29.12.2018 Author: Catherine Shakdam

What is Left of Saudi Arabia’s Friendship with the United States?


If 2018 should have told us anything it is that geopolitical alliances exist to be broken – especially when the United States is involved. A fickle mistress, America is not one to be defined by its friendships, or even the treaties it signed, but rather its ambitions. And yet … several of its friendships run contrary to its best interests. I am, as the title hints, referring to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia … the land where all liberties are but mirages in the hands of tyrants.

For great many decades Riyadh has sat an ally to Washington – a ‘special friend’ and a pliable partner in a region fraught with danger and instability … in the words of former President George W. Bush: “a bulwark against terrorism’. Of course the very premise of such a statement flies in the face of logic, and I personally believe, self-preservation.

Saudi Arabia is no more a friend to the US, than it is one to the West or even its neighbours for that matter. The kingdom has no friends – only vassals to rule over, and masters to placate with its bounties. And yet, yet we have entertain Riyadh’s lunacy on the self-taught belief that the kingdom is a useful nuisance.

Foreign policy experts typically give three main reasons: oil, Iran, and terrorism. If such rationale may have been true several decades ago under the lense of neoconservatism, and the logic that nations’ sovereignties were of little consequence before western powers’ hunger for natural resources and access, the world has thankfully moved on … for the most part anyway.

While bad habits die hard, political realities are such today that cooperation in between nations has become the only viable way forward. Proxies, mercenaries and other unpalatable agents of Terror have proven too inefficient and dangerous for any one nation to wish to try its hands at ever again … one would hope anyway.

In truth America’s alliance to Saudi Arabia makes little to no sense at all today, safe maybe from the millions of dollars its lobby has thrown at politicians and media to say otherwise.

But let’s take a closer look shall we.

As far as energy dependency goes the kingdom is more dependent than we care to realise on the United States. For one fracking has meant that the US

has overtaken Russia and Saudi Arabia as the world’s top petroleum producer.

A CNN report read in September:

“For the first time since 1973, the United States is the world’s largest producer of crude oil, according to preliminary estimates published on Wednesday by the Energy Department.”

But what about the proverbial big bad wolf: Iran? Surely Saudi Arabia remains central to our collective defense against the ever-devilish ambitions of revolutionary Tehran?

Actually not really … to hold to that narrative Iran would first have to be a threat, and let’s face it, it is not.

Iran has not declared war on any country for well over 300 years and to add to that exemplary record of non-belligerence, the Islamic Republic has abided by the rule of law whenever it has committed its military to a cause: Iran and Syria serve as clear examples.

Let’s also remember that without Iran’s intervention in both those countries, ISIS would most likely be running amok, burning and pillaging at will.

As Scott Ritter writes for the American Conservative:

“… there is also no doubt that the bulk of the effort came from Iran, not the United States. Without Iranian involvement, ISIS would still have a formidable presence in both Iraq and Syria.”

Not relevant to the issue at hand some may argue … Iran still represents an inherent threat for the region by virtue of its hegemonic ambitions and therefore the West ought to have strong allies – aka Saudi Arabia, to counter its advances.

Again … even under such a narrative the kingdom would be quite useless. Saudi Arabia does not have an army to speak of and it has instead to rely on bought mercenaries to play war. If we now consider the deficit Saudi Arabia runs courtesy of its failed military adventures in Yemen: $35 billion, it is obvious Riyadh cannot possibly finance any more military outings.

That fact alone renders Saudi Arabia quite useless.

Now to the argument to cut all arguments: terrorism … I addressed the issue earlier but I believe this coffin warrants another nail to keep it shut.

As a report published by CNN clearly enounces 15 of the 19 September 11th hijackers were in fact Saudi citizens, and the lead attorney for the 9/11 plaintiffs affirmed … forcibly one might add, that there is clear evidence demonstrating a “longstanding and close relationships between al Qaeda and the religious components of the Saudi government.”

A New York Post article reads on the matter:

“Fresh evidence submitted in a major 9/11 lawsuit moving forward against the Saudi Arabian government reveals its embassy in Washington may have funded a “dry run” for the hijackings carried out by two Saudi employees, further reinforcing the claim that employees and agents of the kingdom directed and aided the 9/11 hijackers and plotters.”

Let’s not pretend to be in the dark when it comes to Saudi Arabia’s love affair with radical extremism. Wahhabism, the kingdom’s state religion was architected on sectarianism and calls for bloodshed – I give you this never discussed law Riyadh approved in 2014 declaring atheism an act of terrorism.

There is no upside to a friendship with the kingdom … only hush money to line politicians’ pockets, but surely it should not weigh in the balance of state policies … surely!

And so today Riyadh is desperately reaching … reaching to its old friends so they would not abandon its sinking boat and what experts are already calling the ‘Saudi time-bomb’.

As Grigory Lukyanov, a Middle East analyst and senior lecturer at the Russian Higher School of Economics, told RT following news of a government reshuffle in the kingdom:

“The need comes in part from the Jamal Khashoggi case and in part from the remaining doubt among the political elites over the reform of the inheritance procedure. The rotations of officials in Saudi Arabia are increasingly pushing up non-aristocratic people, who are making a career on their personal merits..Mohammed [MBS] perceives them as the future foundation of his power.”

Increasingly alone in a fast-moving, fast-changing geopolitical landscape, Saudi Arabia is banking on its access to America’s elite to consolidate its hold over the region, and thus justify its very existence.

With promises of more reforms, more access, and ever more belligerence on behalf of its western patrons via Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s new pipedream: the Red Sea Alliance, the kingdom is sinking.

If US President Donald Trump has not yet pulled the plug on its friendship with Al Saud, recent moves by the United Nations and US Congress to end Yemen’s bloodshed are sure signs that Riyadh has lost its ‘exceptional’ veneer of unaccountability.

As many more chickens will likely come to roost, King Salman’s legacy and that of Wahhabist Saudi Arabia seem bleak indeed for 2019.

Catherine Shakdam is a research fellow at the Al Bayan Centre for Planning & Studies and a political analyst specializing in radical movements. She is the author of A Tale of Grand Resistance: Yemen, the Wahhabi and the House of Saud. She writes exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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