Yes, Trump is a Saudi Arabia sycophant. But we only hear about that so much because fellow Saudi sycophants want US-Saudi relations to remain secretive.
Washington Post published an article by Ishaan Tharoor about how Trump’s most consistent foreign policy position is defending Saudi Arabia. However, what the article doesn’t acknowledge is that this has been true with every US president since 1945.
With this article, support for Saudi Arabia is seemingly shifting from a bipartisan agreement to more of a Republican position, which is a good thing too; this allows mainstream democrats to criticize Saudi Arabia more. Unfortunately though, I don’t really believe democrats when they attack Trump on this issue.
Tharoor’s analysis on US-Saud relations is myopic and incomplete. As mentioned earlier, the US and Saudi Arabia have mutually supported each other since 1945. Without acknowledging this, it would remain impossible to change the US’s relation to Saudi Arabia (if public sentiment could change that relationship at all).
Ishan Tharoor writes:
“The Senate passed an annual defense spending bill that had gone through the House of Representatives last week. […] It was stripped of a number of measures that lawmakers hoped would restrict American support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen. According to various reports, those provisions were “nonstarters” for a White House intent on blocking congressional oversight of arms sales and military assistance to the Saudis.”
This, again, is not unique. Obama, Bush, and every president since 1945, has supported Saudi Arabia.
It’s not just that the president always supports Saudi Arabia: on a structural level, the US government is designed to continue support of Saudi Arabia. Their political economies are inextricably linked. This means that Democrat congresspeople can verbally support Yemen, knowing that nothing will be able to change.
“The bulk of legislation vetoed by Trump during his presidency has involved congressional attempts to censure Saudi Arabia. In April, Trump vetoed a bipartisan resolution from Congress that invoked its war powers authority and demanded an end to U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen. In July, he vetoed a trio of congressional resolutions that tried to stop him from bypassing legislative oversight and selling billions of dollars of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. A year ago, Trump’s envoys also blocked a U.N. Security Council Resolution drafted by Britain that demanded accountability for war crimes in Yemen.”
This, again, is not unique to Trump.
Part of the reason Saudi Arabia is falling at Trump’s feet, is because he is more vocal about the “quiet parts” of US foreign policy than other presidents. At the same time, the global community is becoming more skeptical and critical of Saudi Arabia. With both of these things happening concurrently, it becomes easy for democrats to lay the Saudi Arabia blame on Trump.
The tensions and contradictions that come with the US-Saudi alliance are more pronounced now, and people are more aware of them now.
Most presidents would continue double-talking about Saudi Arabia, and downplaying our connection to them. This leaves the door open for Democrats to claim they’re the anti-Saud party.
“When Trump is not axing legislation he deems hostile to Saudi concerns, he’s speaking on the kingdom’s behalf. That was on show this month after a gunman who was a Saudi national killed three people at a naval base in Florida. Trump — who is so quick to cast aspersions on Muslim assailants and the dangers of the lands where they or their parents came from — conspicuously leaped to Riyadh’s defense.”
Again, Tharoor makes a good point here, but it’s missing the bigger picture. What the article doesn’t mention is the Saudi national who shot up the naval base was a member of the Saudi military. If a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps shot up a military base in Florida, the US would bomb Tehran the same day.
However, this isn’t unique to Trump either.
I wanted to highlight two elements of US-Saud relations that illustrate my point: this is a US problem – and consequently a capitalism problem – not a Trump problem.
First, I alluded to “1945” a couple times. The reason this year is so important is because it’s when FDR secretly met with the King of Saudi Arabia and made a deal. The US exchanged a pledge of military support to Saudi Arabia in exchange for oil.
History published a brief synopsis about the meeting:
“A secret war-time meeting. Fear of an oil shortage. An exchange of gifts (including a wheelchair) and a budding friendship. When Franklin D. Roosevelt met with Abdul Aziz ibn Saud on February 14, 1945 aboard a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Suez Canal, it was the first time a U.S. president had ever met with a Saudi Arabian king, and the encounter laid a foundation for U.S.-Saudi relations that would continue for generations—and ensure U.S. access to Saudi oil reserves.
