Saudis to US: You’re sleeping on the couch tonight

Prominent Saudi officials have been wagging their fingers at the U.S. since 9/11, trying to convince Washington that Riyadh is as indispensable to the U.S.’s Middle East status quo as Tel Aviv is. One such prominent Saudi official, Prince Bandar, has gone so far as to compare the arrangement between Saudi Arabia as a “Catholic marriage,” i.e., periods of separation are allowed but divorce is not. He is, by U.S. standards, an exasperating partner because of his proclivity to make statements along the lines of “the U.S. shouldn’t be counted on to restore stability across the Middle East” and to go around the U.S.’s back in conversations with Pakistani, Emirates and Malaysian officials. 

Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi ambassador and intelligence chief (one of the main silent partners in the U.S.-led campaign to arm the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s) is suggesting the stubborn U.S. will soon be seeing some unwelcome papers from his lawyer. He warns the U.S. that it’s recalcitrance over the Palestinian Authority’s effort at the UN will force the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to reconsider its ties with Washington. From the New York Times:

“The United States must support the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations this month or risk losing the little credibility it has in the Arab world. If it does not, American influence will decline further, Israeli security will be undermined and Iran will be empowered, increasing the chances of another war in the region.”

“Moreover, Saudi Arabia would no longer be able to cooperate with America in the same way it historically has. With most of the Arab world in upheaval, the “special relationship” between Saudi Arabia and the United States would increasingly be seen as toxic by the vast majority of Arabs and Muslims, who demand justice for the Palestinian people.”

“Saudi leaders would be forced by domestic and regional pressures to adopt a far more independent and assertive foreign policy. Like our recent military support for Bahrain’s monarchy, which America opposed, Saudi Arabia would pursue other policies at odds with those of the United States, including opposing the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Iraq and refusing to open an embassy there despite American pressure to do so. The Saudi government might part ways with Washington in Afghanistan and Yemen as well.”

Considering that the Saudis have long been our partners in making Afghanistan, Yemen and Bahrain what they are today, their newfound “unhelpfulness” would certainly undermine U.S. interests in those countries – if it actually comes to pass.

Saudi statements about Israel today essentially amount to (hypocritical) bluster. Saudi Arabia is no sudden human rights champion, however much the royal family  goes on about Palestinian refugees and self-determination. And in foreign policy, there is far too much at stake for both Riyadh and Washington to have a falling out.

Nor can the Saudis realistically expect to get a better deal in Iraq than the one they currently have in the form of the U.S.-backed al-Maliki, since a different government might be more willing to work with Iran, the Saudis’ archenemy and “populist” theocratic rival (though Tehran today is about as authentically populist as Rick Perry).

In Yemen and Bahrain, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia basically have the same interests: marginalize Iran and supress popular dissent under the banner of counterterrorism. The Saudis also cannot expect to easily switch out military suppliers and consultants when it comes to their armed forces, as U.S. intel and equipment dominates the Saudi defense apparatus.

Most likely, there will be a flurry of diplomatic snubs (“Emirates, please tell the U.S. to pass the salt.”), but little more than that – you cannot say the Saudis are going to undermine aspects of U.S. policy in retaliation because, well, Saudi officials have done that on a regular basis in both good times and bad, in sickness and in health, for rich or for . . . rich.

It’s a turbulent marriage, to be sure, but remember, divorce is not permitted! And while you can annul a Catholic marriage, neither the U.S. government nor the Saudi royal family will be annuling theirs, whatever happens in Israel and the Occupied Territories from here on out.

About Paul Mutter

Paul Mutter is a contributor to Mondoweiss, Foreign Policy in Focus and the Arabist.
Posted in Israel/Palestine, One state/Two states, US Policy in the Middle East, US Politics | Tagged

{ 23 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Walid says:

    “… Like our recent military support for Bahrain’s monarchy, which America opposed, ”

    That was a good one, now they are playing the good cop-bad cop routine; the US would have been happy to see an Iran-backed majority Shia population take over the country and ask it to to close the base? Bahrain’s income is down to almost nothing except for the 5th Fleet base rent it’s picking up and one remaining oil well that’s still productive and co-owned by the Saudis. Saudia’s invovement in Bahrain wasn’t so much in support of Bahrain’s monarchy as much as it was to quash a Shia non-violent uprising of a bordering country that threatened to spread to Saudia’s own already restless Shia population. Saudia, Kuwait, UAE and Qatar sending military forces into Bahrain is what prevented the overthrow of the monarchy.

