Home/Daniel Larison/Why the U.S. Should Scrap the Useless, Noxious Saudi Relationship

Why the U.S. Should Scrap the Useless, Noxious Saudi Relationship

President Donald Trump speaks with Mohammed bin Salman in 2017 in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Gil Barndollar and Sam Long do an excellent job of making the case against the noxious U.S.-Saudi relationship:

These attacks on individuals, however, paled in comparison to the Kingdom’s military misjudgments. The war in Yemen, pushed by Mohammed bin Salman when he became Minister of Defense in 2015, was expected to be a quick triumph. Instead it has become the worst humanitarian disaster on earth. American-made missiles and bombs have killed thousands of civilians due to some combination of Saudi carelessness, incompetence, and malice. The campaign has also been an embarrassment for Saudi Arabia’s paper tiger military, outfought by Yemen’s Houthi militia and trapped in an unwinnable war — a war backstopped by the support of both the Obama and Trump administrations.

These decisions ultimately damage the United States, rightly seen as Saudi Arabia’s unblinking protector. Though Congress took belated steps to end the Saudi campaign in Yemen, most Americans could and did ignore Saudi Arabia’s recent actions in its own neighborhood. But as job losses mount, ordinary Americans will finally face the consequences of our toxic relationship with the Saudi monarchy.

The U.S. has worked with some very nasty authoritarian states over the decades, sometimes out of genuine necessity in WWII and sometimes because it was deemed expedient for the sake of a larger policy goal. The U.S. has usually come to regret the compromises that it has made by cooperating with these governments, and the benefits from these relationships have usually been few and limited. The U.S.-Saudi relationship serves no such purpose now if it ever did, and the U.S. gets no benefits from it at all. Now there are only costs and risks, and they continue to increase as the reckless Mohammed bin Salman consolidates his hold on power.

It would have been difficult to identify any real benefit to the U.S. from this relationship five years ago before the start of the war on Yemen. Over the last few years, it has become even more obvious that the relationship is a costly and embarrassing liability. The U.S. has not only implicated itself in the kingdom’s many war crimes with unstinting support for the war, but it has also contributed to the destabilization of the region and the destruction of Yemen that has put millions of lives in jeopardy from famine and disease. I can’t imagine what strategic benefit could be “worth” helping to facilitate mass starvation in any case, but there is no question that the U.S. gains nothing from participating in this horror.

Now that the Saudi government is openly attacking the U.S. oil industry as part of its feud with Russia, they have gone from being a bad and reckless client to a government that is deliberately and directly hurting U.S. interests. There used to be a weak argument that selling weapons to the Saudis at least created some jobs, but the jobs created by these arms deals are very few. This made for a terrible excuse for enabling the slaughter of civilians, but now the Saudi oil price war will wipe out far more jobs and businesses than their weapons purchases have ever created. Throughout all of this, the Trump administration has remained resolutely pro-Saudi and shows no signs of changing. The administration’s Saudi First foreign policy has been extremely bad for the U.S. and for the region, and it makes me wonder if there is anything that the Saudis could do that would cause them to change course.

If there were a realistic chance that the Saudi government’s behavior might significantly improve in the future, that might support an argument against making major changes to the relationship, but we know that the current crown prince is likely to become the next king and he is expected to rule for several decades. Judging from his first few years in power, there is no reason to expect Mohammed bin Salman to become less destructive and heavy-handed over time. The U.S. should move as quickly as possible to put as much distance between us and the Saudi kingdom as we can now. If we don’t, we will very likely regret it later. Remaining so closely aligned with such a regional menace will only embroil us in their wars and make us complicit in their many crimes and abuses. Whatever value the U.S.-Saudi relationship may have had, it is not worth keeping in its present form any longer.

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.

leave a comment

Latest Articles