SAUDI-AMERICAN RELATIONS: IS THE 'RIFT' FOR REAL?
"The relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia is many things, and I am particularly grateful for the comments that His Royal Highness has just made about some media speculation versus the reality of the friendship that we share. Our relationship is strategic, it is enduring, and it covers a wide range of bilateral and regional issues. I want to remind everyone of President Obama’s statement at the United Nations. The President said that he will use all elements of U.S. power, including force, to secure the core interests of the United States in the Middle East. He said the United States will confront external aggression against our partners, as we did for Kuwait in the Gulf War. We will ensure the free flow of energy from this region to the world. We will dismantle terrorist networks that threaten our people. We will not tolerate the development or use of weapons of mass destruction. These are core U.S. interests, and we share these interests with Saudi Arabia, and we intend to work on these with Saudi Arabia. We also pursue together – Saudi Arabia and the United States have an incredible deep relationship. It goes way beyond one or two countries and one or two efforts. We do joint work in military planning; in enhancing renewable energy supplies; in energy stability and security; in counterterrorism; in critical infrastructure protection; in trade and investment; in science and technology; in enhancing and dealing with and addressing the medical attention to health pandemics; in agriculture and food security; in education and student exchanges. This is a deep relationship and it has endured now for more than 70 years and it will endure well into the future".American Secretary of State John Forbes Kerry in Riyadh, "Remarks with Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal." U.S. Department of State. 4 November 2013, in www.state.gov. It is difficult to not read into the remarks made by the American Secretary of State Senator Kerry on the tarmac in Saudi Arabia that there is a rift in the relations between the two powers. I do believe that the words of welcome made by the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal can sotto voce, be read in that sense:
"A true relationship between friends is based on sincerity, candor, and frankness rather than mere courtesy. Within this perspective, it’s only natural that our policies and views might see agreement in some areas and disagreement in others. That’s perfectly normal in any serious relationship that spans a wide range of issues" 1.And of course looking at matters from a unbiased perspective, it is not altogether unusual that the Saudis would view their relations with the American Administration in not the very best light. Indeed, the Financial Times correspondent David Gardner speaks of: "the near apoplexy with which Saudi Arabia and Israel, Washington’s closest allies in the Middle East, greeted Mr Obama’s decision not to punish the Assad regime for the chemical attack and to pursue detente with Tehran 2." Given the rather incoherent state of American diplomacy in the area, this disenchantment by Riyadh is hardly unexpected. The very same can of course be said of the Israelis as well. However, notwithstanding these evident signs of discontent by these two close American allies, the fact of the matter is that neither power should be allowed or granted a veto over American policy vis-`a-vis Persia and on the ongoing civil war in Syria. Au fond, neither Saudi Arabia or Israel has the best perspective on the danger or lack thereof as per Persia's nuclear programme. Similarly Riyadh's evident eagerness to over-throw the Assad Regime, should not blind anyone to the fact that the forces that Riyadh and its fellow Gulf Monarchies in Syria are backing are (to put it very mildly indeed) no improvement at all on Bashar Assad. Indeed, one can very well believe that in Syria, the Saudis are making the same erratum, that they committed in Afghanistan in the 1980's and 1990's: supporting extremist forces for reason of internal Saudi politics 3. Simply put: the endemic blindness of Saudi domestic policy, inevitably results in a similar blindness in Saudi foreign policy 4. And while as per Secretary Kerry's recent statement on Egypt seems to show that the two powers are now much more aligned as per policy towards that country, there is a 'rift' indeed insofar as on the other matters discussed above. However, this rift, while indeed 'real' is not substantive or indeed very important in the context of the overall relationship. Since, faute de mieux, Riyadh, like Tel Aviv has no place to go as per regional or indeed supra-regional allies or alliances. Certainly not for example Moskva or for that matter Peking. However much both powers might like to complain about the maladroit style of American diplomacy in the past ten years or so, neither power is willing to go it alone without the benefit of American backing. 1. Department of State, op. cit. 2. David Gardner, "Middle East balance of power tilts back in Iran’s favour." The Financial Times. 31 October 2013, in www.ft.com. 3. On this aspect of Saudi policy, see: Frederic Wehrey, "What to Make of Saudi Hand-Wringing." The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 15 October 2013, in http://carnegieendowment.org 4. Frederic Wehrey, "The Eastern Province: A Bellwether for the Kingdom." The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 15 August 2013, in www.http://carnegieendowment.org