Weapons Oil Geopolitics
“You have to know the past to understand the present” (Carl Sagan) is more than true regarding the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States of America. From that first moment between Rosevelt and King Al Saud on board the USS Quincy Cruiser on 14 February 1945 to today, it has always been a complex relationship. Even though diplomatic relations between the two countries can be traced back further, to 1931, the first inauguration of a US Embassy on Saudi soil wasn’t until 1942.
The Americans guaranteed military protection. In turn, the Saudi’s ascertained a constant oil supply. The Truman administration strengthened the bond further, and the Mutual Defence and Assistance Agreement of 16 June 1951 proved particularly valuable during the Cold War. Saudi relations with Egypt created a slight wobble until the Egyptian attack. The US and JFK once again offered their assistance – it became a joint fight against pro-Soviet revolutionaries.
Under Nixon, relations continued smoothly until the sudden setback in 1973 when the Saudi Monarch decided to adhere to the OPEC approved oil embargo against the US. By 1974 the situation was smoothed over, and oil was hence exclusively priced in dollars – in exchange for continued military protection.
When in 1979 the Shah was exiled from Iran, and the Soviet Union attacked Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia remained as the US’s most important ally in the Middle East. The 80s, Carter, and anti-Iranian as anti-Iraqi interests brought the two powers even closer. This cooperation reached its peak during the Gulf War and Bush’s Desert Storm operation in 1991.
Bin Laden and Al Qaeda combined with the early 21st-century terrorist attacks, created another rift. The attacks on Saudi soil in 2003 and 2004 helped strengthen the link again, putting to question the truth behind the rumours of Saudi Al Qaeda support. The Iranian nuclear power deal signed in Vienna in 2015 under the Obama administration then created another cool-down period.
With the arrival of Trump and his colossal arms deal relations once warmed, and even the murder of Khashoggi in Turkey could not discolour the waters. The Trump administrations approach to foreign policies and their attack on Iranian Soleimani, however, did.
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