As part of a military expansion plan in the region, which Riyadh will be asked to agree to, a senior US military delegation has toured a number of Saudi Red Sea and inland sites.
Had this happened during the Trump era, it would have been perceived as one of his investment projects.
However, the timing of this tour in tandem with the current joint military exercises currently underway are sufficient to answer those who believe that Riyadh has been backed into a corner, and Saudi-US relations are bound to suffer with Joe Biden in office.
In fact, Saudi-US relations are likely to become increasingly important as long as the US’s top priorities include its competition with China, and matters like energy, nuclear armament, and terrorism. The US will need regional cooperation with a country like Saudi Arabia to accomplish its objectives. This is the real force driving the relationship, not media disputes or statements released by US officials.
It is important to stress that it would be unwise and premature to pass judgment on the new president’s foreign policy despite the frequency and speed of the decisions and executive orders he has been issuing and the number of statements released by his administration regarding the region in general, and Riyadh in particular, during the past few weeks. The most notable of these would be his views on the Yemeni crisis, as they can be read from different angles. In my opinion, it was the best way to start tackling the most challenging file between the two countries. Biden surprised us when he vowed to protect Saudi Arabia from the attacks of Iran-backed Houthi militia. This can be considered a promising step that went even beyond the previous actions taken by the Trump administration in support of Saudi Arabia. In return, Riyadh renewed its willingness to accept a peaceful solution, and Biden appointed a special envoy to Yemen, as Trump had done before. In the short period ahead, we expect one of two things, either the Houthis will stop targeting Saudi cities, a positive development that will pave the way to a political solution, or they will send their missiles and drones back across the border, thus triggering Saudi F-15 fighters to retaliate.
In the second case, that is, if the Houthis break the US truce, Washington will have to take part in the battle, by virtue of its commitment, and Riyadh would be justified in resuming its response to the aggression. In both cases, Saudi Arabia would be able to overcome the Yemeni dispute. Naturally, there is no doubt in our minds that the Houthis are no more than Iranian puppets, just like Hezbollah in Lebanon, which means that Tehran, will be the one calling the shots and choosing whether to opt for the truce or war scenarios.
Additionally, in response to those who have been questioning the growing military cooperation between Saudi Arabia and the United States, it is important to clarify that before criticizing the idea of defensive protection and military cooperation with the West, we must not forget that this is the nature of international alliances. Western Europe has been under
US military protection against Russia since World War II, and still is to this day, not to mention the full-fledged US military protection of Japan.
However, let us discuss the victory of the Democratic Party, and what that entails. The Democrats' campaigns against Saudi Arabia were undoubtedly the worst in the history of US-Saudi relations. During the past five years, members of the party have continuously criticized Riyadh, ever since the disagreement over Washington's nuclear deal with Iran, and over issues like the war in Yemen, and the Kingdom’ stance with Egypt after the fall of the Brotherhood, in addition to Trump’s choice of Riyadh as his first stop after winning the elections, a choice that Democrats used to attack him by politicizing Khashoggi's case. But the Democrats in power today, are fully aware of the importance of Saudi Arabia as an ally. They recognize the significant changes that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has introduced to the Kingdom.
The political system has become stronger, and the State more vibrant, active, and important. Americans recognize that since the end of the Cold War, the countries of the region have been managing their international relations based on interests.
However, how can we analyze Washington's statements regarding removing the Houthis from the terrorist list, discontinuation of Saudi military support, and meddling in internal affairs? These will be our topics for tomorrow.
*This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.