TEHRAN, Feb. 05 (Press Shia) – Trump’s recent executive order on US entry ban excludes countries like Saudi Arabia despite his anti-Saudi remarks.
“The defense of Saudi Arabia is vital to the defense of the United States,” Roozvelt has said back in 1943. The United States and Saudi Arabia have been allies enjoying solid ties since 1945, the time when the vitality of such an oil resource became clear for the then US President Franklin Roosevelt.
Jimmy Carter’s policy, “Carter Doctrine”, which took effect on 1980, fortified the ties further. “Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force,” was the key conclusion of Carter’s State of Union Address on January 1980 that set the ground for policies deterring Soviet Union’s influence in the Middle East and defending US’ national interests in the region.
The tradition has been persistent throughout the history during terms of different presidents yet an exception emerged during the 2016 presidential election campaigns; Donald Trump.
Trump started his anti-Saudi campaign by calling the kingdom “big, big trouble” when he announced his candidacy for the Presidential nomination. Later he announced that he would consider stopping US oil purchase from the Saudis and also other Arab allies during his campaign as the Republican’s front-runner. He made the comments in an interview with New York Times back in March 2016 on his foreign policy. In response to a question about whether, if elected president, he would halt oil purchases from US allies unless they provided on-the-ground forces against ISIL, Trump said “probably yes.”
“We’re not being reimbursed for the kind of tremendous service that we’re performing by protecting various countries. Now Saudi Arabia’s one of them,” Trump has noted. Trump even went further saying that Saudi Arabia owes its existence to US and its unwavering protection “If Saudi Arabia was without the cloak of American protection, I don’t think it would be around.”
Maybe at first many believe that this is again one of his strange remarks during the campaign but surprisingly this was not the last time. Trump continued the tradition during the campaign in his major speeches. Trump continuously underlined that his policy regarding US’ Arab allies particularly Saudi Arabia would be different. On August, Trump had an interview with NBC during which he said he is “not a big fan of the kingdom.” “The primary reason we’re with Saudi Arabia is because we need the oil,” Trump said. “Now we don’t need the oil so much, and if we let our people really go, we wouldn’t need the oil at all and we could let everybody else fight it out,” Trump said. Trump also criticized Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen and said that the kingdom would soon need help “Saudi Arabia is going to be in big trouble pretty soon and they’re going to need help, because if you look at Yemen and you look at that border, you don’t have to be an expert to know that is one long border, and they’re not going in for Yemen, they’re going in for the oil, they’re going in for Saudi Arabia, so Saudi Arabia is going to need help,” Trump said in the same interview.
Trump’s anti-Saudi remarks can even be traced in presidential debates. “We defend Japan, we defend Germany, we defend South Korea, we defend Saudi Arabia, we defend countries. They do not pay us. But they should be paying us, because we are providing tremendous service and we’re losing a fortune. That’s why we’re losing—we’re losing—we lose on everything. I say, who makes these—we lose on everything,” Trump said in first presidential debate with Hilary Clinton. In the same debate Trump underlined that these countries either have to defend themselves or pay for the services they receive from the United States. Trump even touched upon the human rights issues in Saudi Arabia during the third debate “these are people that kill women and treat women horribly. And yet you take their money; why don’t you give back the money that you’ve taken from certain countries that treat certain groups of people so horribly? Why don’t you give back the money?” Trump said to Hillary Clinton criticizing her for receiving money from Saudi Arabia.
Persian Gulf Arab states, largely Saudi Arabia as the leader of the coalition against Syrian government and Yemen, are really concerned about Trumps’ approach against terrorism and his will for cooperation with Syria and Russia. The cooperation would have tragic results for Arab states that have invested heavily in opposition groups to topple down President Bashar Assad, the idea Trump doesn’t support. He has also made it clear that he wouldn’t help financially the opposition groups despite the Obama’s government.
JASTA is another concern for Saudi Arabia. The Justice against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, enacted during last days of Obama’s term, allows Americans to sue Saudi Arabia and its officials for alleged complicity in the 9/11 attacks. For sure the real intention behind JASTA was not terrorism and suing Saudis, which would have dire consequences for Washington-Riyadh strategic ties; JASTA was approved to be used as a leverage to impose pressure on Saudi Arabia to grant more privileges to US in the region and also let Americans confiscate Saudi assets invested in US.
Riyadh reacted to US’ developments, JASTA and election of Trump as president, by suspending its investment in US to rethink its financial strategy toward Washington. Sources also announced Saudi Arabia would reconsider its initial public offering (IPO) of the Saudi largest state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco on New York Stock Exchange.
Trump’s anti-Saudi remarks also could be interpreted in the same concept. His stance against the Saudi Arabia caused greater concern for the kingdom when it become clear that he would run the Arab country’s powerful ally for the next four years. Trump closed a number of companies associated with Saudi Arabia before his inauguration as the US president, reportedly to “avoid potential conflicts of interests” after taking the office.
Trump started his presidency with signing an executive order on banning nationals of 7 countries including Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The act does not enlist countries like Saudi Arabia yet Trump announced in an interview with ABC News that citizens of countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia would face extreme vetting; “We are excluding certain countries. But for other countries, we’re gonna have extreme vetting. It’s going to be very hard to come in. Right now it’s very easy to come in. It’s gonna be very, very hard. I don’t want terror in this country,” Trump said.
Few days later, Trump and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman had a telephone call during which they agreed to support safe zones in Syria and Yemen, according to White House statement. They had also agreed on strengthening joint efforts to fight against ISIL. “The president requested, and the King agreed, to support safe zones in Syria and Yemen,” the statement said. The statement also said Saudi king has invited Trump “to lead a Middle East effort to defeat terrorism and to help build a new future, economically and socially,” for Saudi Arabia and the region.
Promising financial supports and funding for creating safe zones in Syria and Yemen indicates Saudi Arabia is well concerned about Trump’s policies and try to bribe him into closer ties. The idea of creating safe zones in Syria was raised during Obama administration, but went off the table when Pentagon estimated it to cost some $1 billion each month.
The deal clearly indicates what new strategic ties would mean for US and Saudi Arabia. Obviously Washington and Riyadh will remain closest allies and that would be simplistic to imagine the break up of the 70-year relations under acts like JASTA or a president like Trump. Saudi Arabia needs US for security reasons and its support regardless of all Saudis’ crimes in the region. US, on the other hand, is heavily dependent on geopolitical and strategic position of Saudi Arabia in Middle East, its oil and economy and its support for the Zionist regime. Latest developments, well-organized by the United States, would result in more privileged Washington who would use every single opportunity to threaten the kingdom and make it compensate for it, thus moving forward its own national interests in the region.
Parnaz Talebi has done her MA in North American Studies in University of Tehran.