The Enduring Saudi-American Relationship Important Now More Than Ever

In light of two recent contretemps concerning the Saudi execution of 47 alleged terrorists and the possibility that several lower level Saudi officials may have had prior knowledge of the 9/11 attack, it might seem hopeless to make the case for future good relations with Saudi Arabia. This becomes even more true with regards to the Saudi record with regards to migrant workers, women and the LBGTQ community and the role of over 1,000 Saudis allegedly fighting for ISIS. And yet, a powerful argument can be made for the United States to maintain and even increase strong relations with Saudi Arabia. First, this is one of the longest relationship for the United States. Its origins lay in the visit of an ailing President Franklin Roosevelt to meet Saudi King Ibn Saud in February 1945 after his visit to the Yalta conference. The famous deal of trading Saudi oil for American security has served both countries well for over 70 years, a huge feat in the modern world. In a chaotic and anarchic world where authoritarian powers like Russia, China, Iran and possibly Turkey are on the rise, we cannot be picky in choosing our allies. Indeed, historically, democratic states have repeatedly benefitted from allying with more authoritarian states. In World War I our two democratic allies, England and France, openly aligned with Tsarist Russia ruled by a powerful, reactionary and autocratic Tsar Nicholas II. Without the Russian Army's failed invasion of East Prussia in August 1914, Paris would likely have been seized by Imperial Germany before the year was out. The war would then have been lost long before the United States would even get into the war in 1917. In World War II, the British and Americans aligned with Stalin's Soviet Union, which had just sent huge numbers of people to Siberian labor camps and carried out the bloody Great Purges. Yet, this unlikely move saved the West and provided the valuable time before the United States would become fully engaged in the war after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Victory in the Cold War over the Soviet Union similarly depended not only on our Western allies but also on aligning with Mao Zedong's radical People's Republic of China. This occurred during the famous visit of President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to Beijing in 1972. Saudi Arabia is improving under King Salman and his energetic, modernizing 30-year-old son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Women now are allowed to vote and run for office. Fully 200,000 Saudis are currently studying abroad, including 60,000 in American universities. Many Jews can now enter Saudi Arabia. The Deputy Crown Prince favors women driving, diversifying the economy and finding five million new jobs for the 70 percent of the population that is under 30. And, even in this time of oil decline, Saudi Arabia, with the world's greatest oil reserves, has over 600 billion dollars in reserve funds. Finally, a major question for the next United States President is who will align with the United States to fight the rise of an authoritarian, fundamentalist Islamic Republic of Iran likely to have nuclear weapons within a few years? The Grand Ayatollah Khameini has repeatedly called for destroying the state of Israel and has defended the popular slogan, "death to America." His chief of staff recently called for rebuilding the Persian Empire with its capital in Baghdad. The Iranians have forces (Shiite militias, Hezbollah, Iranian units) fighting for the Shiite crescent from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya to Iran. In turn, Saudi Arabia has quadrupled its military spending from $20 billion ten years ago to a remarkable $80+ billion this past year. Its forces are fighting the Houthis in Yemen and providing support to forces fighting pro-Iranian forces throughout the region. Saudi advisors have been photographed with the Israeli Director of Foreign Relations Dore Gold and informal talks between our two countries seem underway. A strong relationship with Saudi Arabia is even more important when the likely future trend in American foreign policy is pushing against a powerful American role in the world. As Saudi Arabia allies with such key Sunni nations as Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates and initiates a possible quiet relationship with Israel, we badly need to prevent a rising Iran from dominating such a vital area in the world as the Middle East. A trusted and reforming long-term ally such as Saudi Arabia continues to be imperative for America's future role in the region and the world.