“The principal reason for the meeting, which lasted several hours, according to Scott Montgomery, author and affiliate faculty member in the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington, had to do with the prospect of a Jewish homeland in the Middle East, with Roosevelt trying to persuade the king to accept 10,000 Jews in Palestine.”
This helps explain why Saudi Arabia indirectly supports Israel, when most Arabic and Islamic countries don’t support Israel.
But more important than the creation of Israel for the US-Saud relationship, is oil. History continues:
“Another key reason for the meeting: oil.
‘In the late 1930s, two U.S. oil companies in partnership, Chevron and Texaco, had discovered enormous volumes of oil in the eastern part of the kingdom,’ Montgomery says. ‘Subsequent geologic analyses showed that the entire center of gravity in world oil production and supply would soon shift to the Persian Gulf, to Saudi Arabia in particular.'”
Basically, the US under FDR became a fief nation to Saudi Arabia. The US pledged their military to Saudi Arabia – something that vassals did for their feudal overlords – in exchange for oil, which is the most valuable global commodity – similar to overlords granting land to the vassals.
That’s not to say Saudi Arabia is in the power position over the United States. The United States is the glue that holds the imperialist, capitalist right-wing alliance together. The US is the hub and Saudi Arabia is a spoke.
But, Saudi Arabia does have unique leverage over the US in the form of oil.
There’s another element to this: the Saud-Wahhab Pact. In 1744, there was an agreement between the House of Saud and Wahhab, who was the fundamentalist religious theorist for Wahhabism, which in turn led to Salafism – both closely related ideologies that are the foundation of ISIS, Al-Nusra Front, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, and other radical, far-right, fundamentalist Muslim groups.
The House of Saud agreed to let Wahhab organize the religious elements of society, if he left political and economic affairs to the Sauds.
To this day, the Saudis and Wahabbist and Salafist extremist movements are aligned, which makes the US much more implicated in the Islamist extremist terrorist groups of the world than they’d ever openly admit.
The other factor in Saudi Arabia relations that is glossed over is 9/11.
The US released their final report on 9/11 at the end of 2002 – the “Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities before and after the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001” [links: 1, 2, 3]
However, the final section of the report – the so-called “28 pages” – remained classified until 2016.
In the 28 Pages, it’s revealed that some of the hijackers were funded by people with ties to the Saudi government, two of whom were in Saudi intelligence. They were also receiving aid in the US by workers at the Saudi embassy and a Saudi consulate in LA.
In 2003, there were efforts to release the 28 Pages by some, but they were immediately stopped by Republican senators, who said releasing them said it would effect ongoing counter-terrorism efforts. This doublespeak is so blatant: the implication is that by releasing the document, it would give too much information to terrorists. In reality, the way it would effect their “counter-terrorism” efforts is by making Americans realize their counter-terrorism is a joke and a sham.
But when the papers were released in 2016, people already pretty much knew the Saudis were involved in some way. Most of the attackers were Saudi, excluding the heavily ideologically motivated pilots who were from many different countries. But all of the supporting actors – the ones who kept the plane cabins hostage and whatnot – were Saudi.
At this point in history, people have wised up a bit. If another 9/11 happened, people would immediately point the finger at Saudi Arabia (the US government still wouldn’t though!)
And, for the skeptical: this didn’t just detour into 9/11 truther land – this is all confirmed stuff. Saudi Arabia even tweeted a threat to 9/11 Canada in 2018:
Ultimately, the takeaway is this: Saudi Arabia is closely linked to the US government, and this post only scratches the surface. Even knowing everything highlighted in this post doesn’t fully explain why the US has such a perpetual deference to Saudi Arabia.
But, democrats are aware of how skeptical Americans are of Saudi Arabia. And since they’re perpetually playing the underdog and governing from behind, they’re able to leverage the US-consensus position on Saudi Arabia against Donald Trump specifically.
Once a Democrat is in power, or even a Republican who the Democratic elite like, I don’t think the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia will change. If that relationship does change, we will surely hear about it. More likely, those relationships will retreat back to the shadows of discourse, and be forgotten by many.