Is it time for the United States to dump Saudi Arabia?

February 3, 2016
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry walks with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir (C) to attend a Gulf Cooperation Council meeting at King Salman Regional Air Base in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, January 23, 2016. REUTERS/Jacquelyn Martin/Pool - RTX23NE0

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry walks with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir (C) to attend a Gulf Cooperation Council meeting at King Salman Regional Air Base in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, January 23, 2016. REUTERS/Jacquelyn Martin

After the recent execution of Shi’ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi Arabia, the Middle East once again risks devolving into sectarian chaos. A mob torched  the Saudi Embassy in Tehran, prompting Saudi Arabia and a number of its Sunni allies to break diplomatic relations with Iran.

In response to the unfolding chaos, the Wall Street Journal responded by asking “Who Lost the Saudis?” — fretting that the lack of support from the United States could lead to the overthrow of the Saudi regime. This is a provocative query, reminiscent of the “Who Lost China?” attacks against President Harry Truman after the Communist takeover of mainland China in 1949. But it’s the wrong question. Rather than wondering if Washington’s support for Riyadh is sufficient, American policymakers should instead ask themselves the following question: Is it time for the United States to dump Saudi Arabia?

The moral case for the United States to question its close relationship with Saudi Arabia is clear. Saudi Arabia is governed by the House of Saud, an authoritarian monarchy that does not tolerate dissent, and the country consistently ranks among the “worst of the worst” countries in democracy watchdog Freedom House’s annual survey of political and civil rights.

Saudi Arabia follows the ultra-conservative Wahhabi strain of Sunni Islam, and the public practice of any religion other than Islam is prohibited. Its legal system is governed by Sharia law, and a 2015 study from Middle East Eye noted that Saudi Arabia and Islamic State prescribed near-identical punishments, such as amputation and stoning for similar crimes. The government is also renowned for carrying out public executions after trials that Amnesty International condemns as “grossly unfair”; Amnesty describes the Saudi “justice system” as “riddled with holes. ”

Given the two countries’ divergent values, the U.S.-Saudi alliance relies almost entirely on overlapping economic and national security interests. The United States long relied on Saudi Arabia as an oil supplier, a steadfast beacon of opposition to communism and a huge buyer of American arms. The Saudis, meanwhile, depend on the United States to protect their security.

Despite these long-standing ties, Saudi Arabia now harms American national interests as much as it helps them.

First, the Saudis and the United States diverge over American policy toward Iran. Saudi Arabia sees itself locked in a sectarian and geopolitical struggle with Iran for Middle East supremacy. Riyadh is concerned the deal that lifted sanctions against Iran in exchange for Tehran dismantling it’s nuclear infrastructure will empower Iran to pursue a more aggressive foreign policy in the region. Riyadh also fears abandonment by Washington, and worries the nuclear deal is only the first step in a process that could lead to its replacement by Iran as the United States’ primary Persian Gulf ally.

President Barack Obama, by contrast, describes the nuclear agreement with Iran as “a very good deal” that “achieves one of our most critical security objectives.” While no indication exists that the United States seeks to replace Saudi Arabia with Iran, it makes sense for Washington to explore other areas where American and Iranian interests may overlap. As the United States and Iran continue to feel each other out, we can expect tensions between Washington and Riyadh to grow.

Second, Saudi Arabia executed al-Nimr despite concerns expressed by the United States that doing so could damage hopes for peace in Syria. Ending the Syrian war remains a priority for the United States, since Washington hopes a Syrian settlement will lead all parties to unite against Islamic State.

Saudi Arabia and Iran support opposing sides in Syria’s civil war, and the prospects for peace depend significantly on cooperation from both countries. With the two countries now at each others’ throats due to the Saudis’ execution of al-Nimr, the Obama administration believes Saudi-Iranian tensions could “blow up” Washington’s objectives in Syria.

Third, thanks to the shale oil boom in the United States, American dependence on Saudi oil has dropped dramatically. According to a Citibank report, by 2020 the United States may produce so much domestic oil that it would become a net exporter, completely freeing itself from any reliance on Persian Gulf imports. Moreover, the Saudis also rely on the American market. They and many other OPEC members produce what’s called “heavy sour” crude, and the U.S. refinery system is the most attractive market for this type of petroleum. As the United States reduces imports, the Saudis must scramble to find other markets such as China. Unfortunately for Riyadh — as the Russians can attest — the Chinese give no quarter when holding the upper hand in negotiations.

The Saudis understand the consequences of the United States’ reduced reliance on imported oil. To retain market share, the Saudis launched an assault on American shale oil producers, hoping to drive them out of business by flooding the market with Saudi oil. The Saudis hope this leads oil prices to recover, but in the meantime much of the American shale oil industry could face bankruptcy. While cheap oil is good for American consumers, at a certain point the downside for the United States’ economy may outweigh the upsides. Of course, if the United States regains a greater dependence on foreign oil, the Saudis will be the ones to benefit.

