Five years ago, when the Arab Spring seemed at its most hopeful point, a Saudi diplomat told me, scornfully, that it would come to nothing. I had met him in the halls of the United Nations, where I had been asking diplomats about their views on Libya. The Saudis were eager to have the UN validate armed action to remove Muammar Qaddafi. A Saudi news outlet, al-Arabiya, had suggested that the Libyan military was killing its citizens with abandon. Fog surrounded Libya. The U.S. State Department seemed clueless. It did not have any reliable intelligence. Hillary Clinton, who pushed for war, relied upon the French and the Saudis for their assessment of Libya. These were unreliable narrators. Saudi Arabia, at least, wanted the Arab Spring shut down. It threatened its own undemocratic regime. The diplomat’s scorn grew out of this anxiety.
Like an angry dragon, Saudi Arabia lashed around the region, throwing money and arms, encouraging chaos in this and that country. One underestimates the biliousness of monarchs: at a 2009 Arab League meeting, Qaddafi had cavalierly dismissed the King of Saudi Arabia as a creation of the British and a protectorate of the Americans. It was evident that the monarchs would not tolerate his existence for much longer. Two years later, they—with Western help—dismissed him.