Summary of Reckless in Riyadh

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America’s strong relationship with Saudi Arabia stands out as somewhat of an oddity in international affairs. The secretive Islamist kingdom, which didn’t ban slavery until 1962, and the United States, which sees itself as a force for democracy and human rights, do not seem like natural allies. Yet the relationship has endured for three quarters of a century due to shared economic and security interests. Steven Simon and Daniel Benjamin take an in-depth look at how the relationship has evolved, noting that the ascent of the new Saudi crown prince may significantly reshape the de facto alliance. 

About the Authors

Steven Simon was National Security Council Senior Director for the Middle East and North Africa from 2011 to 2013. Daniel Benjamin is Director of the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth. 


The US and Saudi Arabia have been engaged in a mutually beneficial de facto alliance for 74 years.

As World War II was drawing to a close, the United States sought to secure reliable access to Saudi Arabia’s massive oil reserves. Saudi King Ibn Saud, meanwhile, wanted to strengthen his monarchy domestically and protect the kingdom from outside challenges, especially Iran. America’s restraint in criticizing the kingdom for human rights violations and in meddling in its internal affairs has, in no small part, enabled the de facto alliance to flourish over the decades. Although the oil embargo that followed the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the terrorist attacks of 9/11, which involved 15 Saudi nationals, put significant strains on the relationship, the bilateral ties survived thanks to Saudi assistance in fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan during the Cold War and in squashing further terrorist plots following...

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