The Ugly Alliance: Can we justify US/Saudi relations?

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By Javan Latson 

For 70 years, our country has maintained an alliance with Saudi Arabia built on oil and security, but is that enough to justify our relationship? It has often been said that Saudi Arabia is one of our few friends in the Middle East and that they are a key partner in the war on terror, however, we need to reduce the support we give them, and stop supplying them with so much political and military aid. We can’t continue to support a regime that exports radical ideologies, oppresses their citizens, and works against our interests in the region.

The U.S has placed several nations under economic sanctions because of human rights violations. Cuba, North Korea, and Burma are all countries that are currently paying the price for their discriminatory domestic policies. One must wonder why Saudi Arabia isn’t also reprimanded by the U.S. for how they treat their citizens. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy that is governed by a strict interpretation of Sharia law. There are no formal democratic institutions in the country since political parties are forbidden, and until last year women weren’t allowed to vote. Torture and arbitrary arrests are common and many people are held in custody for long periods of time before trial. This is a country where one can be beheaded for homosexuality, apostasy, armed robbery, adultery, and even sorcery. Stoning and death by firing squad are other means of execution, and most are held in public. It’s entirely hypocritical for the U.S. to keep turning a blind eye to this barbarism when other countries are punished for the same behavior.

Despite horrid domestic laws, Saudi Arabia’s foreign policies are no better, and we suffer because of many of their policy decisions. The Saudis spend millions of dollars on the creation of religious schools in order to spread fundamentalist Wahhabi Islam throughout the world. These schools tend to be vehemently anti-western/anti-American and many of their graduates become recruits for radical Islamic terror groups. Organizations like Al-Haramain and Al Waqf Al-Islami are examples of Saudi “charities” which finance the spread of radical Islam and support imams that preach this strict interpretation of Islam. The effect of these schools can especially be seen in traditionally moderate Kosovo, which has become a pipeline for jihadists following a large influx of Saudi funded mosques and imams.  Many EU countries have made the connection between the spread of Wahhabism with extremism yet our government has made no efforts to pressure the Saudis to reconsider their missionary work.

Furthermore, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital, has not been a valuable asset in the current conflict against ISIS and has actually done much to destabilize the region. The U.S. and the Saudis agree that President Assad must step down in order to for Syria to transition towards peace. However, we have different goals and objectives in the region. Our main priority is defeating the Islamic State through an aerial campaign and by supporting “moderate” rebels with training and weaponry. Although ISIS is seen as a threat by many western nations including the U.S., one would think that the Saudis would contribute more to the campaign due to their geographic proximity. The Saudis have a defense budget of about 46 billion dollars and are the top buyer of U.S. weaponry, meaning they are equipped to be a key partner in the coalition. Despite this, they have contributed virtually nothing in the air campaign. On the ground, Saudi Arabia finances a great deal of the training programs for rebel groups, but they also support Islamist groups like Al-Nusra who we deem terrorists. While we are conducting the majority of combat operations against ISIS, Saudi Arabia is currently engaged in Yemen against Houthi Rebels. This intervention has not produced any positive results but has destabilized the region and created a foothold for Al-Qaeda. To make matters worse it hurts our nation’s reputation abroad when someone is indiscriminately bombing civilians with American hardware. All this does is fuel the fire for a community already resentful of the United States and helps provide the propaganda extremists thrive on, that America is a tyrant that supports oppressive regimes.

There is a lot of money to be made from our alliance with the Saudis, as they are the number one importer of American weapons, providing an economic angle to the partnership. Though a Saudi U.S. alliance is certainly profitable, can we continue to justify our support for them purely because it’s good for business? Our nation has supported some very questionable governments but it’s time for us to reevaluate our strategies for the region and whether or not the Saudis should play a role in our policies in the Middle East. Instead of being a symbiotic and positive relationship, ours is a parasitic one with Saudi Arabia. We don’t need to maintain a close partnership with the Saudis when can work with other states in the area such as Egypt, the UAE, Qatar, and Israel. These states may not all be ideal western democracies, but they are in strategic locations and for the most part work well with U.S. interests. Three of these states are Sunni, and all buy large amounts of American weaponry, which serves in the interests of those in the defense industry. Also, current trends in the oil market have lowered the price of crude oil to the point that we no longer need to depend on Saudi Arabia for energy. We can attempt to develop or improve relationships with the other members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (especially those in Latin America) and free ourselves from the potential entanglements of Saudi energy dependency. It’s time for our nation to reevaluate who we consider our friends and not allow the past to dictate how we handle future and present events in this ever changing world.

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