The Beginning of a Long Relationship

The US-MBS relationship started off very warm under the Trump administration but soured when Joe Biden came to power in January 2021. Nevertheless, the Biden administration has learned its lesson that the KSA is an indispensable partner of the United States in the Middle East. The price being paid however is staggering with record high gasoline prices worldwide only due to the still not completely resolved feud between MBS and Biden. With increasing realization that there will be no return to the JCPOA, there is understanding of course how indispensible the KSA is as a staging ground for any war against Iran as the US and Israel are jointly preparing all conceivable and inconceivable military options. This created quite an urgency for building a regional security architecture, including so as to ensure appropriate defenses for Saudi oil wells from potential Iranian aggression and hence the need for Saudi-Israeli rapprochement as part and parcel of the Saudi-American-Israeli triangular relationship. Furthermore, despite the fact that the US is no longer reliant on Saudi oil, Riyadh is still able to dictate global oil prices by increasing or decreasing its oil production and that has a significant impact on the global economy.

A new Americanized generation of Saudi youth is growing up in the ultra-conservative desert kingdom and for whom MBS has rockstar status. That is the demographic future of Saudi Arabia. While it is true that the relatively young MBS has gained an international reputation as erratic and impulsive, there is no doubt that he has a well thought out long-term domestic reform strategy although he is still not yet in full control over the KSA for various reasons due to the veto power of King Salman, internal politics within the House of Saud and importantly the shadowy Wahhabi deep state.

However, in America recalibrating its relationship with MBS, there must be another important consideration, namely that MBS will in all likelihood remain in power for half a century. While it is possible that in a few decades from now MBS plans to introduce liberal democracy, for another few decades this will not be feasible considering the thoroughly Islamist nature of Saudi public opinion above a certain age bracket. MBS is an important partner for the United States and a key US ally who is going to stay for the long haul even after oil consumption has been phased out worldwide. The US government needs to consider the importance of building a long-term bipartisan relationship with MBS considering the danger of a 1979-scenario, namely that a secularist reformer is unseated by Islamists and replaced by a Daesh-like Salafist regime. Therefore strengthening MBS and granting him legitimacy despite legitimate human rights complaints is a vital US national security interest. It must be understood however that the reformist path of MBS has its inherent risks and could lead to an Islamist backlash just as it did in Iran, Turkey and Afghanistan. Therefore this is no time to push MBS for democratization since that is decades away at best. The further MBS proceeds in his process of liberalization and secularization the greater the threat of a Daesh-style takeover. America must show understanding that KSA will not be ready for democracy for a very long time and be ready to partner with MBS for the long term and hence the need to build bipartisan support for this profoundly misunderstood, yet true friend of the United States of America.

Published by Daniella Bartfeld

Daniella Bartfeld is the founding director of the Aliyah Organization.

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