The USA wants to join hands with Saudi Arabia to improve regional security in the Gulf.
Why does it seem that the Gulf does not fully agree?
The United States has always been the face of so-called ‘intervention’ in major global conflicts, whether it is the civil war in Syria or the Iraq issue. However, the US wants to now adopt a novel strategy to improve its influence in Islamic countries. This involves working together with the affluent Saudi Arabia, to defeat jihadist forces from within. However, not all seems well with this alliance, as the leaders of these nations differ in their objectives.
What Obama’s visit to Riyadh tells us
In April 2016, US President Barack Obama arrived in Riyadh, expecting a warm welcome from an ally government. One of the most pressing issues which were expectedly at the forefront was America’s and Saudi Arabia’s role in tackling the Syrian conflict. Global media had its eyes trained on this meeting, as it would reveal the reality of the US- Gulf alliance in fighting against the militants in Syria.
However, it became apparent that US had some tension to resolve with Saudi Arabia, when President Obama received a fairly low-key welcome on arrival in Riyadh. Though Obama was received at the airport by Prince Faisal bin Bandar Al Saud, the governor of Riyadh, the event was not even broadcast live on Saudi TV. This was quite strange, as a live television broadcast of the arrival of important state leaders is almost protocol in Saudi Arabia. Additionally, King Salman bin Abdulaziz was not present to welcome Obama, which is possibly a strong message that all is not well between the US and Saudi Arabia.
Why US–Saudi friendship may be troubled
Handling the conflict in Syria has created a rift between these two nations, for a variety of reasons. To present it concisely, this is what is causing tension between the US and Saudi Arabia:
- Riyadh has been a staunch supporter of Sunni Arab opponents rallying against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, ever since the rebellion started off in 2011.
- This is possibly because of Assad’s closeness to Iran, Saudi Arabia’s longtime rival, and due to his brutalization of the Sunni Arab population.
- Both Riyadh and Washington provide financial, organizational and material support to Sunni anti-Assad forces.
So this should make the US and Saudi Arabia the best of friends. Why is their friendship in troubled waters?
- Riyadh vehemently supports the Islamist component of the opposition against Assad. This even includes jihadi-salafi militants that share an antipathy towards ISIS.
- Riyadh also strongly demands the removal of Assad, whereas the US has slowly considered compromising this objective.
- In April 2016, Obama commented that Saudi Arabia and Iran should share their “neighborhood” more effectively, which quickly angered officials in Riyadh
This has become a point of contention between the two nations.
The US attempt in negotiating the relations between Islamic countries has drawn sharp criticism from the public.
In fact, Obama’s rather drab airport reception is a signal not to be ignored. According to Gulf security analyst Mustafa Alani, the Saudi Arabian government has sent a strong message to Obama that “they are not ready to believe in him.”
Therefore, it seems fairly clear that the West and the Gulf are not really on the same page anymore, and the US cannot depend on Saudi Arabia to represent its interests in Islamic nations.
Where do the US presidential candidates stand on this issue?
With regard to the issue of foreign policy, it seems like Republican candidate Donald Trump and Democrat Bernie Sanders eerily have the same ideology. Both of them:
- Believe that instability in the Middle East was caused by the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein
- Are not very aggressive about the idea to work against the regime of Syrian leader Assad
In fact, during an interview with CBS in February 2016, Donald Trump expressed, “Let’s say you get rid of Assad, you knock out that government — who’s gonna take over? The people that we’re backing? And then you’re gonna have, like, Libya?”
However, Democrat Hillary Clinton belongs to the old school of liberal interventionism. She believes that the US must “lead” the world to preserve liberal values internationally. However, this may come at the cost of widespread bloodshed and war. Hillary Clinton is the sole presidential candidate who still strongly believes that the US should intervene to solve the conflict in Islamic countries.
If we compare the two scenarios, it is clear that bloodshed and war cannot be justified by America’s need to ‘lead the world in preserving liberal values.’ In fact, even other forerunners in the US presidential elections believe so.
And with Saudi Arabia giving the US a cold shoulder, it still remains to be seen how effective this foreign intervention can be.