US President Donald Trump's first visit abroad as America’s 45th president to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is activating a new level of cooperation unseen between Washington and Riyadh in decades, and possibly, ever.
Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s cemented the new foundation between the two countries in Washington D.C. a few months ago. The visit to Washington occurred during a full court press for Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 and the drivers to bring that vision, mainly next year’s Aramco IPO and the growth of the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), to fruition in a logical and timely manner.
The Saudi defense minister cemented this new binary relationship with the Trump administration to not only counter Iran and extremism but to see both Trump’s America First and Saudi Vision 2030 succeed. The Trump Administration likes this transactional approach by the Kingdom.
Trump’s visit to a Muslim country is also significance. In one quick swoop, Trump is leaving his predecessor Barack Obama in the dust when formulating America’s relations with the Muslim World: By visiting Saudi Arabia, Trump is showing the Kingdom and the world that his agenda is not anti-Muslim by instituting extreme vetting or laptop bans.
Trump said he "will begin with a truly historic gathering in Saudi Arabia with leaders from all across the Muslim world….It is there we will begin to construct a new foundation of cooperation and support with our Muslim allies to combat extremism, terrorism, and violence and to embrace a more just and hopeful future for young Muslims in their countries.”
Clearly, the Trump Administration and Saudi Arabia share the same worldview on necessary measures to protect public safety but also to support better understanding. The Kingdom wants to show the Muslim world that Donald Trump is a moderate.
To be sure, the Trump Administration sees a golden opportunity to work with the Kingdom to show respect to Islam as well as in support of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030. Protecting achievements and pacifying battlefields are front and center between the Trump National Security Council and Riyadh.
Specifically, the Trump Administration is looking to Muslim countries to partner in the fight against terrorism and to hem in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The American move is meant to throw a counter arc to the Shiite crescent. In other words, the Trump administration is throwing its full support behind the Saudi-led Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT).
The IMAFT is gaining momentum on an organizational level. Now with Pakistani General Raheel Sharif at the helm of the emerging security group, the IMAFT is to receive a major boost from America through the Kingdom’s lenses.
What Riyadh sees is serious business: Senior US Administration officials are working to build a framework in the Middle East by using the IMAFT as one major arc to not only destroy ISIS and al-Qaeda and its affiliates but also eject Iran from Arab lands too eventually by force. The other arc, involving Israel, comes soon.
The Trump administration sees a golden opportunity to work with Saudi Arabia to show respect to Islam as well as in support of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030Dr. Theodore Karasik
The threat of Iran
Clearly, the Trump Doctrine toward Saudi Arabia is going to bring into sharp relief the threat posed by Iran with serious moves to stop Tehran’s aggressive behavior. The ongoing review of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in Washington D.C. is bringing a Saudi voice into the process, a fact that the Kingdom and other GCC states complained about constantly during the P5+1 negotiations, according to several GCC interlocutors.
Saudi Arabia and allies felt left out of the process when they sit on the front lines of Iranian aggression, eight minutes away from a missile impact. Trump is also visiting Saudi Arabia at a critical juncture in many of the region’s multi-level civil wars, especially Yemen where the Kingdom is conducting Operation Restore Hope.
The Trump Administration seeks to help Saudi Arabia with bringing stability and humanitarian aid to the beleaguered and highly fractured country while at the same time hitting Al-Qaeda Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) with drone strikes and providing maritime support. Saudi Arabia requires replenishing of its armory and Trump and American defense manufactures are excited about possibilities including missile defense.
A larger, bilateral military-to-military relationship is in the works along with a restructuring of the Saudi Defense Ministry. American ingenuity is going to help launch Saudi Arabia’s local defense industry, a point emphasized strongly in Mohammed Bin Salman’s extraordinary interview a day before the Trump visit announcement.
Trump will also be meeting with other GCC leaders, and Arab and Muslim religious leaders. A forceful joint statement between Trump and his hosts and visitors in Saudi Arabia may bring new vigor to taking firm steps to resolving the Yemen, Syria, and Libya civil wars on the eve of Ramadan.
In addition, the Trump Doctrine, with Saudi Arabia’s full cooperation, is to work together to counter radical ideologies that bequeath only violence and death.
Riyadh is ready to provide whatever assistance to the Trump administration and the Pentagon as is necessary: The Kingdom’s work, specifically the Ministry of Interior’s de-radicalization program and the Saudi Ministry of Defense’s media monitoring center are truly fully functional, more advanced than found in other Global Coalition to Fight ISIS members. The Trump Administration sees these Saudi attributes in an extremely positive light and is to focus on vast expansion of Riyadh’s programs.
The combination of King Salman’s royal decrees, Mohammed Bin Salman’s television interview, and the the Trump visit, is bringing excitement especially to youth who are energized by their Kingdom being front and center. The binary relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia is just getting started.
Dr. Theodore Karasik is a Washington DC-based analyst of regional geo-political affairs. He received his Ph.D in History from UCLA in Los Angeles, California in four fields: Middle East, Russia, Caucasus, and a specialized sub-field in Cultural Anthropology focusing on tribes and clans. He tweets @tkarasik.