Why you should care
Because we should be getting more from our relationship with Riyadh.
All naturalized U.S. citizens must take an oath declaring “I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince.” And yet the nation’s allegiance is commanded by thousands of foreign royals — for nothing more forcefully dictates America’s foreign policy in the Middle East than the House of Saud.
The influence enjoyed by these foreign princes in our political counsels defies the spirit and letter of our oath of allegiance and commits us to hostility or estrangement from almost all other potential regional partners. It also introduces these princes’ inevitable use of their wealth and power to ingratiate themselves with major figures in American politics, thereby inserting Saudi royal interests in our hallowed halls of governance. If such an alliance is to continue, it is imperative that Saudi Arabia begin pulling its weight in a major way. For starters? Let it pay for an impractical, financially irresponsible and strategically ineffective border wall with Mexico.
The House of Saud remains an absolute monarchy, and America’s close association with it dirties our republic through contact with despotism and odious politics, characterized by the byzantine machinations of the royal court, where cutthroat maneuvering, rather than ballots, drives political change. Just last year, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched a vigorous and ruthless purge of his potential political rivals. Additionally, the American military’s close involvement with Riyadh makes us complicit in Saudi foreign policy, including the starvation of Yemen — drawing accusations of genocide — the blockade of Qatar and support of al-Qaida-linked fighters in Syria.
No country on the planet has done more to promote anti-American Islamist terrorism [than Saudi Arabia].
Andrew Bacevich, Boston University
Indeed, Saudi Arabia’s use of its black gold has been so pernicious for American interests that, as King’s College London professor Leif Wenar writes in Blood Oil, “the global jihad movement” currently plaguing the world “would not exist without that oil money.” Boston University history professor Andrew Bacevich further notes that “no country on the planet has done more to promote anti-American Islamist terrorism” than Saudi Arabia.
Moral appeals aside, there’s also a strategic foolishness to the U.S.-Saudi alliance. The kingdom has been dragging us into its centurieslong squabble with Iran; Tehran and Riyadh are locked in a contest for Middle Eastern supremacy. Although they currently make war against each other only by proxy, the intensity of their efforts to indirectly weaken each other’s position while strengthening their own has steadily increased in recent years. Our embroilment in this conflict is foolish, according to Bacevich. While “the primary U.S. interest in the Middle East is to promote stability,” our recent actions and interventions “have had just the opposite effect,” he says. Unfortunately, he continues, “siding with Saudi Arabia in its dispute with Iran promises to compound the error.”
Critically, Iran, with its more secular populace — as evidenced by recent popular demonstrations that are inconceivable in Saudi Arabia — makes more sense as a long-term ally.
“Once upon a time,” says Bacevich, “when the United States needed Middle Eastern oil, there might have been some excuse for ignoring Saudi duplicity.” But amid a domestic oil boom, “that excuse no longer pertains.” And yet we remain tied at the hip with Riyadh.
It’s time that American politicians make that Saudi money work for us, for even the most morally odious and politically quixotic of projects would be a better use of the money than its current deployment. In exchange for one “big, beautiful” border along America’s southern border, built for an estimated $20,000,000,000 — and perhaps with a high-speed rail line thrown in for good measure — the relationship with Saudi Arabia would finally begin to make sense.
If we’re going to continue to have Riyadh’s back in its regional adventures, it’s time to negotiate something more than a photo op with a glowing orb in return. Let’s start with $20 billion for a southern border wall. And the princes can throw in a high-speed rail line while they’re at it.
Devon Chenelle is a student journalist at the University of Notre Dame and a columnist for College Reaction.