Saudi Arabia Facing Escalating Crisis as Washington Drifts away from Riyadh

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Alireza Rezakhah
Doctorate in Political Science; Political and International Analyst

The crisis in relations between Riyadh and Washington has taken an obvious upturn. On May 17, 2016, the U.S. Senate approved a bill according to which the families of the victims of September 11, 2001 terror attacks can file lawsuits against the government of Saudi Arabia. The Senate took the measure and voted positive for the bill titled “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act,” despite recent threats from Riyadh that it would liquidate billions of dollars worth of bonds it has with the United States Treasury Department if the bill was approved. The new bill allows families of the victims of 9/11 terror attacks to file lawsuits with any branch of the United States federal courts on the basis of any role that the agents of Saudi Arabia’s government could have played in those attacks. The White House has officially voiced its opposition to the bill, emphasizing that President Barack Obama will veto it. However, many Democrat senators have also thrown their weight behind the bill, which has practically pitted them against the White House. In order to turn into law, however, the Senate bill should be also passed by the House of Representatives and then be signed into law by the president. It is almost certain that the bill will be passed through an absolute majority vote at the House of Representatives. The White House, however, has officially threatened that it would veto the bill.

Main pillars of Riyadh-Washington coalition collapsing

It is a reality that the main pillars of the coalition that exists between Washington and Riyadh are falling apart. The relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia is not based on values, but rather on the two countries’ interests. The United States and Saudi Arabia officially started their relations in 1933 and just one year after King Abdulaziz ibn Saud rose to power and founded the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The most important motivation for the establishment of relations was the United States’ dire need to energy reserves in the Persian Gulf region. During past decades, relations between the two countries have been so strong that many analysts have described them as a deal involving oil in return for security. However, as of late, when the United States and Saudi Arabia look at the region, they see totally different outlooks. This is where the conflict of interests between the two sides comes to the surface. If in the past oil was the most powerful weapon in the hands of Saudis in their interaction with the West, this weapon is losing its importance right now. The reason is not only plummeting oil prices in international markets in the face of rising production of shale oil and increasing importance of other energy resources, but also because Saudi Arabia has lost its past clout in the oil market. The rise of Iran and Iraq as a joint power in this market, along with their Russian ally, has posed a major challenge to Riyadh’s past position as the leader of the global oil market. This reality was totally visible during the latest summit meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in the Qatari capital, Doha, where Iran was absent and for the first time since the establishment of the OPEC, Saudi Arabia fell short of dictating its conditions to other member states.

However, some may claim that the current crisis in relations between Riyadh and Washington is the product of the different viewpoint that Democrats have on international developments. This argument may to some extent seem sound. Saudis never liked to see Democrats in power in the United States and always considered the Republican Party as their traditional ally. This comes while the Democrat President Barack Obama has made no effort to hide the problems that his government has with Saudi Arabia. Since he was a senator from Chicago, Obama voiced opposition to Saudi Arabia’s policies. In a speech in 2002, Obama asked the then U.S. President George Bush Jr. to ask the United States’ allies in Riyadh and Cairo to stop suppressing their nations. Obama had also promised during his election campaign that he would put an end to the United States’ dependence on the Saudi oil and fulfilled that promise.

In addition, three important developments have served to further scuttle strategic relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States in recent years. The first development was Obama’s decision to withdraw from a proclaimed attack on Damascus to overthrow the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad when he was accused of having crossed the red line set for him by using “supposedly” chemical weapons against armed opposition in 2013. In this way, Obama prevented repetition of the scenario, which had been already implemented in Libya. The second development was the nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries, including the United States, according to which international sanctions against Iran’s energy sector were removed and Tehran’s regional position as archrival of Riyadh greatly improved. The third development was a lengthy interview by Obama with the Atlantic magazine in the last year of his tenure in the White House. In that interview, he accused Saudi Arabia of promoting radical Wahhabi ideology and emphasized that the majority of terrorists who were behind September 11, 2001, attacks in New York – that is, 15 out of a total of 19 – were nationals of Saudi Arabia, not Iran. Obama also asked Saudi Arabia to achieve a “cold peace” agreement with Iran over division of the Middle East with the Islamic Republic.

Alone in Washington

The interesting point, however, is that the Democrat Obama is currently the sole backer of Riyadh in Washington as well. The Senate and the House of Representatives, which are currently controlled by Republican lawmakers, are bent on passing the controversial anti-terrorism bill which takes a direct hit at Saudis and it seems that despite all petrodollars in its disposal, the Saudi lobby has not been able to stop approval of this bill. Of course, there is still a long way before this bill turns into law and can be enforced. On the other hand, the U.S. Republican presidential hopeful, Donald Trump, has been saber-rattling in the face of Riyadh. The reality is that given the internal power struggle in Saudi Arabia, and in view of the falling oil prices in international markets and the ensuing economic crisis that has engulfed the Saudi royal court, and also due to the ongoing unrest in the Middle East, Riyadh is currently facing a serious crisis; a crisis which has been made even worse through a change in Washington’s foreign policy priorities.

Key WordsSaudi Arabia, US, Crisis, Washington, Riyadh, Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, 9/11 Terror Attacks, Barack Obama, House of Representatives, Democrat Senators, Senate, Oil for Security, OPEC, Nuclear Agreement, Iran, P5+1, Atlantic, Rezakhah

Source: Khorasan Newspaper
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

More By Alireza Rezakhah:

*Will King Salman Be Saudi Arabia’s Last Monarch?:

*Why Washington Sends 250 More Troops to Syria:

*US Trying to Change its Strategy in Syria:

*Photo Credit: CBS News