Setting U.S. Relations with Saudi Arabia on a Correction Course

By Gary Grappo

Gary Grappo is a former U.S. ambassador who held senior positions including Minister Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad; U.S. Ambassador to the Sultanate of Oman; and Charge d’Affaires and Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. As a career member of the Senior Foreign Service of the U.S. Department of State, he served as Envoy and Head of Mission of the Office of the Quartet Representative, the Honorable Mr. Tony Blair, in Jerusalem. He’s currently a Distinguished Fellow at the Center for Middle East Studies at the Korbel School for International Studies, University of Denver.

There was never any question that America’s relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would become one of its most important in the region and indeed in the world. It is the birthplace of one of the world’s largest monotheistic faiths and serves as the Muslim world’s “custodian of its two holiest places.” It sits atop the world’s richest oil reserves. A strong relationship with the kingdom is the sine qua non for the world’s superpower committed to maintaining stability in the region, the world’s energy markets and the global economy. The rise of extremism in the Middle East in the final decades of the 20th century made it more imperative that the U.S. forge closer ties with the nation that many consider the ideological birthplace of extremist religious ideology in the Muslim world.

For Saudi Arabia, too, a strong relationship with the U.S. was and remains, indispensable. It is without question, the kingdom’s most important relationship in the world. Its oil wealth, and all that came from it, made it an attractive target for nations as well as non-state actors with an eye on seizing the prize, whether the Soviet Union, Iran or Al Qaida. The only nation that could serve as its defensive backstop against any potential hostile nation or group has been, and remains, the United States. Saudi Arabia needs the U.S. Without it, its identity, the permanence of the ruling Al Saud dynasty, and its oil wealth are exposed.

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