Many are under the impression that the relationship between the US Democratic Party and Saudi Arabia differs from that of its Republican rivals with the Kingdom. Democratic presidents or congressmen are also widely believed to take a principled stand against Riyadh. However, that is far from the truth: both sides have a very positive position towards the Kingdom, stemming from the historical ties and superior interests that bind the two countries.
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In fact, the first US president to really nurture and cement ties with Saudi Arabia was a Democrat, not a Republican. As World War II was winding down, Franklin Roosevelt met with King Abdulaziz at the Suez Canal in February 1945, against the backdrop of bombing raids by the Axis powers. This was possibly the most significant meeting held between the leaders of the two countries, since it laid the foundations for bilateral relations. Roosevelt’s interest was reaffirmed when he invited King Abdulaziz to visit Washington and, breaking protocol, received the king’s delegates – his sons, Faisal and Khalid – at the White House for a dinner ceremony attended by the vice president, the Secretary of State and several congressmen of the time.
Similarly, the US and the Kingdom enjoyed good relations under Democratic President John Kennedy, who also supported the Kingdom during the Yemen war.
Analysts believed that Democratic President Bill Clinton would be less interested in maintaining bilateral relations with the Kingdom in response to the exceptional relations between his predecessor, George HW Bush, and Riyadh. However, Clinton proved these assumptions wrong and he went on to restructure and foster ties and select the Kingdom as a partner in the Bosnian war peace process.
Under President Barack Obama, bilateral relations were strong in the first presidential term, but Obama distanced himself during his second term as he sought to achieve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran. He believed the deal was a landmark achievement that would end the nuclear threat and was betting the deal would turn Iran into a peaceful regime, like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, that focuses on development rather than war. This naive theory led to many cracks in ties with Riyadh and was later shown to have many flaws in the President’s political philosophy and vision for the region. Very soon, Iran began to expand its military operations and sow the seeds of chaos throughout the region, financed with approximately $120 billion, the equivalent of Jordan’s budget for six years, in blocked Iranian debts and funds it obtained from Washington.
The second mistake was when Obama concluded that the US should withdraw from the region and that it will not need Saudi Arabia for the nuclear deal and, more importantly, for the shale oil approach that propelled his country out of being an oil-importing state dependent on the Middle East. oil to an oil exporter. This conclusion was also later proven wrong: as competition between the US and China intensified and Russia’s influence and regional relations expanded, the Middle East became even more important. Then came the shock of the Ukraine War to bring the White House back to its old thinking. Since the 1920s, this oil and gas-rich region of strategic passages known as the Middle East has been central to US foreign policy makers and will remain so for many years to come.
What really matters are the positions of the president of the United States, not his party. Bonds built on solid foundations go a long way than those built on personal relationships, contrary to what some believe.
Good relations with former President Donald Trump represented a great diplomatic effort by Saudi Arabia during its first weeks in the White House, but this special relationship had negative repercussions in the subsequent elections, as both parties threw the ball in Riyadh. the courts of each.
Similar difficulties appear to be on the way for Biden’s term. For example, when President Clinton entered the Oval Office, many believed that relations with Saudi Arabia would worsen because of the extraordinary ties between the Kingdom and his predecessor, George HW Bush, who played a major role in allying with Saudi Arabia to defeat to Saddam Hussein. and expel him from Kuwait. However, during Clinton’s eight years in the White House, the relationship with Saudi Arabia remained good and cooperative.
No presidential term has passed without minor storms between the two countries, but both often successfully weather these storms quietly. For example, under Republican President Ronald Reagan, King Fahd expelled US Ambassador Hume Horan for what he considered interference in the Kingdom’s internal politics. I imagine that Biden, who still has a little over two years, which is not a short period, in the White House, will approach the ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia with realism and positivity, despite the fact that the currents push him in a opposite and anti-Saudi direction. .
In a rather unusual move, Biden penned an opinion piece in The Washington Post explaining his view of relations with the Kingdom. The piece is a good indicator that the crisis in bilateral relations is behind us. Now, we must wait and see how his meeting with the Saudi leadership will play out. Biden is also expected to end anti-Saudi stances and decisions from the Trump era and his early presidency regarding military cooperation in the Yemen war, the blacklisting of Saudis, attempts to persecute Saudi sovereign institutions in US courts, and other similar actions that prevent the establishment of strong bilateral relations.
This article was originally published in and translated from the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.
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