The relationship between Saudi Arabia and the US has been shaken by ongoing crises, such as the rising crude oil prices; the Russian-Ukrainian war, which has exacerbated the food security concerns of many countries; and upheaval in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and other countries. These issues have prompted the US administration to strengthen its ties with Saudi Arabia following a visit by President Joe Biden to the Kingdom to address economic, social and environmental issues to foster sustainable development.
Diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and the US date back to 1933 and it has been almost 80 years since the founder of Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz, met with President Franklin D. Roosevelt to lay the foundations for a post-Second World War Middle East.
The oil-for-security myth is a thing of the past. We need to focus on sustainability and deliver peace and prosperity for Saudi Arabia and the US, for our peoples and for the wider world.
As Saudi Arabia develops, Saudi-US relations can provide a partnership around food security, energy, stability and regional growth to deliver this peace and prosperity. We must redefine the contours of the next eight decades of this critical alliance.
The Jeddah Communique on Saudi-US relations emphasized the pivotal role the historic partnership has played in promoting regional stability and prosperity. The Saudi-US partnership has been a cornerstone of regional security for decades and it has affirmed that the two countries share a vision of a more secure, stable and prosperous region, interconnected with the wider world.
Saudi-US relations also affirm the importance of food and energy security and climate cooperation. They underscore the importance of strategic economic cooperation and investment, particularly in light of the current crisis in Ukraine and its consequences, and reaffirm the countries’ commitment to a stable global energy market. The US has welcomed Saudi Arabia’s commitment to supporting global oil market balancing for sustained economic growth.
Less positively, for many years, Saudi Arabia was singled out by the US as bearing much of the blame for climate change. Nor should we forget the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act or the No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act.
The American administration has realized that the road to power must lead back to the Middle East
Turki Faisal Al-Rasheed
In my book “Ma Katb,” published in 2010 during the US occupation of Iraq, I wrote that the US would flee in defeat from Iraq and go through years of economic recession. Within a short period, it would understand the consequences of occupying Iraq and it would seek to regain its self-control. In politics, as well as in nature, there is no vacuum and other powerful countries would seek to fill the vacuum.
Now, the American administration has realized that the road to power must lead back to the Middle East. Saudi Arabia plays a pivotal role in the game of power. The US’ gradual withdrawal from the region has led to China becoming the largest trading partner of the Gulf countries, while Russia has become an important player in Syria and Libya. Currently, Iran has extensive influence in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and northern Yemen.
Today, Saudi Arabia in particular and the Gulf in general are more independent, with Arab states willing and able to act without regard for a superpower patron. Furthermore, the Middle East is internally characterized by several regional powers, with Arab power shifting from the traditional heartlands of the Levant and Egypt to the Gulf, with non-Arab states such as Turkey, Israel and Iran also having increasing involvement.
The Arab world believes that the US simply does not have the resources or the political capabilities to play the role of a dominant power in the Middle East. Arab regional powers no longer believe that the US can or will act militarily to defend them.
This is reminiscent of the University of Arizona’s special panel discussion, “Pressing the Reset Button for US-Saudi Arabia Relations: Establishing Cooperation Beyond Oil and the Military into Agriculture, Food, Education and Society.” This session was held on Nov. 9, 2016 — the day Donald Trump was announced as the winner of that year’s US presidential election.
The panel discussion emphasized the importance of resetting Saudi-US relations beyond oil and military purchases by focusing on sustainability for the common good. Further collaboration between the US and Saudi Arabia in particular, and the Arab world in general, is vital to achieving the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
It bears repeating that the oil-for-security myth is a thing of the past. The way forward after pressing the reset button on Saudi-US relations is to focus on food security, energy security and environmental, economic and social issues, for the common good.
Saudi-US relations have survived many serious difficulties and the two countries’ relationship is crucial for global stability. It is a relationship that should not be taken for granted: It must be constantly nurtured or otherwise it will drift away.
• Turki Faisal Al-Rasheed is adjunct professor at the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, part of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Arizona. He is the author of “Public Governance and Strategic Management Capabilities: Public Governance in the Gulf States.”