Only a country like Saudi Arabia -- wealthy, influential and self-confident -- could refuse, in unprecedented fashion, a seat on the U.N. Security Council and publicly tell members of the prestigious body: You are impotent.
The Saudis have not been happy recently and they express this at every opportunity. Last month, the Saudi foreign minister chose not to address the U.N. General Assembly. On Friday, the Saudis took their protest to the next level by saying, "Thanks, but no thanks," when they were picked to fill a spot on the Security Council.
So why is Saudi Arabia seeking to isolate itself the way it is? To start, one must understand that this is Saudi Arabia and it can afford to do so. The Saudis are very angry at the U.S., which during President Barack Obama's time in office has turned its back on some of its friends to wink at countries who are part of the axis of evil.
The main reason for Saudi Arabia's refusal to join the Security Council is, of course, Syria. The Saudis view the ongoing civil war in Syria as a complete failure by the Security Council. Saudi Arabia wants to see Syrian President Bashar Assad fall.
Another reason is Egypt. The Saudi government, which is very conservative, did not understand why Obama abandoned U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak. The Saudis are alarmed by the chemistry between Washington and the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that also threatens Saudi stability. Saudi Arabia has been providing economic assistance to those who ousted Mohammed Morsi from power this summer.
The third reason is, of course, Iran. The Saudis explained their refusal to sit on the Security Council by citing the body's failure to clear the Middle East of unconventional weapons. By definition, this includes Israel, but the Saudis are mostly thinking about the Iranian nuclear issue. Iran poses a direct threat to Saudi Arabia and its Gulf state allies.
Despite its candid anger, Saudi Arabia cannot forgo its military partnership with the U.S. After seeing how the U.S. recently froze military aid to Egypt, the Saudis realized that, with Obama in power, anything is possible. It is preferable for Saudi Arabia to not publicly confront the U.S. on the U.N. stage. Rather, it should do so indirectly. There is much more Saudi Arabia can do to thwart the Iranian nuclear project. It may be that Saudi Arabia's open refusal of a Security Council seat is masking other behind-the-scenes moves, such as building a discrete and unnatural coalition. It is best that such things are done as far away from the spotlight as possible.