Saudi Arabia Threatens Democrats: We’ll Support You
Our great and glorious ally is staring at a bleak future. But are they really prepared to ditch Trump?
Our great and glorious ally Saudi Arabia has fallen on hard times. The coronavirus has arrived in the desert kingdom, prompting its government to take emergency measures and sending its economy into a tailspin. Vision 2030, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious plan to turn his country into Tomorrowland, has either, depending on who you check, hit a speed bump or crashed headlong into a wall.
Perhaps most ominous of all, though, the recent Saudi-Russian economic war, which at one point turned the price of oil negative, has sparked unrest in the Saudi heartland, by which we mean the GOP. As Daniel Larison has pointed out, Senator Ted Cruz, normally prostrate in front of the Saudis, criticized them publicly in recent weeks. He wasn’t alone: other GOP senators, many from oil-rich states, threatened to impose tariffs and sanctions on Riyadh. And according to Reuters, Donald Trump called the crown prince himself and threatened to withdraw military support unless the price war ended. The message was summed up by one American official: “We are defending your industry while you’re destroying ours.”
And doesn’t that just sum up the entire U.S.-Saudi relationship.
That relationship has now arguably hit its lowest point ever. And while there’s gloomy news on both sides, at least we can say that we now know the market value of a glowing orb: three years of unquestioning fealty. In all seriousness, Trump does deserve credit for finally chewing out the royals, however belated his stand might have been. And while the Saudis have since ended their price war, GOP dissent reportedly has Riyadh reconsidering their interventions in American politics. Here’s Ali al-Ahmed at UPI:
The Saudi government recently engaged two new firms to strengthen ties with the Democratic establishment. Meanwhile, its existing army of lobbyists has turned their focus to blue state leaders. FARA filings show that Democratic heavyweights at Saudi Arabia’s lobbyists of record, Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, Shreck and Hogan Lovells, have been mounting a full-on assault to appeal for support from party luminaries.
A couple takeaways from this. First, it’s striking how the Saudi approach to global affairs differs from the American one. While we flop around the Middle East searching for a democratic spark, Riyadh ruthlessly pursues its own interests. While we remain trapped in the template of Cold War alliances and enmities, Riyadh turns on a dime to adjust to circumstances. Saudi Arabia has been bilking the United States for years, extracting every dollar and troop it can while offering comparably little in return. And given how gullible we seem to be, it’s hard to blame them.
Second, while the Gulf has seen plenty of strategic grandmasters, Mohammed bin Salman clearly isn’t one of them. His lobbying of Democrats is less a sign of cunning than of desperation. It was the Democratic Party, after all, that inaugurated the Iran deal, which the Saudis viewed as an ultimate betrayal. Barack Obama in the last year of his presidency even had the audacity to issue a few mouse squeaks of concern over the war in Yemen. All that meant that when Trump arrived, the Kingdom viewed him as their salvation. Now they’re turning frantically to his opponents. It may be that after butchering a Washington journalist, slaughtering Yemeni civilians with American bombs, aggressing pointlessly against Iran and Qatar, and continuing to spread Wahhabist fanaticism, one’s options do begin to run out.
Then again, maybe not. Two weeks ago, Trump and Saudi King Salman reportedly spoke by phone and committed to a continuing defense partnership. In international affairs, “partnerships” are very often master-servant relationships, and the question now is whether the United States is finally prepared to switch into the master role. Either way, given the Saudis’ record, the Democrats should probably view their offers of support as a threat.