Poor Saudi Arabia Unhappy With US Foreign Policy

John Glaser, January 02, 2014

Much has been made recently of the apparent tension between the U.S. and its longtime ally, Saudi Arabia. The thinking essentially goes like this: Washington hasn’t sufficiently bowed to Saudi interests on issues like post-Mubarak Egypt, the Syrian civil war, and the diplomatic opening with Iran. The Saudis would have preferred the Obama administration to crush the Egyptian revolution at the outset, intervene in the Syrian civil war to unseat Bashar al-Assad, and to resist a diplomatic opening with Iran, none of which happened.

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Britain wrote an op-ed in the New York Times entitled “Saudi Arabia Will Go It Alone,” which seemed to reiterate the sentiment expressed by Saudi intelligence chief Bandar bin Sultan back in October when he talked of shifting away from the alliance with the U.S.

At Reuters, Ian Bremmer gives some details on the apparent strain in the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

First, America’s track record in the Middle East in recent years has sowed distrust. The relationship began to deteriorate with the United States’ initial response to the Arab Spring, where its perceived pro-democratic stance stood at odds with the Saudi ruling elite. After Washington stood behind the elections that installed a Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt and then spoke out against the Egyptian army’s attempt to remove President Mohammad Morsi, the Saudi royals were left to wonder where Washington would stand if similar unrest broke out on their soil.

Second, while the oil trade has historically aligned U.S.-Saudi interests, the unconventional energy breakthrough in North America is calling this into question. The United States and Canada are utilizing hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling techniques, leading to a surge in domestic energy production. That development leaves America significantly less dependent on oil from the Middle East, and contributes to the U.S.’ shifting interests and increasing disengagement in the region. Not only does Saudi Arabia lose influence in Washington — many of the top American executives in the oil industry were their best conduits — but it also puts the Saudis on the wrong end of this long-term trend toward increasing global energy supply.

To say that oil is an integral part of Saudi Arabia’s economy is a gross understatement. Oil still accounts for 45 percent of Saudi GDP, 80 percent of budget revenue, and 90 percent of exports. In the months ahead, new oil supply is expected to outstrip new demand, largely on the back of improvements in output in Iraq and Libya. By the end of the first quarter of 2014, Saudi Arabia will likely have to reduce production to keep prices stable. And the trend toward more supply doesn’t take into account the potential for a comprehensive Iranian nuclear deal that would begin to ease sanctions and allow more Iranian crude to reach global markets.

It is this ongoing nuclear negotiation with Iran that poses the principal threat to an aligned United States and Saudi Arabia. An Iranian deal would undercut Saudi Arabia’s leadership over fellow Gulf States, as other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members like Kuwait and the UAE would welcome resurgent trade with Iran. At the same time, Iran would emerge over the longer term as the chief competitor for influence across the broader region, serving as the nexus of Shi’ite power. The Saudis would find themselves most directly threatened by this Shi’ite resurgence within neighboring Bahrain, a majority Shi’ite state ruled by a Sunni regime that is backstopped by the Saudi royals.

The bottom line: the Saudis are actively competing with Iran for influence throughout the Middle East. That’s why the Saudis have the most at stake from any easing of sanctions on Iran, any normalization of relations with the West, or any nuclear breakthrough that gives Iran the ultimate security bargaining chip. The Saudis have reaped the benefits of an economically weak Iran — and they are not prepared to relinquish that advantage. Ultimately, any deal that exchanges Iranian economic security for delays in Iran’s nuclear program is a fundamental problem for Saudi Arabia — as is any failed deal that allows sanctions to unravel.

According to Bremmer, the reason the Saudis are unsatisfied can be summed up in two words: oil and democratization. Saudi Arabia wants to continue to use, as it has for decades, U.S. power to maintain its oil-centered geo-strategic predominance in the Middle East. Additionally, Saudi Arabia wants to be able to continue to count on U.S. backing in spite of the fact that it is one of the most backwards authoritarian regimes in the world. Somehow I can’t play the violin for them.

All that said, I think the talk of a lasting split between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia is hyperbolic, or at least premature. After all, Washington has firmly opposed the pro-democracy movement in neighboring Bahrain, which was in part a key Saudi interest. Saudi Arabia continues to be perceived as an important ally to Washington. And while the Obama administration may not obey Saudi demands to needlessly isolate Iran into perpetuity, that does not erase the myriad ways the U.S.-Saudi alliance is copacetic. Besides, another administration will come along soon that could easily become a slave to more traditional pressures.




14 Responses to “Poor Saudi Arabia Unhappy With US Foreign Policy”

  1. It wasn't enough for the Saudis that Obama helped prevent Arab Springs in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, illegally financed anti-Morsi NGOs and terrorists to destabilize Syria, has now seen ally Mubarak freed, and has sent Saudi Arabia 60 billion dollars worth of weaponry, likely to be funneled to Sunni terror groups in Syria and elsewhere, and possibly also the Taliban, which the Saudis back, and which would allow the US to claim they need to keep troops in Afghanistan because the Taliban is so strong.

    The USA isn't just about getting access to Mid East oil, and getting a good deal on it for itself. As the USA used to do with cotton, the US wants to CONTROL and influence Mid East oil markets. This is a powerful weapon. A US president once commented that with control over the cotton market, a one year embargo of the UK would inflict as much damage as a hundred years of war.

