Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Saudi Arabia Is No Ally of America | Cato Institute

Posted by M. C. on January 14, 2023

After two decades of disastrous misadventures attempting to micro‐​manage the Middle East, it is time for the US to disengage.

By Doug Bandow

This article appeared in 19FortyFive on November 10, 2022.


The Saudi royals were wailing about the prospect of an attack from Iran and America responded. The Biden administration rushed to coddle and comfort members of the absolute royal dictatorship, the world’s most ostentatious throwback to Medieval times.

Reported the Wall Street Journal: “the U.S. Central Command launched warplanes based in the Persian Gulf region toward Iran as part of an overall elevated alert status of U.S. and Saudi forces.” Even if Riyadh did not fabricate the supposed Iranian threat, as seems likely, what about the Saudi air force, furnished at such a great cost by America’s famous merchants of death?

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s flyers must have been busy, perhaps taking their friends on joyrides. Riyadh treats expensive warplanes as just another royal pleasure—acquired to allow princely dilettantes to pose as glorious warriors—and a disguised payment to Washington for the presence of US military personnel, who act as bodyguards for the King and courtiers. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, or MbS, as the heir apparent is known, is but the latest Saudi ruler to see Americans as nothing but the émigré “help,” brought in to deal with dirty jobs beneath the royals’ dignity.

The Crown Prince—who gained the sobriquet “Slice ‘n Dice” after having journalist Jamal Khashoggi murdered and dismembered in 2018—treated President Joe Biden accordingly. The latter abandoned his commitment to human rights and traveled to the Persian Gulf to kiss MbS’ feet. After a very public fist bump between the two, the president begged his host to supply some extra oil to speed the drop in gasoline prices, ostensibly to reduce revenue for Russia, but conveniently before the midterm elections. The Saudis took Biden’s measure and treated him with contempt, denying his claim to have mentioned human rights and then cutting oil supplies. Jimmy Carter was the last US president to be so ostentatiously and publicly humiliated.

After two decades of disastrous misadventures attempting to micro‐​manage the Middle East, it is time for the US to disengage.

Biden huffed and puffed, threatening “some consequences,” only to rush to the royals’ defense. Such was his response. If Biden’s inclination is to do Riyadh’s bidding after being savagely gelded by it, what would he have done had he been treated with respect? Offered the Saudis control of Central Command? Or the Pentagon itself? Unsurprisingly, Biden’s position toward Saudi Arabia has not struck fear in the hearts of authoritarians around the globe.

The US relationship with Saudi Arabia, inaccurately called “one of the most important on the planet,” has consistently put Riyadh’s interests above that of America. The reasons for doing so are difficult to discern.

No doubt, the Kingdom presents trade and investment opportunities and US business executives eagerly attended a Saudi economic conference, nicknamed Davos in the Desert, last month. However, such links do not depend on Washington’s celebrated commitment to the royals’ defense. Good capitalists can do commerce without an alliance.

The Kingdom sells oil, an important good, but not as critical as in years past. Moreover, Riyadh does so for its own benefit, not America’s. Without the resulting revenue MbS couldn’t build his palaces and purchase his yachtschateaus, and other necessities of royal life. A refusal to sell to the US wouldn’t matter since the oil market is global. And total supply would be much greater if the Biden administration had not restricted domestic production, continued sanctions against Iran and Venezuela, and imposed penalties on Russian supplies.

Washington might respond that the last three regimes are odious threats to the peace, but so is Riyadh. According to the group Freedom House, the KSA is more repressive than all three, none of which is known for chopping up regime critics. Although supposedly a US friend, the Kingdom imprisons nearly 100 American citizens, mostly for political offenses. Some of the longest sentences have been imposed in recent months, yet another conspicuous affront to the Biden administration.

The KSA is also aggressive and disruptive. Its war against Yemen has killed hundreds of thousands of civilians. The Saudis funded jihadist insurgents in Syria and Libya, fomenting bloody conflict. Riyadh invited Lebanon’s prime minister to visit, and then detained him; sent troops to back up Bahrain’s dictatorial Sunni monarchy, which rules over a Shia majority; and launched a diplomatic and economic war against Qatar, backed by a threat of military invasion. MbS also is dallying with both Russia, despite its invasion of Ukraine, and China, despite US security concerns. An ally, friend, or partner of America the Kingdom is not.

Although Biden has been nothing but obsequious when dealing with Riyadh, Crown Prince “Slice ‘n Dice” misses the Trump administration, whose officials acted like mob consiglieri, doing their utmost to protect MbS from accountability for his crimes. Hence the Kingdom not only rejected Biden’s request for increased oil supplies but publicized the administration’s request for a delay to push any cuts past the midterm election. The crown prince recognized that though he could neither detain nor dismember the president, he could damage Biden’s political prospects.

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