  2. radii says:

    if the Saudis follow through, we will one day thank them … we are offered a lousy choice: stay with our parasite controller israel and continue to shield them from repercussions for all of their crimes or do the right thing and support (or at least not oppose) Palestinian statehood and have our economy not damaged by the Saudis severing the Catholic marriage … the second option is far more favorable but we’ll take our orders from our dangerous parasite and we will suffer

  3. dbroncos says:

    “…trying to convince Washington that Riyadh is as indispensable to the U.S.’s Middle East status quo as Tel Aviv is.”

    Israel is not strategically important to the US. They have nothing that we need and its clear to many of us outside the fecal bog of D.C. that the relationship we keep with that small desert country is a liability, not an asset. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is absolutely vital to our economic security because of the pivotal role the Saudis play in providing Americans with a cheap supply of oil. Playing games with these basic facts is dangerous. Yet that’s what our reps continue to do. Sooner or later, we will face the crippling consequences of supporting Israel, come what may, while at the same time humiliating allies on whom we are utterly dependent.

    • Walid says:

      “Israel is not strategically important to the US. They have nothing that we need and its clear to many of us outside the fecal bog of D.C. that the relationship we keep with that small desert country is a liability, not an asset.”

      Yes, it is; what would it cost the US to post 70,000 US servicemen, equip them and arm them to keep an eye out on its interests in the area? Probably many more billions than those it is sending to Israel each year. From where I’m standing, I see the US using Israel much more than I see Israel using the US.

      As to the Saudis ever attempting to do anything to the US, this is an impossibility. The Saudis have about a trillion dollars invested in the American economy and would never do anything that could backfire on their investments and that includes playing with the oil or its pricing. Between the PA people and the Saudis making all these noises and threats against Israel and the US in the last stretch, it’s making me more apprehensive about some foul play coming up by the PA, Israel, the US and the Saudis. I don’t believe for a second that Israel is worried silly or sick about what’s about to happen at the UN and whatever does get through, it would be to the advantage of Israel, not the Palestinians. Hope I’m wrong.

      • American says:

        “Yes, it is; what would it cost the US to post 70,000 US servicemen, equip them and arm them to keep an eye out on its interests in the area? Probably many more billions than those it is sending to Israel each year. From where I’m standing, I see the US using Israel much more than I see Israel using the US.”

        Sorry Walid, but I have to call bullshit on that one. I don’t think you could find the first fact to back that up……cause I’ve looked..and looked…and looked for 11 years…..and found no one who is anyone in the geo-political and military arena who agress with that.

      • Have you read the chapter in the Israel Lobby on the usefulness of Israel as a post-cold-war military ally?

      • American says:

        Further Walid…. not to belabor the point but let me give you the “only” three things that every US non zio and non Israeli realist and strategist will tell you matters to the US in the ME.

        First– To maintain “access” to the oil and gas region around the Persian Gulf. We don’t have to control it, we just have to make sure no one controls it who would deny us access.

        Second– To discourage the ME states from acquiring WMD’s because that perceived power might decrease our perceived power to ensure the First numero uno interest.

        Third– To reduce anti Americanism in the ME ,again for the sake of the number one interest of access to oil and gas in the Gulf, and because it would increase the incentive for ME states to pursue WMDs.

        That is it, that is our only and sole interest in the ME.

        Israel is a complete liability to this interest for obvious reasons no one even has to illustrate and explain.

        If the US was acting RATIONALLY, not politically, in it’s OWN INTEREST it would establish a relationship and pact with Iran, a relationship which would guarentee the US access and a strong and influential partner in the ME and would also delight Saudi because our pact with Iran, like our protection of Saudi would ensure those two would never have direct confrontations that destabalize either country.
        Iran not Israel is the desirable partner for the US as far as our US interest go.

        And of course Israel will do any and every thing they can to prevent any relationship or agreement between the US and Iran becuase Israle knows, believe me they know…that they are absolutely useless to the US.

        • Opti says:

          “Iran not Israel is the desirable partner for the US as far as our US interest go.”

          — The US tried this in the 50s (if my memory serves me). It backfired enormously with the overthrow of CIA’s Shah of Iran… caused blowback galore and the entire nation of Iran became enemies of US policy in ME.
          — To counter (self-created) threat (to regional control) coming from Iran, the US went to Saddam of Iraq and got him to kill 1,000,000 Iranians in Iraq-Iran war and secretly promoted invasion of Kuwait. Saddam stopped listening to US after that trick.
          — rest is history.

