Much of Official Washington still toes the Saudi line against Iran — in part because Israel shares that hostility — but that antagonism is putting the world at greater risk as Saudi Arabia demonstrates increasingly reckless and barbaric behavior, the sign of a declining power, says Trita Parsi.
By Trita Parsi
The escalating tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran is the story of a declining state desperately seeking to reverse the balance of power shifting in favor of its rising rival.
History teaches us that it is not rising states that tend to be reckless, but declining powers. Rising states have time on their side. They can afford to be patient: They know that they will be stronger tomorrow and, as a result, will be better off postponing any potential confrontation with rivals.
Declining states suffer from the opposite condition: Growing weaker over time, they know that time is not on their side; their power and influence is slipping out of their hands. So they have a double interest in an early crisis: First, their prospects of success in any confrontation will diminish the longer they wait, and second, because of the illusion that a crisis may be their last chance to change the trajectory of their regional influence and their prospects vis-Ã -vis rivals.
When their rivals – who have the opposite relationship with time – seek to de-escalate and avoid any confrontation, declining states feel they are left with no choice but to instigate a crisis.
Saudi Arabia is exhibiting the psychology of a state that risks losing its dominant position and whose losing hand is growing weaker and weaker. This explains why an otherwise rational actor begins making seemingly panicky and incomprehensible moves.
From its decision to give up a seat on the United Nations Security Council – after having campaigned for it for over a year and celebrated its election to the UN body only a day earlier – to its reckless and failing attack on Yemen,…