Quiet pressure is almost always most prudent. The small circle of decisionmakers in Saudi Arabia does not take well to public embarrassment, and they believe strongly in the value of close personal relationships. To be effective, U.S. pressure must involve top officials, including the president. Otherwise, it will simply be ignored or may even prove counterproductive.
The Trump administration should recognize that Saudi Arabia is vital to the struggle to defeat the Islamic State, Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups. But it is not a friend. Demonizing Saudi Arabia does not help advance U.S. interests, and the ties that bind should not be dismissed. But neither should the new administration see Washington and Riyadh as fully aligned, given the profound difference in values.
Daniel Byman is a professor and senior associate dean at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Follow him @dbyman.
Image: U.S.-Saudi bilateral machine gun live-fire training. Flickr/U.S. Naval Forces Central Command