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The Bad, Lopsided U.S.-Saudi Relationship

Richard Sokolsky and Jeremy Shapiro comment on the perverse effects of U.S. arms sales to the Saudis:

What remains is the idea that U.S. military assistance buys access to Saudi decision-making, but access is not the same as influence. The Saudis, in a form of reverse leverage, have often been able to use the American preoccupation with access to pursue more weapons deals. On the evidence, there is no basis for the belief that U.S. military assistance has led the Saudis to take actions that they would otherwise not have taken. And in the case of Yemen, there is clear evidence that this assistance has empowered the Saudis to take actions that are not in American interests [bold mine-DL].

The Saudis see U.S. arms sales to them as a kind of entitlement, in part because they pay cash for these systems, rather than getting financial support from the United States. The U.S. government has more or less bought into this Saudi view. As a consequence, the U.S. government has never given the Saudis any reason to believe that they have to work to earn U.S. military assistance. On the contrary, the Saudis seem to have leveraged America’s desire to sell arms to secure American assistance in Yemen [bold mine-DL].

This sums up nicely how lopsided the U.S.-Saudi relationship has become: the U.S. showers them in weapons, the Saudis use those weapons sales to get the U.S. to back their reckless policies, and then the U.S. indulges the Saudis in whatever they want to do so as not to jeopardize future sales. The influence that the U.S. is supposedly buying has the opposite effect and makes the U.S. beholden to the Saudis to such an extent that they are able to get away with doing practically anything without risking a loss of support. Washington is desperate to “reassure” Riyadh, and the result is that the U.S. backs their destructive behavior regardless of its effect on our interests. This is a remarkably good deal for the Saudis, who will nonetheless complain about how they are being neglected. Meanwhile, the U.S. is stupidly enabling destructive Saudi behavior and making America new enemies while effectively gaining nothing in the bargain.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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