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The Noxious U.S.-Saudi Relationship Must End

Michael Brendan Dougherty is disgusted with the noxious U.S.-Saudi relationship:

It’s simply embarrassing to be friends with the Saudis. No, we cannot conduct foreign policy with only neutral and peaceful countries. But sometimes a man looks at his pals and sees something so ugly he thinks less of himself. Our alliance with this squalid little Kingdom is demoralizing.

The U.S. may have to work with abusive and authoritarian regimes under certain circumstances, but we should always remember that these regimes are at best partners of convenience and are usually not all that useful. When the best thing that can be said about a government is that it occasionally helps us fight the people inspired by its own ideology, there is not much to be said for keeping the relationship as it is. There may have been a time during the Cold War when the connection with Riyadh made sense and benefited the U.S. more than it cost us, but since 1990 the costs have steeply mounted and the benefits are hard to find. Since the new king took power, Saudi foreign policy has gone from being merely harmful to becoming a threat to the stability of the entire region. If the costs of the relationship were already very high before Salman’s adventurism, they are unacceptably so now.

So I second what Dougherty says, but I will still quibble with calling the relationship an alliance. The Saudis aren’t allies by treaty or by their actions, and the habit of referring to them this way clouds our thinking about what the U.S. owes them. They routinely undermine and work against U.S. policies, they pursue their petty feuds at our expense, and their interests and ours increasingly diverge. They are not reliably on “our side,” and we should recognize that by now. The truth is that the U.S. owes them nothing, we should give them nothing, and we should sell them nothing, and we should rethink our policies in the region accordingly. The Saudis have never been more than clients, and lately they have become exceptionally bad and destructive ones. Washington should have no compunctions about severing a noxious relationship that hurts our interests and endangers the wider region.

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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