Finally — and most importantly — the United States must accept the fact that Saudi Arabia is a major contributor to worldwide Islamic extremism. Washington policymakers clearly understand this. In a leaked Wikileaks cable, former Secretary of State — and now presidential aspirant — Hillary Clinton stated “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”

In a 2014 speech at Harvard, Vice President Joseph Biden called out Saudi Arabia and others for contributing to the rise of Islamic State, saying “those allies’ policies wound up helping to arm and build allies of al Qaeda and eventually the terrorist Islamic State.”

In a highly unusual public rebuke in December, Germany’s vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel accused the Saudis of funding extremism in the West. “Wahhabi mosques all over the world are financed by Saudi Arabia. Many Islamists who are a threat to public safety come from these communities in Germany. We have to make clear to the Saudis that the time of looking away is over,” Gabriel said.

Saudi Arabia denies funding extremism, and in 2014 called claims it supported Islamic State “false allegations” and a “malicious falsehood.” Moreover, the Saudi Ambassador to the United Kingdom recently posted a letter charging critics of playing the “blame game” and called the accusations “an insult to our government, our people, and our faith.”

Even so, Gabriel is right — and it’s high time Washington policymakers take a good look at the long-term future of the American-Saudi relationship.


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EXCELLENT ARTICLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  !!!!!!!

Posted by No_apartheid | Report as abusive

A friend in need is a friend indeed.

Posted by grumium | Report as abusive

Regime change in Saudi Arabia is long overdue.

Posted by peter_lintner | Report as abusive

Thanks for approaching some honesty about the Sauds. The truth is that anyone who has missed how utterly depraved the absolute despots of KSA are is blind and dumb. That the western media reporters weren’t rolling on the floor laughing when KSA was named head of the UN Panel on Human Rights is a sorry testimony to the ignorance of the group. That western media was stone silent as the US tried to convince the world that the Sauds – whose ideology and government are indistinguishable from ISIS – was helping us bring “freedom and democracy” to Syria (that has infinitely more of both than KSA will ever have under the Sauds) speaks volumes of how embedded journos are with the government here. That western media remains mute over the daily atrocities of the Saudi aggression in Yemen is criminal. Enough already.

Posted by JKort | Report as abusive

It was time 30 years ago. Saudi Arabia is a terror sponsor and homophobic nation.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

le Defi Americain revisite

the US backs off Saudi Arabia – leaving the UK as the nearest thing to an ally of SA – and the UK remains the country most dependent on arms supply business to SA

then Hillary Clampit gets elected and supports a UN referral of the Falklands/Malvinas dispute

then all the soi disant misplaced in the Americas want their cases referred to the UN

and the US backs off the UK……..

Posted by EdMartin | Report as abusive

So interesting to see the Officials of many countries that Syrians always have conflicts with are the ones planning The Syrians future!
I’m very sure those politicians can’t sleep at night till they deliver Democracy to Syria that many of those politicians don’t even have in their own countries!!!

Posted by E.Ayad | Report as abusive

You forget to mention the fact that The Petro-Dollars treaty that enable USA to make money out of each Oil transaction from the Gulf region, which help US economy tremendously is a valid reason for our government to close their eyes on all unethical acts that are happening by Wahhabi Saudi everyday!

Posted by E.Ayad | Report as abusive

Timely article.

No amount of PR can hide the fact that Saudi Arabia is a malevolent influence in propagating the worst interpretations of Islam throughout the Middle East and beyond. This fake “royal” regime has been cosseted long enough allowing their bogus “princes” to use their ill-gotten billions on buying off the West’s governments, industry and media.

Posted by Procivic | Report as abusive

The endgame seems to be in sight now for this monstrous regime that has sawn the seeds of 9-11 and used their enormous oil revenues to promote Wahabism – the most extreme-Islamic evil around the world. They even bit he hand that fed them by declaring war against American oil shale industry. Iran is an angel by comparison. Thank you for an enlightening article.

Posted by worldscan | Report as abusive

Saudi Arabia is a religious Monarchy. America left that stuff behind 300 years ago.

Cheney’s friends in Saudi Arabia need to burn. And they can take Cheney with them.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

TrusTED and you’ll get more of the same (the third term of Bush/Cheney).

Posted by alowl | Report as abusive

If we bombed them into submission they’d have nothing left. Our frackers will prosper and all would be well here inside the USA. NO MORE OIL IMPORTS. To the heck with those nuts over there. After all if things get out of hand there we have over 2K nukes ready to fire on will. We’re sick and tired of the wackos in the Middle East. Send Cruz and Rubio over there too.

Posted by louiseone1 | Report as abusive

Dump away!

Posted by SoylentGreen4 | Report as abusive

Another article on the same outlet suggests a possible Saudi/US invasion of Syria, I thought they already did this by installing moderate terrorists(FSA) and ISIL. US military personnel already showing dissent via social media against any pro Sunni- terrorist deployment in Syria.

Posted by yeeahright | Report as abusive

Dead on. North American oil, while heavy and sour, does not come with a surcharge in blood.

Posted by Owkrender | Report as abusive

Two facts:
1. Saudi Arabia is our #1 defense industry customer.
2. The Defense Industry runs our Congress.

BTW. That also explains our perpetual war doctrine.

