It’s Time to Cut the Saudis Loose

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It’s Time to Cut the Saudis Loose

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman believed to have ordered Khashoggi kidnapping (
Al Arabiya screenshot)

Steven Metz calls for downgrading the U.S.-Saudi relationship:

For the United States, the strategic costs of the Saudi relationship have come to outweigh the benefits, as the tensions and unnaturalness of the partnership make it increasingly intolerable.

Metz is right about all of this. I have been saying for years that the relationship with Riyadh was noxious and no longer served U.S. interests. Saudi Arabia is a liability that the U.S. can no longer afford, and continued indulgence of this despotic client is harmful to our interests and to regional stability. Distancing the U.S. from the Saudis is long overdue, and it is unfortunate that it has taken the horrors of the war on Yemen and the murder and torture of regime critics to make Americans see the need for it.

A major change in the relationship with the Saudis will not happen while Trump is president. Trump’s unquestioning, enthusiastic embrace of the Saudis has opened the relationship up to more scrutiny and criticism than it has received since 2001, and his habit of putting Saudi interests first has been politically toxic for him. The U.S.-Saudi relationship is under tremendous strain today because the costs of the relationship are obvious and growing and whatever benefits it may have provided in the past are dwindling. That provides the 2020 Democratic field with a ready-made issue that they can seize on to distinguish themselves from the president if they are willing to take advantage of it. Some of the leading opponents of the war on Yemen in the Senate now running for president are best-positioned to lead the attack on Trump’s pro-Saudi favoritism, but I suspect they won’t be the only ones.

Downgrading the relationship with Saudi Arabia will almost certainly entail rethinking and changing U.S. relations with at least some of the other Gulf states as well. If the Saudis have become a liability on account of Yemen and their other reckless behavior, so have the United Arab Emirates. If we are cutting off arms supplies to one of the coalition’s members, we need to cut them off to all of them. There are many powerful interests that will fight these changes, but the coalition that has mobilized against the war on Yemen has shown that it can resist and overcome intense opposition from the Pentagon, weapons manufacturers, and the Saudi and Emirati lobbyists.

The relationship with the Saudis is not a proper alliance and never has been. Our government has no formal obligations to defend them or support them in their foreign wars, and that should make it comparatively simple to withdraw the military assistance that the U.S. has provided them. Ending an increasingly costly client relationship is sound policy, and in this case it is also the right thing to do on principle.

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