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The Saudi-American Rupture

Mustafa Alani, a Saudi foreign policy analyst, said: "We are learning from our enemies now how to treat the United States.”
Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia Saud bin Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. If the Saudis want to get real, it’s time for them to suck it up and normalize relations with Israel for the same reason they forged an alliance with the United States.

Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia Saud bin Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. If the Saudis want to get real, it’s time for them to suck it up and normalize relations with Israel for the same reason they forged an alliance with the United States.

Originally published at World Affairs Journal.

The American-Saudi alliance is in danger of collapsing.

The Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah axis is by far the largest threat to both Saudi and American interests in the Middle East now, yet the Obama administration is buddying up with Vladimir Putin on Syria and allowing itself to be suckered by the Iranian regime’s new president Hassan Rouhani.

Never mind the fact that Rouhani obviously isn’t a moderate and is powerless to negotiate sovereign issues in any case. The White House is so desperate to cut a deal with America’s enemies that the president will go along on even a farcical ride. As a result, the Saudi government is threatening to drastically “scale back” the relationship.

“I’ve worked in this field for a long time,” says Brooking Institution expert Mike Doran in London’s Telegraph, “and I’ve studied the history. I know of no analogous period. I’ve never seen so many disagreements on so many key fronts all at once. And I’ve never seen such a willingness on the part of the Saudis to publicly express their frustration. Iran is the number one issue — the only issue for Saudi policy makers. When you add up the whole Middle Eastern map — Syria, Iraq, Iran — it looks to the Saudis as if the US is throwing Sunni allies under the bus by trying to cut a deal with Iran and its allies.”

Foreign Policy 101 dictates that you reward your friends and punish your enemies. Attempts to get cute and reverse the traditional formula always lead to disaster. Yet Barack Obama thinks if he stiffs his friends, his enemies will become a little less hostile. That’s not how it works, but the Saudis have figured out what Obama is doing and are acting accordingly.

“They [the Americans] are going to be upset—and we can live with that,” said Mustafa Alani, a Saudi foreign policy analyst. “We are learning from our enemies now how to treat the United States.”

Before proceeding, let’s be clear about a couple of things. The Saudi regime is in a dimension beyond distasteful. It’s an absolute monarchy wedded to absolute theocracy. It’s worse than merely medieval. Human rights don’t exist. The regime—and, frankly, the culture—offends every moral and political sensibility I have in my being. I’d love to live in a world where junking our “friendship” with Riyadh would be the right call.

But the United States and Saudi Arabia are—or at least were until recently—on the same page geopolitically. For decades we have provided the Saudis with security in exchange for oil and stability, and we’ve backed them and the rest of the Gulf Arabs against our mutual enemies, Iran’s Islamic Republic regime and its allies.

The alliance isn’t deep. It’s transactional. It’s not at all like the American alliance with countries like Britain, Israel, Canada, and Japan. It’s based on interests alone, and that makes it temporary. If the Iranian regime were to be overthrown and replaced with even a half-assed democracy, chances are good that Washington would tilt toward Tehran and away from Riyadh. We could make the same deal with a democratic Iran that we currently have with the Gulf Arabs, only it would not be distasteful. It would be perfectly logical, and we wouldn’t have to compromise our values. I wouldn’t have to plug my nose when typing the word “ally” in same sentence as “Iran” if Iran were democratic.

But in the imperfect world we live in right now, Saudi Arabia is an interests-based ally of the United States. Or at least it was until the Obama administration all but surrendered to the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah axis.

So the Saudis are alarmed. They’re right to be. Maybe threatening to downgrade relations will give Washington a reality check. That’s the idea, anyway.

Either way, if the Saudis want to get real, it’s time for them to suck it up and normalize relations with Israel for the same reason they forged an alliance with the United States. The Israelis and the Gulf Arabs have the exact same geopolitical interests right now. They have the exact same list of enemies. Who cares if Riyadh and Jerusalem can’t stand each other personally? Riyadh and Washington can’t stand each other personally either. That hasn’t stopped us from working together when our interests coincide.

About the Author: Michael J. Totten is a contributing editor at World Affairs and City Journal and is the prize-winning author of Where the West Ends and The Road to Fatima Gate.


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4 Responses to “The Saudi-American Rupture”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Not to worry. This is just for show. Obama's foreign policy in the Middle East is dictated by his benefactors in the oil rich Arabian Peninsula. His masters may hate the Jews but they are scared to death of the radical Islamic regime in Iran which has threatened them many times. Obama will eventually allow Israel to end the Iranian nuclear program and put the mullahs back in their place. But this won't happen until after he has bled the Jews. That way there will be a much bigger pay off for him.

  2. Allan Enkin says:

    Let us not get into conspiracy theories.

  3. Allan Enkin says:

    Let us not get into conspiracy theories.

  4. Herman Rosen says:

    THE SAUDIS WANT THE U S TO FIGHT FOR WHATEVER THEY BELIEVE IN.
    THE U S SAVED THEIR T- ESES IN THE FIRST GULF WAR FROM SADDAM
    HUSSEIN WHO WAS READY TO TAKE IT TO THEM AFER KUWAIT.
    NOW THEY WANT THE U S TO TO GET RID OF ASSAD AND BACK THE REBELS
    WHO MAY BE MOSTLY AL KAIDA…THEY WILL NOT LIFT A FINGER THEMSELVES. THEY ALSO WANT THE U S TO PUSH ISRAEL INTO AN AGREEMENT WITH THE PALESTINIANS WHICH IS RIGHT NOW GOING NOWHERE AND DAMAGING NETANYAHU WITH THE ISRAELI PUBLIC FOR RELEASING PALESTINIAN ASSASINS…WITHOUT THERE OIL SAUDI ARABIA WOULD JUST BE SOME DESERT NOMADIC SOCIETY…READ YEMEN
    THEY WILL NEVER BREAK WITH WASHINGTON WHO SUPPLIES THEM WITH
    PROTECTION AND TECHNOLOGY …WHICH THEY COULD NEVER GET THEMSELVES

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