The U.S. Should Quit Coddling Saudi Arabia

The U.S. Should Quit Coddling Saudi Arabia

 

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has convincingly advocated a reassessment of U.S. alliances around the world. President Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia should prompt such a re-evaluation of the U.S.-Saudi relationship. The United States no longer needs to coddle the despotic monarchy and should end this alliance of convenience.

The informal U.S.-Saudi alliance began during World War II, with President Franklin D. Roosevelt realizing that the likely substantial oil deposits under the sands of the Saudi kingdom could satisfy the increasing American need to import foreign oil. He and the founder of the Saudi dynasty in Arabia, King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, agreed that the U.S. would provide security for the monarchy in exchange for oil.

The alliance is now strained and Obama’s trip to Saudi Arabia was designed to smooth Saudi ruffled feathers over the U.S.-led agreement with Iran in 2015, which froze Iran’s nuclear program for ten to fifteen years. The U.S., however, should not be sheepish about an agreement that at least delays Iran becoming a nuclear weapons state. In fact, Iran’s neighboring enemies—Israel and Arab Persian Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia—are the biggest beneficiaries of the Iranian nuclear program’s freeze.

Saudi Arabia and Israel, nations with huge influence in Washington, wanted more. They wanted the U.S. to bomb, and thus weaken, the Iranian potential regional titan. Instead of pandering excessively to Saudi Arabia and Israel, the U.S. should focus on improving relations with Iran to keep it out of the orbit of China, which is thirsty for Iran’s oil.

Obama’s apology tour to Saudi Arabia over the nuclear agreement with Iran comes after he, in the same vein, provided the Saudi leadership with military assistance for its reckless armed intervention in nearby Yemen’s civil war, which has been indiscriminately bombing civilians.

Such disregard for human rights has a long history in Saudi Arabia, which has one of the worst human rights records on the planet, especially in the treatment of women and with its continuation of barbaric medieval punishments. In addition, the kingdom has been the biggest exporter of Islamist radicalism on the planet, with long-time credible suspicions that parts of the Saudi government even have been benefactors of terrorism.

Yet the U.S. mutes its criticism of such practices because of the pervasive myth among U.S. policymakers that the Saudis can manipulate world oil prices and that the American economy will crash if the Saudis wink and create a world price spike. Neither is true.

Saudi Arabia’s power over world oil supply and prices is grossly overstated. Contrary to popular belief, it provides only 11 percent of U.S. oil imports, while failing to control cheating in the OPEC oil cartel. And the U.S. fracking boom, which has restored the U.S. as the world’s top oil producer, has further undercut what little power OPEC had to control long-term oil prices.

Saudi Arabia has proven to be a bad ally, and the U.S.-Saudi alliance—originally based on false premises and now out of date with the U.S. fracking boom—should be ended. There is no need to further indulge a medieval despotic abuser of human rights and exporter of worldwide radical Islamism with political backing, destabilizing arms sales and military assistance for its reckless war.


Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at the Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office.

 

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