Even in the Middle East, the mention of Saudi can bring anger to the faces of the Arabs, at least for those that know their history. Many see the alliance between Saudi and the U.S. as the catalyst for all the problems in the region. This is far from the truth since most are sectorial and tribal conflicts but the argument is most often made about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict where Saudi backs the U.S., who supports Israel.
In the U.S., the close relationship with Saudi is somewhat of a phenomenon. When you hear stories about women being forbidden to drive cars or leave the house unaccompanied, prohibition of music and movies, the separation of men and women at all times, and public stoning, it could not be farther from the U.S. lifestyle. So why the friendship?
Since the oil embargoes of the 1960’s and 70’s, it’s been normal to attribute U.S. alliance to Saudi as American necessity for oil. Yet, not only has the global market supply for oil changed dramatically, but the U.S. receives the majority of its supply from Canada and the rest from Latin America. The Kingdom of Saudi only supplies 8.1% according to the Energy Information Administration.
On Friday, when Saudi rejected its seat on the UN Security Council charging that the Council has failed in its obligations toward aiding the people of Syria against President Bashar, the world took notice. Saudi attributed the Council as the catalyst for enabling Assad’s regime to orchestrate mass killings of its people, involving chemical weapons, without facing any consequences.
As conflict in Syria rages, the Council remains divided over taking action against Assad’s government, which aligns itself with Russia, China, and Iran or the Syrian opposition fighters whom are backed by Sunni states in the Middle East, most notably Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. If the Council chooses a side it not only would be choosing one sect over another but also one terrorist organization over another. Hezbollah is a Shiia Islamic militant group that fights for Assad’s regime while Al-Qaeda is a Sunni Islamic militant group fighting alongside the Syrian opposition. The only thing the two groups align on is their mutual hate for Israel and its existence.
Saudi’s public denouncement of the seat was meant to attract attention. In the region, Saudi is the leader, not only because it houses the most important holy site in Islam, Mecca, but also because it’s economic transactions have been regional models for growth. Saudi backing the U.S. includes the support of the other countries in the region. Therefore, the Saudi Kingdom expects to be heard and apart of the world’s decisions.
The war between Shiia Iran and Sunni Saudi is currently being fought on the battlegrounds of Syria. When Washington released the decision to back down from missile strikes against the Damascus regime, Secretary of State, John Kerry quickly released a statement speaking to Saudi directly. “The Saudi’s were obviously disappointed the strikes didn’t take place, and have questions about some other things that may be happening in the region.” He continued, “I am convinced we are on the same page as we are proceeding forward and I look forward to working very closely with our Saudi friends and allies.”
Since the end of World War II, the foundation of the U.S. and Saudi relationship is based on strategic alliance, not interests. Even recently, Saudi turns a blind eye to the U.S. drone controversy in the Middle Eastern region while the U.S. remained silent while Saudi intruded into Bahrain.
Yet, the endless dispute over Israel and Palestine and now Syria and Iran could amount to giant divides in their alliance. Michael Doran, who served on the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration, stated to reporters “I’ve never seen so many disagreements on so many key fronts all at once.”
Some in the Arab region do not truly acknowledge the borders between countries that were mainly drawn after the World Wars and instead envision a world where the Islamic Empire persists again. The Saudi break with the U.S. could be the first stepping-stone in that direction to a united Middle East instead of a divided one. That area would stretch from Morocco to the borders of Pakistan, creating a giant unified region. It would be much harder to put through U.S. policies as well as continue to defend the existence of Israel. So, does the U.S. need Saudi or vice versa?
Written By: Cayce Manesiotis