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The Special U.S.-Saudi Relationship Has Outlived Its Usefulness

The BriefGet Up To Speed
Over 70 years ago, in 1945, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and King Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia met onboard the USS Quincy.  A close relationship between the two countries has been maintained ever since, with oil and military and intelligence cooperation at its foundation.  But the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. shale revolution, human rights concerns, and diverging interests in the Middle East, have all put strains on this relationship.  Has this special relationship outlived its usefulness, or is it too important to walk away from?

CFR backgrounder on the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

Thursday, April 21, 2016
Newsteam Staff

Saudi Arabia has close defense and security ties with the United States anchored by long-standing military training programs and supplemented by ongoing high-value weapons sales and new critical infrastructure security cooperation and counterterrorism initiatives. These ties would be difficult and costly for either side to fully break or replace.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Christopher Blanchard

Is Saudi Arabia a trustworthy ally?

Monday, January 4, 2016
Room for Debate

Whether Saudi Arabia is a U.S. “ally” involves weighing the possible benefits of a close relationship such as military access rights against the disadvantages of the closeness, or the perception by others of such closeness.

Friday, September 30, 2016
Paul Pillar

Today, Saudi Arabia is not a good ally. U.S. policymakers would be wise to acknowledge this, and to focus on creating a less entangled, more transactional relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Monday, April 25, 2016
Emma Ashford

Pressure from human rights organizations to victims of the 9/11 attacks are helping erode the bond between these old political allies.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Alli McCracken

These days, when the United States and Saudi Arabia look at the region, they see two completely different landscapes and conflicting sets of interests. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Ray Takeyh

Despite very different values and tactical preferences, Washington and Riyadh continue to share important strategic interests, and it would be the height of folly to throw them overboard because of misguided reactions to recent events.

Thursday, January 21, 2016
David Pollack

While Tehran continues to sow anti-American terrorism across the Middle East, Riyadh holds the key to regional stability. This is not the time to back away from the House of Saud.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016
Michael Pregent

Despite what divides them it's more than likely that for the foreseeable future the United States and Saudi Arabia will find a way to muddle through -- cooperating where they can and agreeing to disagree where they must.

Thursday, April 21, 2016
Aaron David Miller

Saudi Arabia may be far from perfect, but if the United States turns its back on its allies, the main loser will not be Saudi Arabia but rather America’s national security and the trust other allies are willing to place in Washington.

Thursday, April 14, 2016
Michael Rubin

The overwhelming vote in Congress to override President Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) bill will haunt U.S.-Saudi relations for years. It is a reflection of the growing weakness of America’s oldest alliance in the Middle East that goes well beyond 9/11. 

Monday, October 3, 2016
Bruce Riedel

Subjecting foreign governments to U.S. jurisdiction for certain terrorism acts is misguided.

Monday, October 3, 2016
Perry Cammack

The Obama administration has deepened its rift with its Gulf allies over the ongoing conflict in Yemen, blocking a transfer of precision munitions to Saudi Arabia because of concerns about civilian casualties that administration officials attribute to poor targeting.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Helene Cooper

The United States should understand that it holds most of the cards and that it can use military assistance, among other tools, to push Saudi policy in a direction that favorable to U.S. interests.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Richard Sokolsky and Jeremy Shapiro

The only place Saudi tanks are in combat are along the Saudi–Yemeni border in the Kingdom's southwest where the Houthi rebels have been surprisingly effective in striking targets inside Saudi Arabia since the start of the war sixteen months ago.

Thursday, August 11, 2016
Bruce Riedel
Saudi Arabia and Iran

Workshop participants analyzed the Saudi-Iran rivalry—in particular its evolution, drivers, current manifestations, and plausible trajectories—while assessing policy options to help manage the conflict.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Helia Ighani

It’s far too dangerous to take sides in the proxy war between the two great Sunni and Shia states.  In fact, our interests are more aligned with Tehran’s.

Monday, January 4, 2016
Stephen Kinzer

For Saudi Arabia, the essence of the threat is not a potential Iranian invasion; rather, it is that Tehran consistently questions the House of Saud’s political and regional legitimacy.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016
Dina Esfandiary and Ariane Tabatabai

Saudi Arabia’s plans of privatizing the economy to overcome oil dependence hinge on opening up its political sphere.

Thursday, January 12, 2017
Mohamed Elmeshad

Saudi Arabia’s grand plan for economic reform might expand employment and transparency, but there would also be losers.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016
Matthew Reed
Trump Administration

The Saudis no doubt can find aspects of a possible Trump foreign policy that they can embrace and other aspects that may be sources of concern or disagreement. Riyadh will be waiting and watching to see whether rhetoric ultimately matches up to reality.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Gerald Feierstein

President-elect Donald Trump is very unlikely to restrict imports of crude oil from Saudi Arabia despite threats to do so issued during the election campaign.

Thursday, November 17, 2016
John Kemp