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Is the Current US-Saudi Relationship “Unreformable”?

The foreign policy establishment claims the US is dependent on its relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Donald Trump holds a lunch meeting with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (center left) and members of his delegation in Washington, DC, on March 20, 2018.

I’m starting to wonder if the current US-Saudi relationship might be “unreformable.” You see a certain pattern over and over and you start to think that it might be structural. This pattern can no longer be considered a “mistake.” There must be an underlying structural cause for why this melody keeps getting repeated.

We’ve seen this pattern before in US foreign policy, where the US government appeared to be “captured” by its purported “client.” It happened with Ngô Đình Diệm in Vietnam, it happened with Augusto Pinochet in Chile, it happened with the Mohammad Reza Shah in Iran. The US government reaches a point where it’s very clear that the client is behaving in a way that is not only destructive to himself, but destructive to the interests of the US government, as the US government perceives them. So the US government tells the client to stop behaving like that. But the client doesn’t stop. The client keeps going, harming US interests, as the US government perceives them.

Why doesn’t the client stop when the “patron” tells the client to stop?

Maybe because the client has a fundamentally different understanding of the power relations from the patron. The client has come to believe that the patron needs the client as much as the client needs the patron. When that happens, they are no longer “patron” and “client.”

I’m reading pieces now claiming that the US needs to intervene with the Saudi regime to save the all-important, crucial US-Saudi relationship. Maybe that’s just a tactic to try to introduce a new idea to the ever-more-war “Blob” of the US foreign policy establishment, a kind of liberation theology for the Blob, to gently introduce the idea that the US-Saudi relationship needs to be reformed because it’s in mortal peril.

But maybe the idea that the US-Saudi relationship is sacrosanct is the original sin, the idolatrous golden calf that is causing all these problems in the first place; and maybe we can’t stop the monster until we free ourselves of this idolatrous belief.

What, exactly, are the “US interests” with respect to the Saudi regime? People in the US foreign policy establishment love to talk about “US interests” like it’s a fixed thing and we all know what it is. But what if that’s not true? What if your definition of “US interests” depends on what your own interests are?

When the Saudi-led crackdown on the democracy movement in Bahrain was unleashed, the line of the Blob was: Bahrain is the headquarters of the Fifth Fleet. What can we do? They have us over a barrel.

Finally, there was a piece in a foreign policy journal where someone said: Let’s talk about whether we really “need” the naval base in Bahrain. It’s a convenience, not a necessity. The “headquarters” of the Fifth Fleet is an office building. The ships are mostly at sea. The US Navy likes to dock in Bahrain because the sailors can drink and fraternize there. But it’s a convenience, not a necessity. We could let it go and the Earth would keep turning on its axis. And keeping it is not sufficient justification for putting our finger in the dike to help block peaceful democratic change of the apartheid regime in Bahrain.

What’s true in this case? How much of the current US-Saudi relationship is necessity, and how much is convenience? How come nobody seems to be asking that now, when the Saudi regime has repeatedly, ostentatiously demonstrated its strong belief that we are the servant, and they are the master?

Under the Bush administration, after the September 11 attacks, there was a plan to distance the US from Saudi Arabia. This was a US government internal justification for the US invasion of Iraq. “The Saudis are insane, we need a new base of operations in the Middle East.” That’s a direct quote from an official at the Bush State Department. So we invaded Iraq, we’re buddies with Iraq now, we have troops in Iraq now.

But still the foreign policy establishment claims that we are hopelessly dependent on our relationship with the Saudi regime.

The Obama administration also had a plan for distancing the US from Saudi Arabia. Their plan was to make the US energy independent. So, now, supposedly, we’re energy independent.

But still the Blob claims that we are hopelessly dependent on our relationship with the Saudi regime.

How come the Blob continues to insist that we are hopelessly dependent on the Saudi regime, when we have troops everywhere in the Middle East now, when we are energy independent now?

Maybe our fundamental problem isn’t with the Saudi regime, but with people in the US foreign policy establishment who insist that our purported dependency relationship with the Saudi regime was created on the Eighth Day. Maybe when these people speak about “US interests,” they are actually speaking primarily about their own interests. Maybe the interests of the majority of Americans are fundamentally different with respect to the US relationship with the Saudi regime than the interests of the Blob. Maybe we need new leadership on US foreign policy, outside the Blob, that will articulate the interests of the majority of Americans with respect to the US-Saudi relationship rather than the interests of the Blob.

After all, the Saudi regime and the Blob badly wanted a Syrian war in 2013, but the overwhelming majority of Americans across party lines didn’t want it. That’s why peace advocates were able to stop it: because the overwhelming majority of Americans, across party lines, didn’t want it.

What if the current US-Saudi relationship is like the Syria war in 2013 – something the Blob wants, but something the majority of Americans don’t want and don’t need?

Let us put this proposition to a test with a referendum. Let us put this proposition to a test with a clean, up or down floor vote in the people’s House in November on ending unconstitutional US participation in the Saudi war in Yemen. Let’s urge our Representatives to support the House War Powers Resolution resolution to force a floor vote.

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