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The Relationship with Saudi Arabia No Longer Serves U.S. Interests

Walter Russell Mead’s recommendations [1] for how to handle Saudi recklessness are typically myopic:

But to do what the Iran-deal chorus and the Erdogan and Muslim Brotherhood apologists want—to dissolve the U.S.-Saudi alliance in a frenzy of righteousness—would be an absurd overreaction that plays into the hands of America’s enemies. It could also stampede the Saudis into even more recklessness.

It is difficult to see how downgrading the U.S.-Saudi relationship could possibly “play into the hands” of our enemies when the Saudi government has been working overtime to play into the hands of their rivals at the expense of our interests. The war on Yemen has not made Saudi Arabia and the UAE more secure, it has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis while failing to achieve any of its objectives, it has strengthened Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and it has led to a modest increase in Iranian influence in the country. The war has implicated the U.S. in coalition war crimes and made us an accomplice to the creation of a famine that could threaten the lives of 13 million people [2]. The Qatar crisis is another Saudi-led blunder that has managed to deepen Qatar’s ties with Turkey and Iran while fracturing the GCC and creating a massive headache for Washington. The U.S. has never been in any danger of overreacting to Saudi crimes and blunders. At the very least, the U.S. shouldn’t be in the business of enabling them, and ideally it would be criticizing and opposing them.

By any measure, the signature policies of the current Saudi leadership over at least the last three and a half years have been bad for U.S. interests and America’s reputation, and they have failed on their own terms as well. The Saudi government has not done anything significantly constructive or helpful for the U.S. in at least the last decade, but it has been racking up quite the list of costly, destructive errors in that same period. This so-called “alliance” is bringing the U.S. nothing but problems, grief, and liabilities, and it yields hardly any discernible benefits. Demands to reassess the U.S.-Saudi relationship are not the product of a “frenzy of righteousness,” but come out of a sober calculation of what the Saudi relationship costs the U.S. versus what it gains us. In Mead’s flawed reckoning, the U.S. should stick with a bad client no matter what. That’s not even a serious attempt at analysis. It’s just mindless support of a corrupt status quo.

Mead continues:

To restore balance and sobriety to its foreign policy, Saudi Arabia needs to calm down, and only the U.S. can provide the assurances to make that possible.

This gets things exactly backwards. U.S. assurances have encouraged the Saudi government and Mohammed bin Salman in particular to pursue one reckless policy after another in the confidence that Washington’s support will never be withdrawn. U.S. support for the war on Yemen ostensibly began as an effort to “reassure” the Saudis and Emiratis that the U.S. could be relied on. Three and a half years later, we can see what a horrible mistake it was to reassure these reckless clients that they could count on our backing. The U.S. has been endlessly providing assurances to the Saudis and other clients in the region, and they have understandably interpreted this as a blank check to do as they please. There won’t be anything like “balance and sobriety” in Saudi foreign policy until the architects of the current disasters are forced to pay a significant price for their blunders, and the U.S. has considerable leverage to extract that price.

The fatal weakness in Mead’s column is his failure to propose a single action that the U.S. might take that might change Saudi behavior for the better. He says that the Saudi government needs to “calm down,” but never spells out what that means. If they refrain from assassinating critics in their overseas consulates, will that be sufficient to satisfy Mead? Does he think they should stop doing other things? We have no way of knowing, because he doesn’t bother to offer any specific suggestions. He concludes vaguely by saying that Pompeo “must give Saudi authorities the confidence that sober and sensible policies will bring continuing American support for the kingdom’s independence and reform,” but if there are no consequences for pursuing reckless and senseless policies what incentive does Mohammed bin Salman have to change course? Mead’s argument amounts to calling for a slap on the wrist for murder and then getting back to what I’m sure he would call business as usual [3]. It’s the wrong response with feeble supporting arguments to back it up.

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11 Comments To "The Relationship with Saudi Arabia No Longer Serves U.S. Interests"

#1 Comment By AHS On October 15, 2018 @ 11:43 pm

Let us not forget that this Kingdom of Horrors, gave us Taliban, 911, Madrid Bombing, London Tube Bombing, French Riviera Death Ride, Paris Massacre, Brussel Bombing, … DAESH/ISIS and Sunni Resistance against the Marines in Fallujah.
[4]
One could wonder whether it is worth whitewashing the events in the past and the murder of >3000 of our citizens in the Twin Towers, Pentagon and fields of Pennsylvania.

