An analysis by the Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (CDHR):
One of the world’s best kept secrets,the lucrativecontracts between the democratic America and autocratic Saudi Arabia, is crumbling due to varieties of reasons, including cunning manoeuvres (manipulations due to cultural differences and business practices,) to heightened tensions, to new energy sources and to a wide range of more stable, profitable and relevant economic and strategic options. From its formalised inception in 1945, the U.S./Saudi relationship has been based on mistrust and, on the Saudi side, lack of both viable protectors and concern for evolving human ingenuity with its consequential political, economic and social impacts.
Despite its original specific objectives – U.S. companies’ domination over Saudi oil and construction of the state’s infrastructure in exchange for U.S. government protection for the Saudi oligarchs – the contract was expanded to cover a wide range of political and strategic areas, which successive monarchs cleverly utilized to spread, strengthen and export their religious zealotry and political repression, which resulted in anti-American reactions in the Arab East and beyond.
However, due to its financial lucrativeness, the U.S./Saudi pact survived regional threats, such as Arab nationalism and the devastating economic and social fallout from the Saudi-led oil embargo in 1973. It also survived the traumas of the mortifying terrorist attacks carried out by mostly Saudi nationals on September 11, 2001 (9/11) – an event that not only permanently changed American society, but affected the international community. Furthermore, the relationship could not escape the fallout of the unforeseen Arab masses’ pro-democracy and anti-autocracy uprising (the Arab Spring) where the U.S. and its Western allies had to take sides.
Due to economic and energy exigencies and fewer options for the U.S., the U.S./Saudi relationship weathered the battering events mentioned above. However, the accumulative fallout from these events has profoundly destabilised and exposed the tacit trade-off upon which the eight-decade old profit-driven pact was founded: sacrificing American democratic and moral values to protect a cruel system founded on social injustice, religious intolerance and a sectarian law (Shariah,) which considers the individual’s right to choose antithetical to God’s will, thus blasphemous.
Badly scarred and weakened by prior events, the U.S./Saudi relationship hit rock bottom after the gruesome murder of The Washington Post Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018. Although unspeakable punishment for critics and human rights advocates is standard procedure of the Saudi regime, the brazenness of Khashoggi’s extrajudicial assassination generated unprecedented condemnation of the Saudi monarchy by foes and friends alike, including the Saudis’ closest ally, the U.S. Combined with ongoing U.S. support for the Saudi-led onslaught against Yemen, Khashoggi’s murder coalesced unparalleled anti-Saudi support globally, especially in the U.S. media, among the public and, more ominously, in the U.S. Congress, where a significant number of powerful bipartisan lawmakers not only condemned Saudi behaviour and branded the future king as “dangerous, unstable, crazy and a wrecking ball,” but further alienated the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government from each other.
In light of these developments, including destabilizing Saudi foreign policies, erratic leadership and unprecedented public denunciations by powerful American politicians, it is inconceivable that the U.S./Saudi relationship can be restored to its pre-Khashoggi-assassination status.
Regardless of the future status of the U.S./Saudi relationship, the American government and businesses are in superior positions and have more profitable economic and strategic options to choose from now than they had during the Saudi-led oil embargo in 1973 and when ideologically inspired Saudi nationals attacked the symbols of American economic and military power in September 2001. On the other hand, the Saudi rulers are struggling to maintain economic and political stability resulting from a far-reaching decline in oil revenues, unprecedented discordance within the ruling family, costly regional conflicts and rising expectations of an increasingly restless population, most of which is below the age of 30.
Irrespective of the current U.S. Administration’s disputes with countries like China, Mexico and Canada over “tariffs and imbalanced trade,” the American economy needs global markets and natural resources, without which the American standard of living could plummet and U.S. influence economically, politically and militarily could be overcome by undemocratic competitors like expansionist China. This potential possibility can be avoided if seen for what it is, a race against time. There is no shortage of opportunities for American companies’ ingenuity and investment in Asia, Africa and Latin America, where untapped human potential and natural resources abound.
The deterioration of the U.S./Saudi relationship is representative of a larger gloomy future for the Middle East. Caught up in raging self-inflicted violence, political instability, social unrest, rampant corruption, unwillingness to operate within globally recognized and practised business and political norms, the Middle East (with the exception of Israel) is not only becoming an increasingly undesirable region for business, but a global pariah.
Dr Ali H Alyami, Director of CDHR