Is US-Saudi alliance just a marriage of convenience?
As Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visits US, how resilient is the partnership?
Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is in the US this week to further cement one of the world’s most resilient alliances.
Created at the end of the Second World War by Franklin D. Roosevelt and Saudi Arabia’s founder, King Abdulaziz, the relationship has long guaranteed the US oil security in return for its protection and continued support of the Saudi regime.
The alliance survived the oil embargo in 1973 and the attacks on September 11, 2001, in which fifteen of the nineteen passenger jet hijackers were Saudi citizens, but “has passed through some recent strains”, says the Council on Foreign Relations.
The think tank says a new generation of Saudi leaders, “adjusting to what it had seen as a resurgent Iran and a retreating United States, chafed at President Barack Obama while pursuing an aggressive military posture in the region”.
Military intervention in Yemen has put the kingdom increasingly at odds with Washington - and this could come to a head this week when the US Senate pushes to end military support for the Saudi Arabia-led war. The US may cut off intelligence and munitions.
Coming mid-way through the Crown Prince’s two week tour of the US, the vote could deliver an “embarrassing rebuke” to the 32-year old heir to the throne as he meets President Donald Trump and other US leaders, says Time.
A noticeable cooling between the US and Riyadh during the Obama administration, which culminated in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, prompted Brookings to describe the relationship as “rocky”, while the Financial Times called it “toxic”.
Relations were further strained by a proposed bill in Congress in 2016, which would have declassified details about the Saudi role in 9/11 and allowed victims’ relatives to file lawsuits against the Saudi government. It was quashed only after the regime threatened to sell its roughly $750bn in US Treasuries and other dollar-denominated assets.
Even at this nadir of US-Saudi relations, President Obama still sanctioned an unprecedented $115bn worth of weapons to the kingdom over his eight years in office.
Since then, both countries have been working to restore the relationship, driven in part by “a strategic alignment between Saudi Arabia’s interests in the region and those of the US, mostly centring around controlling Iran’s regional reach”, Al Jazeera asserts.
Donald Trump chose Saudi Arabia as the location for his first official overseas visits, a symbolic decision that reasserted the country’s position as America’s pre-eminent ally in the Middle East.
This led relations to an “all time high”, says The Washington Post - and today the alliance is more than just a superficial marriage of convenience bred through familiarity.
According to the Post, Trump wants billions worth of job-creating Saudi investment in the US. A senior administration official told reporters on Monday the President also wants the Saudis to back off from co-operation with Russia, to make progress toward a political settlement in Yemen and to end their damaging dispute with Persian Gulf neighbour Qatar.
For his part, Bin Salman wants more US investment and job creation in Saudi Arabia, along with technology and education assistance for his campaign to modernise the kingdom.
But “there is a growing sentiment on the right and left that we should hold Saudi Arabia more accountable” for its abysmal human rights record, conduct abroad and continued funding of Islamic extremist groups, Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna told the New Statesman.