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Attempts to sabotage Saudi-US relations

Mamdouh AlMuhaini

Published: Updated:

The Saudi-US relationship, which has always been a close one, is now turning into a card to be played in the American partisan struggle. Both Democrats and Republicans aim to tip the balance in favor of reelection for their party, turning any issue into an opportunity to score points; any issue, country or crisis may play to their favor as they vie for votes and power. The partisan battle occasionally turns into an all-out war waged between demagogues.

On the American domestic front, the controversial battle around immigration rages on. Democrats accuse Republicans of racism and xenophobia, and shutting the door to many hopeful immigrants, while Republicans accuse Democrats of pushing the door wide open, risking Americans' jobs, and letting in dangerous extremists and drug dealers.

A culture war is also taking place over social issues. Republicans support family values and accuse their opponents of destroying them. Democrats, on the other hand, advocate for freedom in relationships and describe their opponents as reactionary and closed-minded. On the economic side, the same battle is raging between capitalism and socialism, in addition to the ultimate issue of the right to bear arms and the types of guns that should be allowed. The battle never ceases, especially given the deep division in the American society along these lines.

The same is true for foreign policy, where foreign issues are also prey to partisan conflict with the goal being to undermine the other side rather than resolving the conflicts, which often has devastating results.

China, Russia and Saudi Arabia are the main foreign points targeted by such partisan campaigns, as they are significant relations, while other less important countries on the international stage are ignored. Because of its close relationship with the US, Saudi Arabia is an easy target in this domestic conflict. Whereas the Trump administration was attacked by some Democrats because of its close relationship with Riyadh, some Republicans are now attacking the Biden administration, accusing it of sabotaging the relationship with Riyadh.

In both cases, Saudi Arabia was used as a tool to score points on the domestic front. This is bound to increase because Saudi Arabia has captured international interest now more than ever due to the modernization efforts led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the large economic, social and judicial reforms designed to quell extremist forces and regressive currents in the region. What we saw after the Khashoggi report was released was nothing more than fodder in this partisan conflict, which has nothing to do with Saudi Arabia.

The American political arena is open to lobbies and public relations companies that aim to polish the image of some countries and tarnish competing one. At the same time, it is also open to proposals in think tanks that seek to influence decision-makers to either sever or strengthen alliances and friendships. Of course, there are those who have hostile ideological agendas, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran, and others. It is an open arena for political propaganda, exchange of benefits, interests, money, and ideological alliances that has been happening for decades, as well as all the parties that play the game.

These attempts that were aimed at sabotaging the relationship between Riyadh and Washington have not succeeded, yet they refuse to subside. It is well-known that extremist groups, such as al-Qaeda and Iranian militias, through their terrorist operations in America and Saudi Arabia, tried and failed to create a crisis in the relations between the two countries. One important thing to remember is that Saudi Arabia has always been pragmatic and chosen the right path despite repeated attempts at sabotage, it has also avoided falling prey to a feeling of being targeted by media and political persecution. We have seen other countries follow a different path; isolating themselves and becoming obsessed with a sense of injustice and persecution, whether imagined or real, which usually led them to make wrong decisions. Some failed governments have used this sense of persecution as justification for economic and political failure, creating enemies that draw their legitimacy from this hostility. Exercising a spirit of pragmatism, understanding the nature of the internal partisan conflict, recognizing the sources of attacks from hostile parties, and not being drawn into feelings of persecution, all of these are elements that have made the relationship between Riyadh and Washington (whether under a Republican or a Democratic administration) strong and strategic for decades despite the daily hubbub we hear.

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

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