“Patience is a virtue,” according to an ancient piece of wisdom. There is no doubt that for the eight long years of Barack Obama’s presidency, Riyadh’s patience was tested to the max by an administration that seemed — intentionally or not — adamant on punishing allies and rewarding foes.
Yet the Saudis persisted, and like a true and solid ally, they took it on the chin. They refused to follow the Iranian model of exploiting such situations to their benefit by advocating anti-Americanism, and kept on giving honest and valuable advice to Washington.
Toward the end of Obama’s tenure last year, America failed to respond adequately when the Houthis attacked a U.S. Navy ship in Bab Al-Mandab no less than three times. At that point, it became clear that the “Obama Doctrine” jeopardized the position of moderate U.S. allies in the region, empowered rogue states such as Iran, allowed the Syrian regime to continue murdering its own people, and shattered the image of the U.S. as a superpower that is able to maintain order and intervene for the sake of peace and stability worldwide.
At that point, it seemed Riyadh and Washington could not have been any further apart regarding their perspectives on regional affairs. Yet Obama was replaced by a president who also could not have been further apart from him.
Relations back on track
It was ironic to see how Obama went from hero to zero over his two terms. One cannot help but remember all the optimism that accompanied his rise to power, particularly in the Arab world after his now-famous Cairo speech. Yet given that all his talk of a “new beginning” nearly brought an end to the region as we know it, most Arabs now hopefully know that actions speak louder than words.
President Donald Trump may be criticized for his rhetoric, and he may not be all hugs and kisses like his predecessor was. But when it comes to the stuff that really matters to us — his policies — one cannot but give them two thumbs up.
If anything was proven during the recent meeting between Trump and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — the first Arab/Muslim official to meet him at the White House — it is that historic Saudi-U.S. relations are back on track. As such, we should now expect a serious joint effort to restore stability to our region.
I say this not only because of the change that has occurred in Washington, but because of the change that has occurred in Saudi Arabia over the past two years. Today there is a young, dynamic, proactive leadership in Riyadh that the new US administration can work with.
The new Saudi spirit, embodied in the deputy crown prince, is one that means business, and has made reform and progression its main mandate (compared to Tehran, which has only used the money from the nuclear deal to further spread chaos and terror in the region).
Riyadh has also established, and is home to, the Islamic military alliance to combat Daesh, something the Trump administration has been clear it intends to pursue seriously. The White House understands the importance of having Saudi Arabia, as the land of the Two Holy Mosques, on its side in such delicate matters.
It is easy for a country such as Iran — which harbors and supports Shiite militias and Al-Qaeda leaders — to say placing additional security measures against its citizens is an attack on all Muslims. But this is simply not true. Each country has the right to secure its borders, especially when it comes to countries that do not share biometric or intelligence data with it.
Saudi Arabia can play a vital role in both offering correct advice and weighing in when it comes to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This will prove crucial for Trump if he intends to fulfill what he said about brokering a historic deal to end this longstanding conflict.
Riyadh can also revert back to having a reliable ally with significant influence to help end the conflict in Yemen and push through a political solution that can restore a legitimate government, end the misery of the Yemeni people, and launch a massive reconstruction campaign that will bring back peace and prosperity.
*This blog was originally published in Arab News.