Magazine article Foreign Policy

Kingdom Come

Magazine article Foreign Policy

Kingdom Come

Article excerpt

Steve LeVines sober reflections on Saudi Arabia's importance to U.S. interests are welcome after so many years of unremitting public vilification of the kingdom in the U.S. media ("Frenemies Forever," January/February 2011). LeVine is right to point out that, whatever Americans may now think, they need the Saudis as diplomatic partners--for their oil, and for their powerful role in the suppression of anti-American terrorism. But LeVine seems to take it for granted that the Saudis still believe that they need the Americans as much as the Americans need them. In truth, the goodwill that fuels this friendship is depleted, and if U.S. policies remain as they are, it's most unlikely to prove to be a renewable resource.


The key is whether a future generation of Saudis can be brought to believe, as their elders did, that close ties with the United States serve their country's interests as well as America's. LeVine mentions Saudi "fury at Bush's perceived coddling of Israel and inaction in the face of Palestinian deaths" as the moment Saudi Arabia started talking about a divorce from the United States. But this happened not in 2002, as he suggests, but in the spring of 2001. That was when the United States revealed its powerlessness to restrain Israeli brutality during the second Palestinian uprising. Thoughtful Saudis deduced that the United States could not be counted on to protect them or other Arabs from Israel either.

Subsequent developments led many in the kingdom to conclude that, far from safeguarding their country or advancing its interests, ties to America threatened national security. The United States invaded Iraq and facilitated its incorporation into a new Iranian sphere of influence. The kingdom was attacked by anti-Israeli and anti-American Saudis. The joint U.S.-Israeli attempt to overthrow the elected government in Palestine drove Hamas into dependence on Iran. The Israeli Air Force's maiming of Lebanon with U.S. support propelled Hezbollah onto the commanding heights of Lebanese politics. Inept U.S. diplomacy then locked Syria into Iran's embrace. Saudi exasperation with these and other U.S. blunders, not support for the militaristic policies that produced them, accounts for King Abdullah's demand that America figure out a way to "cut off the head of the snake" its bungling has nurtured.

No sensible Saudi would want the United States as an enemy, but few in the coming generation now see America as a friend, still less as an ally. LeVine correctly argues that the United States has a lot at stake with Saudi Arabia. That's only one of many reasons that it cannot afford to stick with its current policies in the Middle East.

Charles W. Freeman Jr.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Assistant Defense Secretary

Washington, D.C.

Steve LeVine's article illuminates a central question of U.S. foreign policy: Which countries in the world make good allies? The most troublesome the United States now has are Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Both help it fight its enemies, while at the same time helping its enemies fight it.

As the article makes clear, the United States relies on Saudi Arabia for about 11 percent of its oil and also counts on Saudi support in anti-terrorism campaigns. …

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