Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

The US-Saudi Relationship and the Iraq War: The Dialectics of a Dependent Alliance

Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

The US-Saudi Relationship and the Iraq War: The Dialectics of a Dependent Alliance

Article excerpt


The relationship between the United States government and the Saudi royal family can be traced back to the F. D. Roosevelt era. The two countries established very robust bilateral ties in 1942. Analyzing the special relationship, former U.S. National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft argues that "the United States is, in fact, singularly responsible for the creation of Saudi Arabia. There's no country in the Middle East with which we are as intertwined as Saudi Arabia." (1)

In 1944, the first Saudi Arabian legation was opened in the US and the Arabian American Oil Company [Aramco] was founded. A year later King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, known as Ibn Saud, met with F.D.R. on board the USS Quincy at Great Bitter Lake in the Suez Canal, to conclude the strategic "Quincy agreement" of half a century. Consequently, the kingdom became one of the closest US allies during the Cold War period, providing hundreds of millions of dollars to Western-supported insurgents everywhere from Angola to Afghanistan to Nicaragua. In exchange, Ibn Saud counted on the US to guarantee the kingdom's territorial integrity against the ambitions of the Hashemite regimes in Iraq and Jordan in the 1940s, against Egypt's Gamal Abdul Nasser in the 1950s, and more recently against the appeal of the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

With Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, US-Saudi ties grew even stronger. After a meeting immediately following the invasion between high-level Saudi officials and the then US Defense Secretary (now Vice President) Dick Cheney, the kingdom, under strong American pressure, officially invited Washington to use its territory for rolling back the occupation. Thus, some 700,000 US troops entered Saudi Arabia. After the war, Riyadh agreed to maintain about 5,000 American troops in the country. It also allowed hundreds of US warplanes and pilots to be based at the Prince Sultan Air Base, where Washington has installed a state-of-the-art command center that covers virtually the entire Middle East, the Gulf region, and Central Asia.

This strong relationship has produced undesirable effects. Indeed, the first sign of trouble came in 1995, when a car bomb killed five US military advisers in Riyadh. This incident was followed by the bombing of the Khobar Towers apartments in 1996, which resulted in the death of 19 US servicemen. This bombing compelled the US military to relocate in a more remote area. Tensions between Saudis and Americans appeared over the investigation of the bombing, but the bilateral relation remained stable until 11 September 2001. Given that "Iraqi Freedom" occurred not long after 9/11, one can raise questions about the Saudi-American relationship and whether the US invasion of Iraq indicated and augured radical change in Saudi-American relations.


Without a doubt, the events of 9/11 constituted a real trauma for Americans. The attacks also affected public perception of US relations with the Muslim world in general and Saudi Arabia in particular. Indeed, fifteen of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, and although Saudi leaders publicly and immediately condemned the 9/11 attacks, public anti-Saudi sentiment has reached incredible proportions. Thus, long-time pro-American Saudi Arabian Ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and his wife were pressed to explain how payment, which she made, ended up in the hands of two Saudi men suspected of having close ties to the hijackers. For its part, the Saudi press, as well as Saudi clerics, vigorously denounced US "aggression" against Muslim Afghanistan, as well as the massive FBI detention of Saudi nationals, suspected of possible involvement in the 9/11 events. Today, clerics and those close to them in the royal family have urged the Saudi leadership to distance itself from Washington. Women and the younger generation of Saudis are increasingly more critical vis-a-vis US policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Washington's blatant support for Israel. …

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