The Skeptics

Saudi Arabia Will Use Trump to Gain Leverage over the War in Syria

Washington’s explanations for that collaboration range from weak to laughable. One justification is that Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (perhaps the most dangerous of AQ’s affiliates) is active in Yemen. But that explanation ignores the fact that the Houthis are vehemently opposed to the group. Scarcely better is the allegation that the Houthis are Iranian pawns who are to blame for Yemen’s instability and violence. The extent of Tehran’s backing actually is quite modest, and Riyadh’s meddling is far more extensive and disruptive. As in Syria, defeating the Houthis and consolidating the hold of a Saudi-backed Sunni regime in Yemen may serve the Kingdom’s interests, but that outcome does not benefit America’s interests or reputation. Collaborating in the commission of war crimes certainly does not do so.

Unfortunately, U.S. leaders seem inclined to blindly back Saudi Arabia whenever and whenever Riyadh’s rivalry with Tehran takes place. President Trump’s ongoing efforts to undermine the multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran appear to reflect the wishes of both Saudi Arabia and Israel. But sabotaging that accord creates needless tensions with Washington’s European allies and intensifies dangers throughout the Middle East. Worse, it increases the likelihood that Iran will acquire a nuclear arsenal, thereby likely leading to a U.S.-Iranian war. Such a conflict that removed Iran as a serious regional power would undoubtedly gladden the hearts of the Saudi royals, but it is hard to see how that destructive outcome benefits America.

For too many decades, the United States has adopted without much reflection policies that advanced Riyadh’s agenda when American interests were not at stake or even when they were undermined. Trump’s fawning behavior toward the Saudi rulers during his 2017 state visit to the Kingdom encapsulated Washington’s willingness to overlook or excuse Riyadh’s outrageous domestic and international behavior.

Despite the assertion that Saudi Arabia has been a loyal U.S. ally, the record indicates otherwise. The Saudi government funds the Wahhabi clergy that has spread a virulent, anti-Western brand of Islam throughout much of the Muslim world. Saudi-backed extremists have become cadres in terrorist organizations from Al Qaeda to ISIS. That fifteen of the nineteen hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi nationals is indicative of the problem that Riyadh’s sponsorship of Islamic extremism creates.

Saudi Arabia is a nasty, duplicitous power that pursues its own goals even when that pursuit imperils crucial American interests. President Trump needs to adopt a real America First policy in the Middle East—one that no longer allows the Saudi tail to wag the American dog.

Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow in defense and foreign-policy studies at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor at the National Interest, is the author of ten books, the contributing editor of ten books, and the author of more than seven hundred articles on international affairs.

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