Fareed Zakaria tries some rhetorical sleight of hand in his defense of the U.S.-Saudi relationship:
The central dilemma remains: Were the Saudi monarchy to fall, it might be replaced not by a group of liberals and democrats but rather by Islamists and reactionaries. Having watched this movie in Iraq, Egypt, Libya and Syria, I am cautious about destabilizing a regime that is in many areas — defense, oil, finance — a stable ally.
No one is suggesting that the U.S. try to destabilize the Saudi government. What critics of the relationship are saying is that the U.S. doesn’t need to provide the Saudis with the arms and support that it now provides. That is all the more important when the U.S. gets practically nothing but headaches in return. The U.S. can have a normal relationship with the Saudis, but it no longer needs to have the privileged relationship with them that it has had in the past. This isn’t a choice between the Saudi regime staying in place or toppling it. No sane person would advocate the latter. The choice is between indulging the Saudis in their worst behavior or changing the relationship so that it is much more balanced and consistent with the very few benefits it affords us.
As I keep saying, it is important to distinguish between clients and allies, and we shouldn’t treat them the same. Saudi Arabia isn’t a “stable ally.” It is a largely useless client state that is actively working to destabilize other countries in the region. Perhaps if the Saudis weren’t doing their best to wreck Syria and Yemen, Zakaria’s argument would carry some weight, but they are doing that. The connection with the Saudis has become an increasingly costly liability for the U.S., and it’s simply not worth the price. It is unfortunate and telling that Yemen is never mentioned once in Zakaria’s column. It is much easier to make the case for the status quo with Riyadh by ignoring the war being waged on Yemen by the Saudis and their allies with our support.
If we’re supposed to be dealing with the world as it is, we can’t pretend that the U.S. is being well-served by the much more aggressive and reckless Saudi foreign policy that we have seen over the last few years. There may have been a time when the benefits of the Saudi relationship outweighed the costs, but that time has passed. We don’t need to have any “grand moral victory.” We need a sober and honest assessment of the value of the relationship with Saudi Arabia, and if we do that we’ll see that there isn’t much here worth defending.