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Chasing the Dream: The Salman Doctrine and Saudi Arabia’s Bid for Regional Dominance

Saudi Arabia’s massive air campaign against the Houthi rebels in Yemen initiated a major shift from the Kingdom’s traditional policy of restraint, to a force-based foreign policy approach unofficially dubbed the “Salman Doctrine.” The doctrine aimed at repositioning the Kingdom as the Middle East’s preeminent power by rolling back its archrival Iran. This commentary argues that the Kingdom has made hardly any progress on the war and diplomatic fronts so far to achieve this objective, due mainly to a glaring mismatch between the doctrine’s ends and the means to achieve these ends.

Chasing the Dream The Salman Doctrine and Saudi Arabia s
U.S. President Trump and Saudi Arabia's King Salman came together following Trump's arrival in Saudi Arabia on May 20, 2017. MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
 

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud has made a big break from his predecessors by redefining and re-strategizing the Kingdom’s foreign policy approach, particularly in the Middle East region. Marked by an abrupt aggressiveness in the pursuit of foreign policy goals and interests, his foreign policy approach relies more on force (as in Yemen), and less on diplomacy and backdoor negotiations or financial leverage to defuse tensions and hammer out deals with opponents (as with Iran). This approach is a clear shift from the traditional policy of restraint to the use of force to realize national interests. Analysts and the global press have dubbed this foreign policy shift the “Salman Doctrine.”

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