The Future of U.S.-Saudi Relations – By F. Gregory Gause III July/August 2016 Issue


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The relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia has come under unprecedented strains in recent years. U.S. President Barack Obama has openly questioned Riyadh’s value as an ally, accusing it of provoking sectarian conflict in the region. According to The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, when Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s prime minister, asked Obama whether he saw the Saudis as friends, the president responded, “It’s complicated.” Many Americans continue to believe that the Saudi government was involved in the September 11, 2001, attacks, although the 9/11 Com­mission found no evidence of institutional or senior-level Saudi support. The Senate has even passed a bill that would allow Americans to sue the Saudi government in U.S. courts for its alleged support of terrorism.

The Saudis have been equally intemperate in their recent comments. The kingdom’s officials have threatened to sell off hundreds of billions of dollars of U.S. assets if Congress passes the bill, even though such a move would hurt Saudi Arabia much more than it would the United States. And they have made little effort to hide their contempt for Obama, whom they see as too willing to jettison old friends in order to cozy up to enemies. Prince Turki al-Faisal—the most outspoken senior member of the ruling family and a former head of Saudi foreign intelligence and former ambassador to the United States—has accused Obama of “throw[ing Saudi Arabia] a curve ball” because he has “pivoted to Iran.” The prince went on to say that the Saudis would “continue to hold the American people as [an] ally”—but implied that they no longer view the American president as one.

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