A 'Recalibration' of US-Saudi Relations Wouldn't Be So Bad
Earlier this year, I added a new English word to my vocabulary. This word has been repeated many times by President Biden: "recalibration." This word became the focal point for the U.S. administration's policy with Riyadh. After I translated this word using Google Translate, I realized the immediate importance of recalibrating relations between Riyadh and Washington, especially since the ruling Democratic Party did not have the opportunity to see the new Saudi Arabia through an impartial lens. This is largely due to their preoccupation with domestic political battles with former president Trump over the past four years. This recalibration should not be viewed as a negative thing at all, as an objective re-evaluation of all facets of the historic Saudi-U.S. relationship can yield a positive path forward for both countries.
With this sense of objectivity in mind, the recent visit of Saudi deputy defense minister Prince Khalid bin Salman to Washington was described by many observers as a success, as he met secretary of state Antony Blinken, national security adviser Jake Sullivan, and defense secretary Lloyd Austin. The discussions focused on the issues of Iran, Yemen, and human rights, with Prince Khalid describing the talks as phenomenal.
While it is important to discuss the country's role with regard to facing these pressing issues, it is also important to view the new Saudi Arabia in light of its "Vision 2030" under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Kingdom has undertaken tremendous economic, administrative, and social reforms, reducing its dependence on oil from 92% to 70% in just five years. In addition, Saudi Arabia received a host of accolades from both private and governmental institutions over the past year alone, with the World Bank ranking the Kingdom in its 2020 report as the most reformed country in the world when it comes to women's rights and public relations firm Edelman reporting that the government of Saudi Arabia is one of the most trusted governments in the world, according to its 2021 Trust Barometer report. The U.S. State Department also praised the Kingdom in its annual Trafficking in Persons report, citing significant improvements in combating human trafficking. In terms of its commitment to bolstering its cyber-security capabilities to a globally competitive level, the Kingdom ranked second in the world after the United States, according to a report by the United Nations International Telecommunication Union. The Kingdom also took strident steps to combat corruption locally and globally, signing a $10-million agreement with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to support a global operational network of anti-corruption law enforcement.
No matter how numerous the Kingdom's achievements have been so far, its most important achievement is its zero-tolerance policy toward extremist ideology, locally and globally. Maintaining this unwavering policy while enacting sweeping and exhaustive reforms at such a rapid pace will undoubtedly cause the Kingdom to run into some bumps in the road, much like any other country in the world. Saudi Arabia is going through a major transformational stage, and ensuring that this transformation is successful requires strict policies that are sometimes harsh. Still, this does not excuse the Kingdom from correcting its mistakes, both old and new.
The golden rule of Saudi-U.S. relations was referred to as "Oil for Security." The relationship has evolved rapidly over the past decade, as the rule has now become "Trade and Security for Trade and Security." The Kingdom is the largest trading partner of the United States in the Middle East and North Africa region, coming in as the twelfth largest global trading partner of the United States.
As a regional heavyweight, the Kingdom has also established itself as the global "central bank" for energy, in addition to establishing itself as the spiritual center of the Islamic world. I had the honor of meeting the secretary-general of the Muslim World League, Dr. Muhammad Al-Issa, a few days ago in Riyadh, where I asked him about his opinion of the United States. He emphatically told me that "the United States of America is the greatest friend of Muslims and the Islamic world."
With this sense of positivity and optimism that Dr. Al-Issa expressed, I would argue that it is time to set aside the pressures of mainstream media and reset the expectations of this important relationship, moving forward as partners in confronting regional and global challenges.
Salman Al-Ansari is an Independent Saudi political analyst and businessman and the Founder of the Washington, D.C.-based SAPRAC Inc.
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