By Daniel Larison
February 28, 2017
The American Conservative
Steven Cook comes to a strange conclusion about the future of the U.S.-Saudi relationship:
It is not that the U.S. shouldn’t walk away from Saudi Arabia because it is a major oil producer and a partner in the fight against terrorism, or because the bilateral relationship has benefited Washington. The larger issue is that if Saudi Arabia is left to its own devices, it will sow more chaos in the Middle East.
Cook does a very good job summing up the enormous harm that the Saudis have done in recent years and the incompetence of their more meddlesome foreign policy, but I’m not buying the conclusion that we have to maintain the current relationship with them so that they don’t cause even more trouble. The Saudis are at best a liability for the U.S. at this point, and thanks to the wrecking of Yemen that our government has supported for the last two years I think it is fair to say that they have become a regional menace. That has occurred while the U.S. has been lavishing them with more arms than at any previous point in the relationship. It seems reasonable to assume that there is a connection there. If the Saudis had not had U.S. arms and assistance over the last two years, they and their allies would have been able to cause much less harm than they have, and the coalition likely would have had to come to terms with their enemies in Yemen instead of continuing their war.
Washington’s ongoing commitment to “reassuring” the Saudis has been a nightmare for Yemen and has done nothing to make the U.S. or the region more secure, so it isn’t enough to say that the Saudis would become even more destructive if the U.S. reduced or eliminated its support for them. That might be true, or it might not, but we know right now that the current arrangement of enabling their destructive behavior is indefensible. Keeping the relationship as it is might prevent worse evils if there were any evidence that the U.S. acts as a restraining influence on the Saudis, but in practice it has been just the opposite. We have given the Saudis the means to attack one of their neighbors, and our government has backed them to the hilt as they did so. There might have been a time when supporting the Saudis seemed the least bad option for the U.S., but now this relationship is noxious, it makes the U.S. complicit in their war crimes, and it undeniably contributes to regional instability. It is very unlikely that this relationship will be ended, but it definitely ought to be.