Is the Gulf's Relationship With Washington a Mistake?
13 August 2015
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
The US administration's deal with Iran on its nuclear program, which ends
sanctions and paves the way for rapprochement with Tehran, was viewed by some
as a rather low move by Washington against its longtime allies in the Gulf,
who were loyal for over five decades. As a result, some in the region believe
the deal requires the Gulf states reconsider their relationship with the US.
The relationship between Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf countries with the
US is not an ordinary one and is a prime example of what diplomacy can
achieve in our region. Those who aren't aware of what it has achieved do not
value it and do not have a deep understanding of politics. Relations are
usually established within the context of mutual interests and are based on
respecting charters and agreements, including non-written ones; they must not
be viewed on the basis of mythical conspiracy theories nor endowed with more
interpretation than can be tolerated or supported in terms of prior
commitments. The relationship with Washington is thus not based on
nationalist, religious, or emotional ties. Its pillars are oil, commerce, and
political consensus over several issues—though not all; there are some major
issues on which the Gulf states and Washington differ, and those differences
will continue to exist. Sure, Gulf–US ties are not as strong as those between
Washington and, say, Britain, but they still much more solid than the
relationship the US has with some other Arab and Islamic countries.
The Americans have found in the Gulf states a set of stable regional
allies—allies who honor their agreements, unlike other countries in the
Middle such as Libya and Iran, which are much more unstable, and hostile.
Washington has found consensus with the Gulf states on most issues and there
is a long list of examples on which we can find agreement between them. Even
when the Saudis have disagreed with the US over strategic issues, such as
ending the authority of American companies over Saudi oil company Aramco, the
dispute was resolved in a cordial manner that suited both parties. Compare
this with Iranian, Libyan, and Iraqi oil-related disputes, which have
remained controversial, and sometimes unresolved, for decades.
If we put the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Washington—which was
formulated in 1945 by Saudi Arabia's King Abdulaziz Al Saud and President
Franklin D. Roosevelt—within its correct context, we will fully appreciate
its benefits by making note of all the crises we have faced in the region
since then. Note, however, that the relationship between the Gulf and
Washington actually dates back to World War I. However, at that time, the
Americans refrained from getting involved in political and military endeavors
outside their continent and left the arena open for European powers. Gulf
countries, in cooperation with the US, overcame dangerous ordeals since the
1950s, confronting the Nasserist tide and the Ba'athists in Iraq in the
1960s, the communists in South Yemen in the 1970s, the Khomeinists in Iran
during the 1980s, and the Iraqi invasion in the 1990s—and they have also
addressed Iranian threats since 2000. Without major alliances, it is
difficult for countries to overcome such threats, which were also linked to
major international alliances during the Cold War. It is no coincidence that
regional countries still standing on their feet actually have similar
policies and alliances—this includes the Gulf states, Jordan, and Morocco.
Aside from Algeria, all other regimes in the region have collapsed or totally
The economic situation is similar to the political one. It is no coincidence
that Gulf countries produce 15 million barrels of oil per day (bpd) while
Iran has been incapable of producing no more than 3 million bpd despite its
best efforts and the help it has received from Russia and China during the
last 30 years. Iran failed because the US refused to grant it the technology
and expertise to develop its production, and it failed even though the
Iranian topography is similar to that of its Gulf neighbors. Iran is home to
the second-largest oil reserves in the Middle East, right after Saudi Arabia.
Iraq comes third, some even say first, but due to its struggles with the West
and its alliances in the region, it has failed to develop a viable domestic
This is the result of political relations and not specific business deals.
Of course, there have always been disagreements between the Gulf and
Washington, over several issues, most notably Palestine. This issue remains
highly problematic but it has not been allowed to sabotage the entire
relationship because the Gulf states are aware that Arabs who allied
themselves with the Soviet Union did not succeed in achieving any victories,
nor did they gain any rights, or retrieve land, for the Palestinians. There
have, of course, been other disputes between the Gulf and the US, but most of
them have been temporary blips. For example in 2001 Saudi Arabia refused to
grant Washington the right to use its territory to attack Afghanistan (while
Iran accepted). At the same time, however, over the past decade Saudi Arabia
has provided the Americans with ample information and intelligence to aid in
Washington's war against Al-Qaeda.
At the current stage of the relationship, there is a heated dispute between
the Gulf countries and the US—on the nuclear agreement with Iran. This
represents lowest point in the history of the Gulf–US relationship. However,
it will most likely not lead to a rupture between them, nor even a
reevaluation of the relationship from either side—at least that is what I
think. Those who recently wrote articles gloating about what happened or
condemning the relationship altogether do not see beyond this crisis. Of
course it will require serious diplomatic efforts in order to be resolved.
But this is not the first time the US government has taken decisions in the
region which have stood squarely against Riyadh's own positions. After all,
this should be par for the course considering that each country has its own
Al Rashed is the general manager of Al -Arabiya television. He is also the
former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al- Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly
magazine, Al Majalla. He is also a senior Columnist in the daily newspapers
of Al Madina and Al Bilad. He is a US post-graduate degree in mass
communications. He has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He
is currently based in Dubai.