by Nick Hermosilla ‘19
For years the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been the U.S.’s most important ally in the Middle East. However due to recent events, such as the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, diplomatic standoff with Qatar, kidnapping of the Lebanese Prime Minister, and the ongoing involvement in the Yemen Civil War, the United States has begun to reevaluate its relationship with the largest gulf monarchy.
Until recently, President Trump has held off on criticizing the Saudis and their Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), who according to Turkish officials, is the one who ordered the attack on Khashoggi. Trump’s reasons had been due to the importance of the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, citing the recent $350 billion weapons deal.
So far the actions taken by the current administration have been mixed. Criticism of the Saudis has grown in the White House, with Trump recently calling it “the worst cover up in history.” Additionally, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has withdrawn from Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment Initiative. So far, these actions have been good for showing that the Trump administration is willing to challenge Saudi Arabia if they don’t uphold certain standards, but action must be taken to change the American relationship with Saudi Arabia overall.
The United States must tread lightly with its response to Saudi Arabia; if they respond too brashly, the world economy could see a spike in oil prices, and the United States could lose its primary ally in the Middle East. Most importantly is that if economic actions are going to be taken, they cannot be sanctions like those aimed at China, Russia or Iran. Any actions should instead be aimed at the individual officers and officials who directed the attack, rather than entire industries or companies in Saudi Arabia.
Additionally, the United States should roll back support for the Saudi military, specifically support to the coalition in Yemen. The United States’ focus in Yemen should be fighting Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State (IS) in Yemen rather than blindly supporting Saudi Arabia’s brutal and misguided campaign against the Houthi rebel movement. However, the United States should still focus on fighting the Houthis, an Iranian proxy that have destabilized the region through starting the civil war in Yemen. To do this the United States should switch its military and intelligence assistance towards the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Jordan for countering Iran throughout Yemen and the greater Middle East.
This allows the United States to rid itself of the baggage of Saudi Arabia, while still retaining capable allies in the region. Jordan was crucial in arming Syrian rebel groups to fight against Bashar Al-Assad’s forces and has been a vital intelligence ally in helping track and capture known terrorists in Iraq and Syria. Similarly, UAE has stepped up their support for the American-led coalition in Afghanistan by deploying several special forces units, and within their own borders provide locations for several American drone bases used for striking ISIS and Al-Qaeda.