Magazine article The International Economy

The Saudi Problem: Ignore the Press Reports. If the Goal Is Stability, Saudi Arabia Is Becoming More Stable Today Than in Years Past

Magazine article The International Economy

The Saudi Problem: Ignore the Press Reports. If the Goal Is Stability, Saudi Arabia Is Becoming More Stable Today Than in Years Past

Article excerpt

The American public has recently been served up a stream of articles about strains in the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia and the imminent demise of the Saudi royal family. Americans are troubled by repons of violent opposition, as well as the fact that many of Osama bin Laden's terrorists were born in Saudi Arabia, and funded from there. The impression has been created that America is bearing the consequences of Saudi incompetence, corruption, and inaction. This picture is outdated and complicates U.S.-Saudi relations.

Close U.S.-Saudi relations are a keystone of U.S. Middle East policy. The two countries enjoy a long-standing strategic alliance, founded on a simple exchange: Saudi Arabia would provide an uninterrupted flow of oil to the United States, which in return would insure regional security, guaranteeing that Saudi resources would not fall prey to hungry predators. Since the alliance was formed by President Roosevelt and King Abdul Aziz near the end of World War II, differences of opinion have occurred from time to time, but the underlying foundation remained solid.

The kingdom does have serious economic and political problems. Sentiment on the ground is certainly more charged than before September 11th. But this is a long way from concluding that Saudi Arabia is an unreliable partner, or that the royal family's days are numbered. The kingdom has begun to put internal and external policies in place in recent years to stabilize the situation they now face. Media reports partly reflect frustration in Washington political circles with Saudi Arabia's hesitant cooperation in the U.S.-led war on terrorism. In actual fact, the kingdom has provided cooperation, albeit not as publicly as the Bush administration might have liked. And its most important contribution has been on the oil side, cajoling OPEC into accepting lower prices immediately after September 11th.

Oil is crucial to U.S. Saudi ties, as well as internal Saudi politics. Oil revenues represent 82 percent of the government's revenue. Low revenues from oil or excessive corruption generate internal dissent, flamed by a sense of regional discrimination within the Kingdom and gross income inequalities between the ruling family and most of the population. The stationing of U.S. troops in the Kingdom and Washington's failures to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iraq, to name but two regional issues, have only added fuel to the domestic fire, exacerbating anti-American sentiment.

The Saudi ruling family has faced these problems since the early 1990's. …

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