Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Saudi Arabia, the Dispensable Client

The Saudis are an eminently dispensable client, and one that the U.S. should have dropped long ago.
Mohammed bin Salman Saudi

Jason Rezaian makes the case for washing our hands of the relationship with Saudi Arabia:

For years, we’ve been presented with a false choice among potential partners in the Gulf. When our leaders say that we have to pick either Riyadh or Tehran, don’t believe them. The real answer should be “none of the above.”

Apologists for the U.S.-Saudi relationship try to make it seem as if there is really no choice at all. Support for the Saudis is presented as an unavoidable part of the U.S. role in the region, but there is nothing inevitable about it. The U.S. does not need to align with Iran’s regional rivals for the simple reason that Iran poses no threat to the U.S. As is so often the case, the U.S. does not need to take sides in rivalries and conflicts that do not concern us. Both the region and the U.S. would be much better off if our government were not backing one set of states to the hilt and obsessively opposing their rivals.

The influence of Iran’s regional rivals on our government is the main reason that U.S. is still at odds with Iran almost four decades since the end of the hostage crisis. The U.S. and Iran have at least some interests that align, but this is never reflected in our policy towards them. It suits the interests of these clients for the U.S. to make their enemies ours, but no U.S. interests have been or could be served by this. The clients’ supporters here in the U.S. insist that we have common interests, but in practice this has meant that they treat the interests of the clients as if they were ours while genuine U.S. interests are ignored or undermined.

The Saudis are an eminently dispensable client, and one that the U.S. should have dropped long ago. It should be enough that Saudi Arabia has become a liability and has very little to offer the U.S., but if it is not enough we should remember that the Saudis are also a regional menace, their government is guilty of numerous war crimes, and they have implicated the U.S. in their crimes through our indefensible support for what Rezaian rightly calls the “insane and unjustifiable war on Yemen.” The first step in washing our hands of this bad relationship is to cut off all assistance to the Saudi coalition, and from there the U.S. should quickly disentangle itself from the kingdom.



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