The U.S. and Saudi Arabia: A Mutually Beneficial Partnership

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November 2002 | Go to article overview

The U.S. and Saudi Arabia: A Mutually Beneficial Partnership


War in Peace

On Aug. 27 John Duke Anthony, president and chief executive officer of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, briefed a packed room at the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine about the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia. Although there has been much recent discussion in the press of the relationship between Washington and the Kingdom, Dr. Anthony noted, an overwhelming majority of Americans have little or no accurate knowledge of Saudi Arabia. In contrast, he pointed out, more than 200,000 Saudis have been educated in the United States, experiencing American culture first hand. A perception gap of such magnitude is bound to cause problems for any relationship, argued Anthony, and the U.S.-Saudi relationship is not immune. In recent weeks, he added, some influential U.S. policymakers have attempted to increase the friction between these two countries.

Anthony explained that most Americans see Saudi Arabia as an "oil well, not a country"-Le, more as a commodity than a community. There is little appreciation in this country of the fact that more than one-fifth of all humanity looks to Saudi Arabia as the spiritual center of their world. Nor is there much acknowledgement of the fact that Saudi Arabia is one of the most generous countries in the world in terms of foreign aid disbursement, dedicating as much as 5.5 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) to foreign aid. By contrast, the U.S. gives an average of one-tenth of 1 percent. According to Anthony, Saudi Arabia has repeatedly gone out on a limb, and even "gone out on a twig at the end of a limb," to support US. policy goals that were unpopular with its population or with neighboring states.

Anthony argued that the American people were ignorant of the depth of the U.S.-Saudi relationship. Saudi Arabia was one of the biggest Arab supporters of the Madrid, and later Oslo, peace processes. It contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to help the United States fight Cold War skirmishes all over the world, from Afghanistan to Angola to Central America. It stood as a bulwark against the Islamic revolution in Iran, helping to ensure that the other Gulf States did not fall to anti-American regimes. Recently, the Saudi Kingdom has been at the forefront of peacemaking efforts in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, introducing and securing unanimous Arab support for Saudi Crown Prince Abdallah's peace plan. Anthony maintained that the United States and Saudi Arabia have had "a partnership of mutual benefit for more than 60 years" and that relationship is now being put to the test.

Anthony believes that the recent stirrings of enmity toward Saudi Arabia are more prevalent in the private sector, think tanks and the media, than in the government. …

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