The decades-old US-Saudi partnership faces one of its most turbulent moments. From Congress voting almost overwhelmingly to sustain Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) law to the deepening domestic criticism in the US on the Yemen campaign, Washington and Riyadh’s common strategic bonds are severely strained by both growing differences and a souring populist mood in America.
There has been an avalanche of commentary openly questioning the need for a partnership with the Kingdom. Despite their reservations on Iran, a number of members of Congress are openly questioning the level of security commitment the US provides to the Kingdom. The White House has been a lukewarm partner. While exercising a veto of JASTA and supporting Saudi Arabia’s security requirements, President Obama is openly skeptical about the broader relationship and its value.
Electoral politics haven’t helped with both Donald Trump and former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at times directly referencing Washington’s differences with the Kingdom. A number of US media outlets have further created an echo chamber for this autumn of discontent.
At this critical moment, as Washington and Riyadh confront deepening challenges from Syria to Iran, the current dark political malaise surrounding the relationship distracts from the pressing challenges facing both states in the region. The recent US strike on Houthi positions, after the militant group launched an attack on the US navy off the coast of Yemen, is a reminder of the real dangers facing Washington and Riyadh.
Yemen’s challenges are not purely a problem from the Kingdom, but for both the broader region and the US. The commentary that Washington faces a moral dilemma in Yemen for supporting the GCC intervention is a distraction from the real issuesAndrew J. Bowen