          Just shows how US over-uses (abuses) it’s “desirable partners” except for Israel. Maybe because Israel runs the relationship?

        • DBG says:

          Iran not Israel is the desirable partner for the US as far as our US interest go.

          Our dead and wounded soldiers, along w/ their families would probably disagree with you.

          US Deaths:

          link to atwar.blogs.nytimes.com

          link to realite-eu.org

          link to fas.org

          Israel saves:

          link to commentarymagazine.com

          link to israel21c.org

          link to yourjewishnews.com

        • Chaos4700 says:

          Ah yes, the “Ahmedinejad is the Cobra Commander” thesis raises its head again. All of the attacks on the US can be blamed on Iraq Iran!

        • DBG says:

          What are you blathering about? GI Joe’s again? Anyways, it is documented, just because you don’t like something, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

        • piotr says:

          Clearly, the access to Persian Gulf would be more secure if we had a better relationship with Persians. Of course, they need free traffic there too, UNLESS some moron will bomb them, and then they will close the strait to Persian Gulf, and no “Arrow System” will help.

          Picking fights with Iran kills our soldiers. Alienating Turkey, Pakistan and Russia makes our strategic position there precarious. We proudly hang by the thread. Additionally, this game of imperial dominance is just an expensive hobby. We would secure our goals and save a tremendous amount of money if we simply had amicable trade relationships in the region and nothing else. After all, China can buy all oil it wants.

          Recap: we do not have true interests in ME, but expensive hobbies. Israel is our most cherished hobby, “protecting Persian Gulf” is the second, and the first does not make the second one any easier. Given that America is blessed with energy resources, if we spend the trillion wasted in the sands of Mesopotamia to improve energy efficiency and increase the production of non-carbon electricity we would not need any oil from the other side of Atlantic.

          But hey! with the help of Israeli geniuses we now have access to marvelous technologies that can defend agaist home-made rockets and garage-made IEDs.

        • American says:

          We didn’t really try an agreement with Iran—we tried to put and keep in a US friendly stooge in the Shah.
          They overthrew him because he was a US stooge.
          Then we were mad because they kicked our stooge out so we went home and pouted and ignored Iran.

  4. Charon says:

    The Saudis have to at least pretend that they care. They are not going to cut ties with their biggest customer any time soon. The Saudis could care less about Palestinian statehood. The House of Saud has a very interesting backstory. This cult runs the land of the two mosques but they are not Muslims.

  5. Right, the wonderful ally Saudi Arabia, a beacon to all you lovers of human rights, The country that disseminates hate around the world. However, when these people bash the US and Israel, you love them.

    These Saudis who would have been demolished by Saddam if not for the US.

    Yes, the radical anti-Israel crowd already parrots what the wonderful human rights leaders of Iran say about Israel and the US and now you have a new hero. However, you have no shame.

    • RoHa says:

      “when these people bash the US and Israel, you love them.”

      Who’s claiming to love them? The story is simply that the US is pissing off one of its most important ME allies for the sake of Israel.

    • You’re playing games and you know it. No one here is defending Saudi Arabia’s civil/human rights record. Try harder.

    • Chaos4700 says:

      Saddam Hussein couldn’t have threatened my grandmother.

      Gee, yeah, because Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, etc. have NOTHING to say about human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, right? Nothing at all, huh?

      If it’s any consolation, LLI, I happen to think the Saudi government is just as awful and nasty as you are. You’re both oppressive police states who privilege a minority while the majority suffers, you both persecute religions that aren’t THE state religion and you’re both exerting a titanic, corrupting influence on the US government.

    • American says:

      You being silly LLI.

      What I said suggested was “real politic”..what the US would/should do if Our Own Interest…was all we were acting for in the ME.

      Has nothing to do with who is naught and who is nice in the ME….only what relationships with certain countries could do for us.

  6. Kathleen says:

    How many of the 9/11 terrorist came from Saudi Arabia? 14?

  7. thetumta says:

    Well we could all use $12.00 a gallon corn alcohol? I’m guessing the Saudis and OPEC will move to another currency standard to price oil. They really will have no choice. Major reduction in the standard of living here. Invest wisely if you can.