Trump will be visiting Saudi Arabia later this month during his first trip abroad as president. He said this about the U.S. relationship with the Saudis yesterday:
“Saudi Arabia is the custodian of the two holiest sites in Islam, and it is there that we will begin to construct a new foundation of cooperation and support with our Muslim allies to combat extremism, terrorism and violence, and to embrace a more just and hopeful future for young Muslims in their countries,” Trump said Thursday in announcing his trip during a Rose Garden ceremony where the he signed a religious liberty executive order.
“Our task is not to dictate to others how to live, but to build a coalition of friends and partners who share the goal of fighting terrorism and bringing safety, opportunity and stability to the Middle East,” Trump said.
This is fairly standard boilerplate justification for working with the Saudis, but right now it rings very hollow. Saudi policies in the region have nothing to do with “fighting terrorism and bringing safety, opportunity and stability to the Middle East.” In Syria, Saudi policy has been to arm and support insurgents with the explicit goal of destabilizing and overthrowing another government, and in Yemen their policy has been to devastate and starve an entire country in reckless and failed attempt to impose a discredited puppet leader on their neighbor. All of this has made the region more dangerous, less stable, and much poorer and more miserable than it was before. The Saudi-led coalition governments are the ones most responsible for causing famine in Yemen. There will be no “just and hopeful future” for the young Yemenis that the coalition is helping to starve to death, and in many cases there will be no future at all. In the meantime, jihadist groups have benefited directly or indirectly from Saudi policies in both places, and for the past few years the U.S. has been helping the Saudis to sow chaos in at least two countries under both the Obama and Trump administrations.
The new administration will continue to rationalize the noxious relationship with the Saudis in the usual way, but the public reasons Trump gives for working with them aren’t true and no one should pretend that they are.