By Iran Review
By Mohammad Khajouei*
US President Barack Obama’s recent trip to Riyadh to take part in the meeting of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council [(P)GCC], which remained limited to a few routine meetings and predictable remarks, failed to put an end to recent doubts and pessimism about the United States’ relations with Saudi Arabia.
A gradual, historical and important development is in the offing. Eight decades of strategic relations between Washington and Riyadh are undergoing a fundamental change. It is not that the two countries will suddenly throw away all friendship bonds and turn into all-out enemies; however, the reality is that the strong and strategic bond between these two countries is falling apart.
During consecutive decades, four factors had turned Saudi Arabia into the United States’ most important ally in the Middle East after Israel: 1. The need to fight Communism, 2. Fighting Arab nationalism (as the most important anti-Israel current in the region), 3. Containing the Iran “threat,” and 4. Oil.
The first two factors have been expired since many years ago, while the importance of the other two factors is gradually fading.
The passage of time has made the West come to grips with the reality that what was previously said about Iran being a threat, has been mostly of a propaganda nature. It is true because blows dealt to the United States, both officially and unofficially, by its strategic ally – Saudi Arabia – have been much more numerous than what Iran has done. These days, there are reports going around in the United States showing that in addition to Saudi nationals, senior princes of Al Saud have been involved in the 9/11 terror attacks.
Saudi Arabia’s unbridled support for terrorist and extremist groups, which have currently made not only the Middle East, but also Western countries a field for their jockeying, is not a slogan, but a reality confirmed by scores of documents and reports, which happen to have been published in the West.
These issues have introduced Saudi Arabia in Western countries as an irresponsible state without any well-defined principles.
To this list must be added Saudi government’s black records in terms of violating human rights both on its own territory and in other countries, such as Yemen during the ongoing military onslaught against the impoverished nation, and this issue has been as of late discussed openly in the West, in general, and in the United States, in particular.
At the same time, gradual reduction of the United States dependence on Saudi oil, on the one hand, and the falling position of Saudis in management of the global oil market – which was evident recently through the failure of the Qatar meeting – on the other hand, have caused another bond of alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia to lose steam.
Although Saudis started to criticize the White House since the United States invaded Iraq under the former president, George W. Bush, relations between the two countries became specially sour under Obama administration and tensions raised to an unprecedented level.
The United States’ policy toward revolutions in the Arab world was another issue, which stirred wrath and discontent of Saudis. Saudis accused the United States of indifference and inaction toward their allied governments, which were on the verge of collapse.
In the meantime, Saudis were especially discontent and angry with the United States’ policy toward the crisis in Syria, especially when Washington refrained from launching a military attack against Damascus.
On the other hand, Iran’s nuclear deal, which Saudis believe will increase the Islamic Republic’s maneuvering room in the region, was among other issues, which caused tension between Saudi Arabia and the United States.
However, Obama’s recent interview with the Atlantic magazine depicted the United States’ new attitude toward Saudi Arabia and the depth of the two countries’ differences, which made Saudi officials even angrier.
During his interview in March, Obama noted that the United States has opportunist allies both in the Persian Gulf region and in Europe, which want to drag Washington into conflicts that have nothing to do with the United States’ interests.
Of course, Saudi leaders vehemently rejected the accusation about being opportunistic and over-dependent on the United States’ military power.
Obama also noted that Saudi Arabia should learn to consider a share for Iran in the region. Even during his recent participation in the meeting of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council, Obama warned against possible war with Iran.
Perhaps some people may think that the tension in Saudi Arabia’s relations with the United States is related to the approach taken by Obama administration and after change in the country’s president, which will happen in a few months, everything will be back to normal once again. However, it seems that this is not the case.
As said before, the change in the attitude of the West, in general, and the United States, in particular, toward Saudi Arabia has been more than anything else based on logical and structural reasons, and even with a change in government, no change will come about in this situation.
Today, even Donald Trump, the forerunner Republican presidential hopeful – which some people think will have better relations with Saudi Arabia – is uttering remarks in criticism of Saudi Arabia, which may be even sharper than Obama’s remarks.
In a recent interview with the New York Times, he threatened that if he is elected as the US president and Saudi Arabia does not take part in the war against the Daesh terrorist group, he is very likely to stop importing oil from Saudi Arabia. Trump clearly noted that he is worried about “abuse” of the United States by its partners and allies.
On the other hand, both Republican and Democrat lawmakers were involved in drawing up a bill, which allows American citizens to seek indemnity from Saudi Arabia for the damage they suffered through the 9/11 terror attacks by filing lawsuits with judicial authorities.
All told, it seems that relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia have totally changed and this issue is not solely related to approaches taken toward Riyadh by one of the two main political parties in the United States. Therefore, one may claim that relations between Riyadh and Saudi Arabia are now out of their past stage and are taking on a new shape.
Senior Middle East Analyst