Saudi review: It’s time to rethink U.S. relations with an ally

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The United States may be reaching the point where its longstanding relationship with Saudi Arabia as an ally requires serious review.

In the past, the kingdom has served as a staging area for America’s wars in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, with its enormous oil reserves, played an important role in stabilizing the world oil market, so important to the United States. It exercised influence for reasonable behavior within the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and plugged holes in global oil production caused by political and other developments, thus stabilizing the price by increasing or decreasing its own flow as needed.

In return, the United States in effect guaranteed the security of the Saudi monarchy in a dangerous neighborhood and in general catered to its political concerns. It pursued this policy, looking the other way as Saudi Arabia pursued generally appalling, backward human rights policies, including public executions and the oppression of women and, more recently, financial and other support of extreme Islamist positions and groups. Saudi Arabia was the home of record of a large number of America’s 9/11 attackers, for example.

Now the Saudis are opposing the negotiation of the end of Iran’s nuclear program in return for reducing the economic sanctions on Iran (Saudi Arabia’s rival), supporting the most extreme Islamist elements among the Syrian rebels, opposing a negotiated end to the civil war in Syria and favoring continued rule by the generals in Egypt. Meanwhile, although it shouldn’t be a primary factor in Washington’s policy toward Saudi Arabia, the development of significant natural gas sources in the United States has made Saudi oil less important to the well-being of the U.S. economy.

All of this calls for a serious U.S. review of its policies toward Saudi Arabia. That review would make it clear that the United States can afford to have a freer hand in its relationship with the monarchy and the right to expect more from the kingdom, if U.S. guarantees of its security are to continue as America winds down its involvement in the Middle East.

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