    Today the tool is energy resources. This is why the US switched Iraq back from Euro to US petrodollars after the US's Mongol invasion of Iraq.

  2. America is withering away from the inside, because of the simple fact that we continually see ends-justifies-means-decision-making on the part of our leaders; we stand for nothing, if we give even one dollar to the king of Saudi Arabia (who quite probably financed 911). We live and die for nothing in America, because of this and a thousand other "pragmatic", but wholly anti-democratic decisions. Cut them off! We can figure out another way to run our cars!

  3. This is all wonderful deniability, in my opinion. Deniability is a word and a concept that I am in danger of hammering into the ground, I use it so often, but I am convinced it is the keynote of modern imperial policy, and even people who are otherwise not markedly bright, like Jackass Kerry, can easily learn to drop comments to journalists indicating that they are vexed with Bandar and his global Jihadis. So then, obviously, no-one can hold the virtuous US of A responsible, which is the point.

  4. Saudis are been used since the Balkan wars, at least the sunny Muslims of Hashim Taci the Balkan mafia who is admired by Madeline Albright and Bill Clinton as Kosovar freedom fighter, "freeing" the Kosovar people for the rule of oil companies international cartel in Kosovo, making Kosovo the path of oil transportation from Caspian Sea to Europe. Hand in hand with international bankers even the Swedish social democrats and present far right government were very happy about the changes that are made.

    Expending the religious, using groups and religious organizations, or as the idea was from the beginning, the Islamization of the people's fight for functioning democracy, socialism or democracy, as far back as 1990s up to date, the Saudis been demanding for Europe and USG to act upon their demand, expend our religious totalitarian rule or we will not buy your weapon, nor we would help US economically or politically.

    Hillary Clinton is the architect, with blessing from Obama, of the Syrian war giving in for these produced religious terrorists in Saudi Arabia. Bush regime is the architect giving these terrorists the power in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Syria. Libya was the beginning of such planed idea betraying the mankind in its progress toward a functioning democracy, USG have don it in the past why wouldn't they now.

    Saddam Hussein and his regime had to be eliminated not for Bush regime of Neo fascism lying, but rather for Saudis-Wahhabis helping out in Afghanistan fighting the USSR occupation. Libyan government needed to be changed, not for what the Libyans demanded but rather what Saudis demanded from Swedish to English, the French Neo liberal fascism so is the matter with Syria.

    USG is not braking up with Saudis, the USG simply cannot afford losing their biggest customer buying US made weapons, then sent to Turkey, Jordan into the hands of created Islamic terrorists of all kind, from Al-Queada to Al-Nusra front of many kind, from Wahhabis to Salafis to those which senator McCain supports, or let's put it like this, those whom are Saudis favorites.

  5. I think there is no chance to cxhange merican policy as the problems are created not solved.

  6. They're not just really pissed off at us! They are livid with Putin for interjecting himself with a deal for Assad to relinquish his chemical weapons which avoided another stupid war in the Middle East. The Saudi's (and Israel) wanted the US to take out Assad, in part because Assad is seen as an ally of Iran. Both the Saudi's (and Israel) are livid about the US even talking to Iran about the nuclear weapons program our intelligence community has repeatedly said they do not even have. But the Saudi's just got payback against Putin. Who do you think really pulls the strings of those sunni Islamic militants who just attacked Russia right on schedule right before the Olympics? Do you seriously think there is not more to the story? Do really think there was not the involvement of intelligence agencies in those attacks?

  7. Point of vocabulary order: It's "titled," not "entitled."

    Hooray to most of these developments, but jeers to all this fossil fuel throwing away the future of my nephew and everybody else who will have to live through and suffer with the consequences.

  8. That the prototypical "first" state of modern democracy should have such a fine partnership with an antithetical polity, a theocratic monarchy, is itself an insult to the persons who enabled its existence to begin with. That same said theocratic monarchy, emblematic of all things evil which the prototype democratic society fought itself free from, should take offense at our occasional remembrance of our own ideals, is tough luck. It should get a lot tougher, actually, since said theocratic monarchy was perhaps, possibly, involved themselves in the dire affair which set all our ships to sea.

  9. McCain wants to help the Muslims that like to play soccer with the Christians heads . I have seen this game in Bosnia and now Syria . This has been U.S. policy since at least 1990 . If these fools think this terrorizes the Christian world into giving them more power ? I don't think It does

  10. yes every change we make seems to bring us further backwards

  11. I think Russia will feel they should bring freedom and democracy to Saudia Arabia ? If United States brings freedom and democracy to Syria . Why not free everyone in the Middle east at once ? If the Chechens terrorists attack Russia , Russia could attack Saudia Arabia and the Chechens . When those same terrorists attack the United States we attack Iraq and Afghanistan . Russia should feel obligated to start fighting terrorism too . I think Russia could be a powerful force for good too . What do you guys think about those apples ?

  12. You know that Obama is privy to the classified section of the 911 report talking about Saudi(and probably Israeli) Involvement in 911. Yet that traitorous bastard is shaking hands with the guilty party. While the American people are having to go to war, spied upon and turned into a police state while these culprits continue murdering Americans. With approval of the US government

    Hang everyone of these SOB's until their necks break and they are dead.

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  14. How sad. The Saudi Government is finally forced to pay the price for the Salafi-inspired violence, repression, and bloodshed it has carried out at home and has promulgated abroad. Riyadh's dependency on America's security umbrella has bred a false sense of entitlement.