Rethinking the U.S.-Saudi relationship

The United States has a long history in the Middle East, with engagements beginning decades, even centuries, earlier than those that most people know today, such as the “forever wars” in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S.-Saudi Arabia relationship has long been arguably its most important in the region, but for years that partnership has been broken, and it continues to worsen. One of the Biden administration’s first foreign policy initiatives should be to reassess and transform this deteriorated situation. With the United States increasingly becoming more energy independent, the fundamental reason for the initiation of the relationship access to oil becomes less restrictive to the U.S.; now is the time for a change.

In the interest of securing energy resources from Saudi Arabia and the Middle East as a whole, the U.S. has often looked past issues that deserve attention or a reconsideration of policy. The Saudi-led intervention in Yemen against the Houthis was supported by U.S. arms sales to the country, which were used, often, indiscriminately, ending in the deaths of civilians. Since the inception of the conflict in 2015, the U.S. has sold some of the largest arms packages to Saudi Arabia in the history of the relationship. On the campaign trail, Joe Biden committed to ending U.S. involvement in the action, but he must also work to halt all arms sales to a regime that continues to commit human rights violations.

The Biden administration should also toughen its stance against the offenses that Saudi Arabia commits at home. Too long have U.S. administrations overlooked these humans rights violations in the name of continued access to hydrocarbons and weapons sales. The murder of Jamal Khashoggi, though carried out abroad, was a disgusting and vile act, not to mention a violation of international law; yet Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, faced no repercussions for his role in the assassination. In fact, less than a year later, the Trump administration sold an arms package worth $8.1 billion to the Saudi regime, bypassing congressional approval in the act. Such a dynamic offers no impetus for improvement in how Saudi Arabia treats its citizens, oftentimes in defiance of international law and norms.

With the arrival of a new administration that has promised change in many aspects of American governance, a transformation in how the U.S. interacts with Saudi Arabia should be a part of those changes. Not only will it send a message to the Saudi leadership, and hopefully improve the lives of those affected by it, it will also send a message to autocrats around the world that the United States will no longer tolerate abuses of power against citizens.

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