But at least I hope that the author considers tackling the financiers of terror, in the Clown Prince MBS faction of the House of Saud, and preventing them from bankroll the killing of more Americans in the future.
[5]

#2 Comment By Youknowho On October 16, 2018 @ 12:00 am

The only way to curb Saudi recklessness is to make it afraid that its relations with the U.S. would go kaput.

An America/Iran rapprochment might put the fear of God into them.

And as the Bible tells us, fear is the beginning of wisdom.

#3 Comment By BobS On October 16, 2018 @ 8:24 am

AHS, thanks for articulating what I was thinking while reading Mr. Larison’s article- the Saudi’s have been monsters for a long time.

#4 Comment By Main Line Att’y On October 16, 2018 @ 9:51 am

“But at least I hope that the author considers tackling the financiers of terror, in the Clown Prince MBS faction of the House of Saud, and preventing them from bankroll the killing of more Americans in the future.”

That’s pointless unless you also consider what makes them hate us.

Our terror and Mideast problems trace to two countries. Not one.

Saudi Arabia and Israel.

As long as we’re entangled in the Israel/Palestine mess and playing footsie with the Saudis to jigger the price of oil we’ll be attacked.

The solution is obvious. Get out. Leave. But our “foreign policy establishment” can’t let it go. They keep dragging us back into it, the costs keep rising, the dangers keep escalating.

“The fatal weakness in Mead’s column is his failure to propose a single action that the U.S. might take that might change Saudi behavior for the better. “

Get out. Leave.

But people like Mead can’t imagine that. They can’t imagine an America that doesn’t meddle, interfere, intervene. That doesn’t waste its money and blood creating more Middle East disasters.

#5 Comment By Uncle Billy On October 16, 2018 @ 10:49 am

Saudia Arabia and Israel are millstones around our neck. Why are we even in the middle east? We need to get out of the middle east and let the Israelis and Saudis go it on their own.

#6 Comment By rayray On October 16, 2018 @ 11:01 am

@Youknowwho
I’m not sure that the fear of US relations with the Saudis going kaput would put fear in them. It might. It might not. I don’t know that the US is that critical to anything anymore in that way.

My theory is that it will do nothing, that the Saudi recklessness comes a mix of psychological and sociological issues that, at this point, have only the most attenuated relationship to us.

I think we need to dissolve relations with them irrespective of how it might affect them. We dissolve relations with them for us. Because it’s time we did. Because it’s best for us.

#7 Comment By Alex (the one that likes Ike) On October 16, 2018 @ 12:18 pm

I’m not sure that the fear of US relations with the Saudis going kaput would put fear in them. It might. It might not. I don’t know that the US is that critical to anything anymore in that way.

In the Middle East in general – maybe. But specifically to Saudis the US is still a critically important oil market, since in the EU they’ll have to compete with Russians and Persians. And if Russians, Italians and the French succeed in their little joint venture in Libya (the one involving Field Marshal Haftar) – which seems to be exactly what they are doing – Saudis can bloody well kiss the European oil market goodbye.

#8 Comment By Sid Finster On October 16, 2018 @ 12:44 pm

@Main Line Att’y: Preach it, brother!

#9 Comment By One Guy On October 16, 2018 @ 1:52 pm

Donald “Money Over Morals” Trump is exactly the wrong president to deal with this situation. He will do whatever is best for his personal bottom line. He doesn’t care about America’s interest because his supporters are too dumb to understand. They will believe whatever he tells them. “Rogue Killers”? Seriously?

#10 Comment By Alex (the one that likes Ike) On October 16, 2018 @ 7:49 pm

Donald “Money Over Morals” Trump is exactly the wrong president to deal with this situation. He will do whatever is best for his personal bottom line. He doesn’t care about America’s interest because his supporters are too dumb to understand. They will believe whatever he tells them. “Rogue Killers”? Seriously?

His supporters are no more dumb than those of the previous administration(s) that followed exactly the same line regarding Saudis. Don’t be silly. The shameful support of the Saudi government is out there for decades already. And both Dems and GOP are perfectly fine with that.

#11 Comment By Subtly On October 17, 2018 @ 2:41 pm

As long as KSA continues to sell thier oil for US dollars only nothing will change.