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The US and the risk of its “balancing act”

Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran

Published: Updated:

All testimonies of al-Qaeda leaders involved in the planning of the September 11 attacks acknowledge that the primary purpose behind it was to “damage the Saudi-US relations.”

Iran’s support of al-Qaeda in these attacks was aimed at driving a wedge in the long, historical relationship between the two countries.

This relationship was built on solid foundations of deep shared interests and was developed under specific conditions imposed by the region’s balance of power at the time.

As time went on, the US found Saudi Arabia to be a trustworthy ally that can assume a leading role in the region, leading to greater shared interests between the two countries. Then we saw rogue countries emerging and announcing their antagonism towards Saudi values, which are also adopted by the US. These countries want the Saudi-US relations to come to an end, and many of them have been attempting to achieve this goal since 2001 and until this very day.

The actions of President Joe Biden during the past few weeks seem consistent with the policy of former President Barack Obama, who saw Saudis as “free riders,” as he said in the series of interviews with The Atlantic magazine. This policy considers Iran a real player in the region as the former president stated, “Saudis and Iranians must learn to share the region.”

According to Obama’s theory, Iran is not an instigator of chaos, but rather, the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran is what created chaos in the Arab region. Obama never regarded Iran as a terrorist country, even after the targeting of hundreds of Americans in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq.

He never believed that the Iranian regime adopted a chaotic doctrine. He even refused to listen to his advisors when they counseled him to take decisive action against Tehran as the nuclear deal would only reinforces Iran’s influence in the areas that were under the influence of the US. This eventually led to more chaos in the region as US interests were attacked by Iranian missiles.

Following the nuclear deal, Prince Bandar bin Sultan wrote an article titled “The Same Thing Again,” asserting that “President Obama made his decision to move forward with the nuclear deal with Iran while fully aware that the strategic analysis of his foreign policy, as well as intelligence information from US intelligence agencies and ally countries in the region, predicted a worse outcome that that of the nuclear deal with North Korea, in addition to the fact that Iran would receive billions of dollars. Chaos will prevail in the already unstable Middle East as Iran plays a major role in this instability.”

After years of analysis by Prince Bandar, the theory of the “weight of the relationship with Saudi Arabia” began to be put forward in some American study centers, arguing that what binds Saudi Arabia and the US are two things: oil and fighting enemies in the region.

The former is losing its value to Americans and the latter is undermined by the US policy in the Middle East.

Cooperating with Saudi Arabia on terrorism does not yet include Iranian terrorism for the current president, unlike his predecessor, former President Trump, who cooperated with the Kingdom on terrorism, including the Iranian one. The picture today looks bleaker because US policy does not see Iran as the sponsor of terrorism in the world but tries to negotiate with it. Biden’s policy is to return to Obama’s mindset that states that Iran has its share in the region.

To consider this theory extensively, I will return to what Dennis Ross and Robert Satloff wrote in an article published in the Washington Institute titled Balancing act: Biden must redefine the US-Saudi relationship, which says, “President Biden is right to emphasize balance in the relationship.”

They, however, acknowledge that “we [the US] retain real stakes in Saudi Arabia, as there is no significant issue in the Middle East where a successful strategy is possible without active Saudi support. From containing Iran to combatting terror, to building on Arab normalization with Israel (and using that to break the stalemate between Israelis and Palestinians) or trying to end or reduce conflicts in Yemen and Syria, we need Saudi cooperation.

Moreover, to manage the transition from fossil fuels to renewables, we need a stable and predictable price of oil that makes wind, solar and hydrogen alternatives competitive in terms of cost — while also preventing the sudden collapse of our oil and gas industry. Here again, the Saudis remain important.”

Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s comment on the publication of the intelligence report was clear, the purpose of publishing it was and will remain “political.” The purpose is to fully disrupt the relationship with Saudi Arabia. Ross and Satloff call it “the weight of the relationship,” and Pompeo considers it a great risk.

Publishing the disastrous and weak Khashoggi report poses major challenges to the desired relationship between Saudi Arabia and Biden’s administration.

This is confirmed by the analysis of Prince Bandar bin Sultan in his statement following the publication of the report, “Every investment in the Khashoggi case is a political investment, which is made according to needs. This is not and will not be strange in international relations. Each country interacts with it according to its political, security, and diplomatic interests. This is the general and objective context of how Saudi Arabia deals with this crime that has hurt all Saudis. As for reports, media coverage, and political discourse, they all are mere analyses, evaluations, presumptions, and deductions that often fall subject to prejudices and mental, psychological, and political attitudes towards Saudi Arabia in general. These positions have been made before the crime and may have even found the crime as an opportunity to express themselves.”

Saudi apprehension of American behavior is something new. I recall Henry Kissinger’s statement when he said, “Saudis have less confidence in our judgment,” before he continues, “Saudi diplomacy has remained a key enabler of American politics.”
For Saudis, Prince Mohammed bin Salman is a “divine gift.”

Despite economic tremors, pandemics, and market turmoil that faced the Saudi society, the crown prince placed it high in international rankings and figures. He has restored things to their rightful place in all aspects of life.

When adversaries of different political currents collude and conspire in increasing the significance of the flimsy report for a purely political purposes, then solidarity with the crown prince and his plans become stronger than ever. He is the bright light after a long night of havoc.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.