Home/Daniel Larison/The President’s Shameful Saudi First Foreign Policy

The President’s Shameful Saudi First Foreign Policy

President Donald Trump poses for photos with ceremonial swordsmen on his arrival to Murabba Palace, as the guest of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia, Saturday evening, May 20, 2017, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Jackson Diehl comments on how Trump has been played by the Saudis for a fool:

Since making Riyadh the site of his first foreign trip as president, Trump has stubbornly defended the Saudi ruler through multiple misadventures, from the disastrous war in Yemen and failed boycott of neighboring Qatar to the murder of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The big Saudi purchases of U.S. weapons that MBS promised Trump have not materialized. Instead, the president’s reward is to be stiffed by his supposed ally at his moment of greatest need, with U.S. markets whipsawing and U.S. soldiers dying.

The president’s Saudi First foreign policy has been one of the defining aspects of his time in office. It is also one of his most spectacular failures. All American presidents have catered to Saudi Arabia to one degree or another, but Trump has distinguished himself as the most subservient and indulgent of them all. He has given the Saudi government and the crown prince all the support and diplomatic cover that they could ask for, and in exchange he has received absolutely nothing. Trump has enabled the war criminals in Riyadh for the last three years, and he doesn’t have anything to show for it except for lasting ignominy. The Saudi coalition massacred innocent Yemenis for years with U.S.-made weapons, and Trump resisted Congress’ efforts to shut down U.S. support for the war. He went out of his way to go around Congress to continue selling Saudi Arabia and the UAE weapons over Congressional objections. Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s murder, and Trump and Pompeo ran interference for him once the murder came to light. The inept and useless Saudi government couldn’t even defend its own territory, so Trump put U.S. troops in harm’s way to shield them from further attacks. There are few countries that have taken greater advantage of the U.S. than Saudi Arabia, and Trump has been eagerly doing their bidding for years. The same man who whines endlessly about other countries that rip off America has presided over one of the most shameful rip-offs of all.

Like any overindulged client, the Saudi government has concluded that it can do whatever it wants without having to fear repercussions from the Trump administration. Mohammed bin Salman has concluded that as long as Trump is president he can get away with any number of murders and atrocities. In the crown prince’s latest gamble, he has attacked the U.S. oil industry by driving oil prices down, and so far Trump has said and done nothing about it. The Saudi government’s oil price war is doing far more damage to U.S. interests than anything Iran has done for a very long time, but the president refuses to cut off U.S. support to a state that has never been our ally and certainly doesn’t act like one.

It would be one thing if Trump were betting on a ruler who actually had some clue what he was doing, but Mohammed bin Salman is heedless and incompetent. His decision to launch an oil price war that his government cannot possibly afford is more evidence of this. The Wall Street Journalreports on the story behind the Saudi move:

Again, the Russians didn’t budge. “I have no idea how did the Saudis think that this kind of pressure would have worked on Putin,” says an OPEC delegate familiar with the matter. “This was utterly suicidal and we all knew the outcome would be disastrous.”

On Saturday, Saudi officials said instead of cutting production, they would boost it, driving down the price of oil. “It was the Saudi declaration of war against Putin,” says a senior Saudi official.

Mohammed bin Salman has made a habit of supporting “utterly suicidal” and “disastrous” policies. As I mentioned in my review of MBS, he is remarkably clueless about the rest of the world, and it shows in everything he does. It makes sense that the president would be drawn to another leader who doesn’t know what he’s doing. Unfortunately, that means that he has consistently put Saudi interests ahead of U.S. interests. The U.S. will need to downgrade the relationship with the Saudis for as long as Mohammed bin Salman is in a position of authority.

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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