Posted by Biden | Report as abusive

The Saudis will change their ways if they want our money badly enough. Otherwise I foresee a bloody overthrow of their tightly held regime, and the Kingdom will once more devolve into tribal in-fighting.

Posted by ToastMcGhost | Report as abusive

I am not a fan of any undemocratic regime, but we should be much more concerned about commie cash kings in China and KGB mafia in Russia, IMHO.

Posted by UauS | Report as abusive

George Bush attacked the wrong country for the 9/11 outrage.
He was never very good at geography.

Posted by wondering_too | Report as abusive

Just two more infos : religion of terrorists groups is Salafism. And Salafism roots are Wahhabi.
Never forget what happened on 9/11 and after. When all planes were grounded, the only one allowed to fly was a Saudi one, full of members of Bin Laden family and Embassy employees

Posted by kingsale | Report as abusive

It,s a good and nice thing that the US and German politician have got to conclusion that what,s the real essence of Saudi tyrannous and oppressive self-appointed rulers.For years many government,especially Iran,insisted on the terrorist essence of Saudi rulers and their economical,political and logistic support of extremist groups like Al-Qaeda , ISIS ,Al-Nusra and………….
In the other hand , the Westerners,that have been repeatedly,accused Iran of supporting terrorism,should revise in their opinion about Iran and believe that Iran is ready to help the fight against extremism and terrorism anywhere in the world,especially in middle east,because Iran is the victim of terrorism after its revolution.
It,s hoped that the other governments and politicians will wake up soon and will stop the stupid Saudi rulers from their dangerous behavior,before late,and will help the innocent people of Syria,Yemen,Bahrain,….to return to their usual life.

Posted by factseeker | Report as abusive

Regardless of what happens in the future I wish America would seek out alternative energy sources. We do not need to depend on any foreign government or country for our survival!

Posted by Kachina888 | Report as abusive

The whole of North Africa and the Middle East is one big nuthouse, albeit excellent customers of American weaponry.

Posted by Donquixote2u | Report as abusive

This is relevannt comment. USA must put saudies to pay heavily, because the Saudi government tried to harm US oil industry. They are very vulnerable for instance compared to Iran. They have no ability to make industrial production to produce high tec weapons etc. That ability Iran has because Iranian people are competent to solve problems, while saudis are not.
The ability in high tec is all for future.

Posted by Oliwer | Report as abusive

Yes I am sure Kerry and Hossein Obama (the 2 fabulous deal makers and foreign policy experts) know exactly what they are doing. Plus who needs the Saoudis when we have Iran as BFF!.

Posted by Oballah | Report as abusive

This article is biased beyond belief. History has been twisted, manipulated, and fabricated to suit the narrative of putting forth the façade of a debate. Not the author of this article or any of the commenters below praising this ‘long overdue article’ know an iota of how the world really works.

I would like to ask the author what his views on Iran were several years ago at the height of the frenzy to impose sanctions… 2 critical concepts at play here forming the mathematical formula of: PROPAGANDA X HERD MENTALITY = DISINFORMATION + DISTORTION OF FACTS + IGNORANCE.

Reuters: How could you allow for an article such as this be published. Full of conjecture, outright fabrications and distortion of historical fact… This is the repulsing state of journalism.

Posted by Lieisatruth | Report as abusive

Wondering_too writes: “George Bush attacked the wrong country for the 9/11 outrage. He was never very good at geography.”

GW Bush was not very good at anything. His voters represented the dumbest half of America. Clearly.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Everywhere in the Arab world, the fall of the dictatorship or monarchy means civil war and chaos .This applies even more to the center of evil. Reforming the monarchy is also impossible. The best solution is a war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, brutal sectarian war. Europe experienced one such war 400 years ago. Without discrediting religion as a source of morality and rights is impossible modernization of the Islamic world.The world should let them to fry in their own fatThis means non-interference in relations between countries in the Middle East by the West and the US .

Posted by Pitashtia2 | Report as abusive

It is PAST time for the United States to stop underwriting Saudi foreign military adventures.

Posted by Whiteathame | Report as abusive

Religion kills. Choose reason.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Iran killed 160 Americans in 1982 and then 25 Americans in 1996, funding hezbollah and secterian militians responsible for ethnic cleansing in Iraq, now Iran is supporting assad who is using allying with Russia against the US and helping assad to commit war crimes and sending iranian revlutionary guards to kill syrian, btw Iranian revolutionary guard is the same who held US citizens as hostages in 1979 In US Embassy in tehran, what israel is good for? just taking aids from the US and relying totally on handouts from Uncle sam, Saudi Arabia have been a very good ally for the last 70 years, helped us to defeat the Soviet Union, now helping US to defeat russia by lowering oil prices though BHO don’t want that, Saudi Arabia is staunche ally and if we lose them, we will lose a big leverage against all US enemies including china and russia, Iran rulled by dark age clergy who is killing American citizens and innocent women and children in Syria, not to mention threatening the existance of israel, obviously the writer lives in a different world or simply maybe on iran’s payroll nothing more.

Posted by Noproxy | Report as abusive