Relations between countries are all about interests. This is a consistent truth in politics. Saudi Arabia’s relation with the US, which is the most deeply rooted from the Arab region, is no different.
The Americans discovered oil in Saudi Arabia about 80 years ago while other oil exploring states failed to do so. In the 1930’s, they built a new petroleum entity there led by Standard Oil and relations have continued ever since. Riyadh has viewed Washington as a strategic ally since the 1950’s and the opposite is true. Although it’s not possible for two partners to agree on all matters and interests, relations went on and benefitted both parties.
Special political relations are as significant as military deals.. Interests as a balance on which relations stand, are in our favor in general. All countries aspire to establish ties that rely on economy and military cooperation as this is what deepens tiesAbdulrahman al-Rashed
These ties faced a sudden setback when the former American administration decided that American interests declined in the Middle East, including in Saudi Arabia, and that their interests lay more in Asia-Pacific. However, this viewpoint did not last for long after Donald Trump became president. Relations thus continue to be all about interests no matter what the expectations are and who the president is.
The process of US arms sales
Another important point is that it’s not true that the US is an open supermarket for anyone who wants to buy arms, as some have commented on Trump’s statements to the Saudi crown prince about arms sales. In 1987, for instance, the US refused to sell arms to Saudi Arabia although the price offered was hefty.
This also happened in 2008 during Bush’s presidential term. Obama suspended an arms’ sale to Saudi Arabia a month before his term as president ended. Despite this failure to purchase arms, Saudi Arabia still had the lion’s share in term of armament from the best arms manufacturer, i.e. the US. At the beginning of the 1980’s, Saudi Arabia won the famous “battle” to purchase AWACS surveillance planes after Congress approved the sale by a narrow margin of votes.
Many countries’ arms purchase requests were rejected altogether or failed to gain Congress approval. Some were so impractically proposed, like Pakistan for instance, whom Senator Rand Paul described as a “frenemy.” Arms sales to Taiwan, among others, were rejected.
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But Saudi Arabia’s biggest challenge was when the former US administration decided not to arm Saudi Arabia with ammunition and to no longer provide it with military intel which is mandatory for aerial operations in Yemen.
Ties based on mutual benefits
Special political relations are as significant as military deals and make countries, like Iran, think well and count to 10. Therefore, interests as a balance on which relations stand, are in our favor in general. All countries aspire to establish ties that rely on economy and military cooperation as this is what deepens ties.
What distinguishes Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is that he carries a new Saudi project, or to be more accurate, a project for a “new Saudi Arabia,” a country that’s headed towards change and advancement of government and society. His project has nothing to do with the US or Britain, and is directed at Saudi Arabia and the Saudis, as he himself put it.
It resolves the crisis regarding stereotypes and social relations. The stereotype issue has been problematic in terms of Saudi Arabia’s relations with other countries. But the world now looks at the crown prince as a pragmatic reformer and a leader who’s renewing the state. He was warmly welcomed in Britain and the US because he began implementing his planned project two years ago.
Even Saudi Arabia’s opponents received him with appreciation and acknowledged his seriousness. Therefore, it’s not important how some try to interpret attempts to improve ties with superpowers, mainly with the US. Truth is, this relation is based on historical foundations as well as on pragmatic ones related to interests. They’re based on a realistic approach where neither party expects something that the other cannot commit to.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.