The Backlash Against Trump’s ‘No Daylight’ Saudi Policy
Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky attack the Trump administration’s fawning treatment of Saudi Arabia and Mohammed bin Salman:
The Trump administration seems clueless and paralyzed. Right now, we have a bizarre role reversal: The Saudis are acting as if they’re the senior partner in the relationship—and have convinced Trump that the U.S. needs Saudi Arabia more than it needs the U.S. and that what the Saudis do for the U.S. requires great sacrifice on their part and isn’t in the Saudi national interest. Nothing could be further from reality. Why the administration is unwilling or unable to use the leverage it possesses to alter Saudi Arabia’s damaging behavior is not clear—but it’s not good for America.
Trump’s Saudi First foreign policy is definitely no good for the U.S., but it does serve as a useful cautionary tale about what pursuing a “no daylight” policy looks like in practice. The common hawkish complaint against Obama during his presidency was that he was too critical of “allies” and didn’t do enough to support them. When Trump came to power, he made a point of undoing that by catering to all of the whims of the reckless clients that Obama has supposedly “snubbed.” The only way to have “no daylight” with other states is if the U.S. chooses to give their interests priority over our own, and when dealing with the Saudis and other regional clients this is exactly what Trump has done. That has put the president and his officials in the ridiculous position of running interference for the Saudi government with Congress and the public.
The funny thing about a slavish “no daylight” approach to any international relationship is that it harms the relationship in question while discrediting the administration that is bending over backwards to preserve it. The more that Trump declares that his subservience to the Saudis is proof of that puts America first, the more obvious it is that no U.S. interests are served by covering up for the crown prince’s many crimes. Trump and Pompeo’s over-the-top propaganda efforts on behalf of the Saudis haven’t silenced critics or increased support for keeping U.S.-Saudi ties as they are. On the contrary, they have caused more senators to turn against the Saudi relationship and the war on Yemen to varying degrees, and they have proven that there is no Saudi outrage that they won’t try to whitewash or ignore. Maintaining “no daylight” with another state is ultimately unsustainable because no government can consistently put the interests of another state ahead of the interests of its own country, because sooner or later the citizens of that country will turn against such a noxious, one-sided relationship. That is beginning to happen with the U.S.-Saudi relationship because of Trump’s determination to put Saudi Arabia first, and the backlash is long overdue.