Why Aren’t We Pushing the Saudis

Even before Wikileaks, it was abundantly clear that Saudi Arabia is the largest financer of terrorism in the world. The US knows this, and Saudi knows we know. The continue to do to a half-assed job, doing enough to keep us happy but not enough to seriously attack the problem. My question, given that Saudi Arabia is not actually a major oil supplier to the United States (see Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Nigeria etc), what is keeping us from really putting the screws to them? Is it because maintaining an uneasy friendship and geting some cooperation is the lesser evil than making them an enemy? That is my reading of the situation. Would serious pressure even make them an enemy or could we still maintain decent relations? The more I think about it, the less I understand the special relationship we have today. Readers, your thoughts?

Unrelated News: I’m done with grad school now and will officially have my degree in a few weeks. Baby Chirol is now almost 7 months old and doing well. Thus, I have a bit more time and am hoping to ease back into blogging. However, over two years in the US has influenced my outlook on foreign policy and you can expect a changed outlook, as shown by my recent post promoting American neutrality.

About Chirol

Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol (1852 - 1929) was a journalist, prolific author, world historian, and British diplomat. He began his career as a foreign correspondent and later became editor of the London Times. After two decades as a journalist he joined Her Majesty's Foreign Ministry as a diplomat and was subsequently knighted for his distinguished service as a foreign affairs advisor. Additionally, he wrote a dozen books on foreign affairs including The Far Eastern Question (1896), Serbia and the Serbs (1914), The End of the Ottoman Empire (1920) and The Egyptian Problem (1921). He is generally credited with popularizing "Middle East" in reference to the Arabian Peninsula with his book The Middle Eastern Question (1903). "Chirol" is a US citizen and graduate student studying Defense and Strategic Studies and government contractor. As with the historical Chirol, he has traveled to over two dozen countries and lived abroad for many years. Chirol speaks English and German fluently with basic knowledge of manyl of others.
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14 Responses to Why Aren’t We Pushing the Saudis

  1. Drew says:

    I think the special relationship is best understood not as one between the US and Saudi Arabia but rather as one between certain prominent families in the US (notably Texas) and the Gulf. National interests are of secondary concern.

  2. TDL says:

    Chirol,
    Congrats on the degree (and belated congrats on baby Chirol.) I think (i.e. some speculation on my part) the special relationship b/n the Saudis & the U.S. is driven more by personal relationships that have developed over the past 60 years. I know that the Bush clan has some deep relationships in S.A. and I have read, here and there, that Bill Clinton has also developed deep ties with Arab leaders.

    Generally, when you have two families that dominate the political scene for two decades (& who happen to be more similar than dissimilar), much of the institutions they govern will come to resemble their beliefs & interests. I think that these personal relationships have much more to do with the strategic direction of the U.S. state than most people would like to admit.

    Regards,
    TDL

  3. seouldout says:

    Though the US isn’t directly dependent upon Saudi oil, it is the Saudis who dictate world oil prices. At a whim the Saudis can withdraw a million or two or three barrels per day from the market and no one else can make up the shortfall. Those who would be directly hit would scramble to fill their needs and spot prices would sky rocket. In the short- and mid-term not only would oil markets be in turmoil but the shock would cascade everywhere else. And poof, there goes the world economic recovery, if one does exist. You can be sure the Iranians and the Venezuelans would be overjoyed if US-KSA relations were rubbished. And if US-KSA relations went south I reckon the other GCC states would distance themselves from Washington, adding more instability to the markets.

    The importance the Saudis play currently is excess capacity; they can quickly bring many more barrels to market, so if there was a shock to another producer (terrorism, accident, unrest, coup) the KSA can fill the gap. No other producer can do this.

    The US needs migrate to gas and nuclear before it can consider showing a firmer hand to Riyadh. Until then the Americans exercise restraint. But since so many US allies depend on the Saudis perhaps Riyadh may never see a firmer hand from Washington.

  4. Windhorst says:

    Herzlichen Glückwunsch!

    You posed difficult questions: Given that the KSA is quite stable, the USA has limited options to press the Saudis to anything, IMO.
    Perhaps it’s also, because they are the only OPEC member who has over-capacities in oil production, so they would become important of a shortage in Venezuela or Nigeria. These are not the most stable states

  5. M Brueschke says:

    I’m sorry to argue, but Saudi Arabia is a major exporter to the US

    http://www.eia.doe.gov/pub/oil_gas/petroleum/data_publications/company_level_imports/current/import.html

    While Canada clearly is number one, Saudi Arabia flirts with 2nd and 3rd spot every month, with infrastructure problems in Nigeria and Venezuela and failing reserves in Mexico, Saudi Arabia is still very important for oil and for US arms sales.

  6. purpleslog says:

    It doesn’t matter if Saudi Arabia is first or last in oil imports to the US. Oil is a global market. The removing of supply from that market by Saudi Arabia would cause prices of oil to rise everywhere.

    Commenter seouldout has it right, well partially right. The US needs options. That means: mandated flex fuel vehicles, fast-track nuclear power plants (large and small), research on orbital solar power, a network of smart power grids, and (IM0) municipal plasma furnaces.

    To truly reduce the power of oil-producing countries who are friends of the US, the above energy types need to be substituted for oil world wide. The US has an opportunity here to meld hi-tech and low-tech into product to sell to to the rest of the world.

  7. Bob Harrison says:

    I have to parrot seouldout’s assertion that the importance of the Saudis is excess capacity. I heard some analysis of the situation with Iran vis-a-vis China and apparently the Saudis have assured the Chinese that any disruption in Iranian oil production due to either sanctions or military action could be easily compensated for by an increase in Saudi production. Furthermore the Saudis are comfortable with a price of $75-$80/barrel while the Iranians require at least $90/barrel to function effectively. So let’s thank Arab-Persian rivalry for hampering OPEC’s effectiveness as a cartel. Thanks to a belligerent Iran it is actually in the interest of the Saudis to keep a ceiling on oil prices.
    Also I’d point out that the Middle East remains the worlds largest oil producer and as the North Sea, Gulf of Mexico and various other regions decline in production the Middle East will only increase in importance. KSA is the biggest player in the most important region; it’s not hard to imagine that we would tolerate the most abhorrent behavior on their part to maintain their cooperation.
    I’m not saying it’s an ideal situation but from the perspective of an amoral realist, it makes sense.

  8. Wataru says:

    Interesting that Iran is considered “belligerent” whereas the Saudis are happily tolerated. It must really confuse the nations of the world how the US goes about picking friends and enemies.

  9. Curzon says:

    I wish I knew what that meant — financing terrorism. Who are the Saudis giving money to? Not Bin Laden in Afghanistan, he has long fallen out of favor and is loathed by the Saudis. Not Yemen in the South, where the Saudis are doing all they can to stop their southern neighbor from becoming a failed state and flooding them wish chaos and refugees. Who are the Saudis funding?

  10. von Kaufman-Turkestansky says:

    Congratulations! So that would be Dr. Chirol now?

  11. Chirol says:

    Thanks. Not Dr though. Just a Masters Degree. No Phds for me.

  12. seouldout says:

    “It must really confuse the nations of the world how the US goes about picking friends and enemies.”

    Though I’m not a teen, I appreciate the wisdom of the neologism “frenemy”. How this word hasn’t existed for thousands of years beggars belief.

    Maybe it exists in other languages.

  13. Chirol says:

    Seouldout: Agreed

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