How long should the United States remain friends with the country that continues to complicate American Foreign Policy?
One of the main issues surrounding the United States in the Middle East is its relationship with Saudi Arabia. Some might wonder what I mean. Saudi Arabia an issue? What about ISIS? Al-Qaeda? Perhaps Syria? Well, when it comes to all of those challenges, Saudi Arabia appears as a troublesome link to America foreign policy issues.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has long been considered one of America’s strongest allies in the Middle East. The main basis of the alliance with Saudi Arabia is in fact a relic of the Cold War era. Saudi Arabia and the United States forged a close military and economic (oil) relationship during the Cold War.
Saudi Arabia desired the alliance due to its monarchy (anti-communism) and the weakening of Russian allies in the Middle East such as Syria, Libya, and later Iran. The United States desired an alliance to forge an anti-Soviet foothold in the region and gain an economic advantage for corporate America through oil deals. The alliance proved very useful to the Pentagon for the Cold War, but after the fall of Communism, the Saudi relationship began to present a challenge rather than a benefit.
After the end of the Cold War, the Saudi relationship remained stable as a result of the 1991 Gulf War. Yet by the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the relationship became a much more complicated picture. The Wahhabist element of Saudi Arabia grew ever stronger (and our cash flows as well). While the Saudis served a purpose during the Cold War, the alliance grew rather complicated in post 9/11 years. Much of this is due to Saudi Arabia being ruled by an extreme sect of Islam, and actively funds branches across the globe.
The Saudi government is a theocratic monarchy which enforces and finances a sect of radical Islam known as Wahhabism. Wahhabism is the ideal of Islam that influenced Osama Bin Laden and groups such as Al Qaeda and now ISIS. This interpretation of Islam has proven not only dangerous in international terms, but also to the people of Saudi Arabia itself. Wahhabism now poses an even more overt challenge to US (and others) hegemony in the Middle East.
At the center of many extreme Wahhabist groups such as ISIS, there is many wealthy Saudis funding them. Some of the financiers are connected to the Saudi royal family. ISIS is just the tip of the iceberg.
A large fact that many Americans overlook is that the majority of hijackers on 9/11 were Saudis. They were not Afghans. They were not Iraqis. Men from our great ally committed the greatest terrorist attack ever known on our soil.
Keep in mind, unlike many terrorists from other Arab allies such as Egypt, Jordan etc., Saudi Arabia does not actively oppress the extreme Islamic elements. Remember, Saudi Arabia (though a monarchy) is also technically a religious theocracy. The King acts a supreme Islamic leader of the true version of the faith. Egypt oppresses its religious extremists, while the Saudis actively support them.
Of course, the Saudis do not want to jeopardize US economic ties. In no way do the Saudis necessarily desire to completely sever its good relationship with the US and the West, but at the same time it is responsible for breading many groups and individuals that desire to strike at nations where US interests are high. Many desire to attack the US itself.
Saudi Arabia has a strong relationship with the United States. The US is the top arms seller to the Saudis, and is responsible for many oil contracts. The Saudis are not necessarily dependent on the United States, but its ties are close enough that it doesn’t desire an full rift in relations.
While Saudi Arabia has a deep strategic relationship with the US, it also has many cards to play in this relationship. Saudi Arabia is a large supplier of the US and world oil market. US corporations (by nature) are heavily involved there. Once corporate profits become an issue, then things get real for American policy planners.
The main problem that Saudi Arabia poses is that it acts as a Frenemy. It is friend in some ways, but always presents challenges that a friend wouldn’t normally pose. We generally don’t worry about France, Great Britain, or Canada funding individuals and groups that actively attack our corporate/foreign policy interests. Though (in theory) we consider the Saudis an ally, they also have their own agenda which is often tied to radical Islamic groups that act contrary to American interests.
What is very frustrating is the fact that when Saudi Arabia is brought up by foreign policy analysts in the US, very often it is said that there must be a “nuanced” view of the matter. Saudi Arabia is a “special matter.” Often what this tends to mean is that while the United States will criticize nations like Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and so on for their many human rights abuses and affronts to our international dominance, we can never criticize the Saudis.
We simply have too much invested for oil profits and weapons contracts to criticize the Saudis. There is too much corporate money involved to risk the relationship over funding groups like ISIS and oppressing their own people in a brutal theocracy.
I can give no easy answer to what should be done with the Saudis. I merely desire to point out the strange ironies surrounding our relationship with them. Whether Friend or Foe, the Saudis will continue to remain a challenge for American policy makers.