the image Iran once enjoyed during the 1980s and 1990s, when it presented itself to millions of Arabs as a state that stood by their side against Israel and all other foreign occupiers. But this all collapsed spectacularly in recent years, as Iran came to be viewed as the enemy of the people while the United States became our ultimate savior. – Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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