Kings and Presidents

Kings and Presidents

Saudi Arabia and the United States since FDR (Geopolitics in the 21st Century)

Brookings Institution Press, 2017 more...

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America’s alliance with Saudi Arabia is a strange one, in many ways. As former CIA analyst and current counter-terrorism expert Bruce Reidel argues, the partnership, which began in 1945, has always been highly pragmatic in nature. Though the two countries share economic – and, occasionally, political – interests, they represent utterly divergent values. The tensions which have arisen as a result of that split form the heart of Reidel’s analysis. He uses declassified documents, Saudi and American memoirs, and eyewitness accounts to examine key events – including the Arab Spring uprisings – and leadership changes in both nations. In so doing, Riedel explores how differences over Israel have haunted the alliance since its inception, and raises questions about the Kingdom’s role in the rise of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Though Reidel’s insights aren’t particularly groundbreaking, his overview of US-Saudi relations guides readers adeptly through the intimidating world of Middle Eastern politics. getAbstract recommends his narrative to anyone who want to shake that nagging feeling that they should have a better understanding of America’s most longstanding ally in the Middle East. 


A Practical Alliance

Though the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia dates back to the 1700s, two families established the modern version of the state in 1932. The Shaykhs became the nation’s religious authority, while the al Sauds became its political authority. Franklin Delano Roosevelt met with King Ibn Saud in Egypt on February 14, 1945, launching what would prove to be a sustained partnership between the United States and the Saudi Kingdom. The two countries had little in common ideologically, but they shared common interests: both wanted stability in the Middle East; the Saudi Kingdom wanted to sell oil and America wanted to buy it. Roosevelt also saw Saudi support as part of his strategy to shape the post-war world, starting with the building of the first American military outpost in the Arabian Peninsula – the American airfield in Dhahran. 

The two leaders did disagree on one important point: the relocation of Jews who were displaced by the war. Roosevelt wanted a special Jewish state in Palestine while Ibn Saud felt that, as the aggressor, Germany should offer refuge to war victims. Despite disagreement...

About the Author

Bruce Riedel is a former CIA analyst and a counter-terrorism expert. He is a senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

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