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The US-Saudi relationship has changed

Steven Sahiounie, journalist and political commentator

US President Trump has ordered the removal of two Patriot missile batteries from Saudi Arabia, and the withdrawal of 300 US troops.  When asked about the action, Trump replied, “Well, I don’t want to talk about it,” adding merely that his administration was “doing some things” and “making a lot of moves in the Middle East and elsewhere. We’re doing a lot of things all over the world militarily. We’ve been taken advantage of all over the world, our military.”

US troop withdrawal from Saudi Arabia

In 1973, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger considered landing US troops in Saudi Arabia and dividing up the oil fields. “It is ridiculous that the civilized world is held up by 8 million savages,” Kissinger declared in the face of the oil embargo which he saw as Saudi blackmail.  Now that the US is the world’s largest oil producer, many experts see the time is ripe for a change in the relationship.

On April 2 US President Trump phoned Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and delivered a humiliating demand: cut the oil production, or we order a complete US troop withdrawal from the Kingdom in the sand.  This was not the first time Trump has spoken harshly and to the point. “But I said ‘King – we’re protecting you – you might not be there for two weeks without us – you have to pay for your military,’” Trump said to cheers at a rally in October 2018.

 “Withdrawing troops placed to protect others recognizes that friendship and support is a two-way street,” said Senator Bill Cassidy, who introduced legislation that would remove US troops in 30 days of enactment. 

“Why would we put 2,500 troops in harm’s way and a whole bunch of missile defense systems in Saudi Arabia to defend their oil when they’ve declared war on our oil?” Senator Kevin Cramer asked.

On April 20, US oil prices went below zero for the first time in history, which prompted lawmakers in oil-producing states to accuse Saudi Arabia of waging “economic warfare”.  US Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska along with five Senators wrote Secretary of State Pompeo that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has embarked upon economic warfare against the United States, and warned that by taking advantage of the COVID-19 crisis Saudi Arabia “risks its bilateral relationship with the United States.”  The Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee stated that US aid and support of Saudi Arabia should never be offered perpetually and unconditionally.  

Trump chose Saudi Arabia for his first foreign visit in May 2017.  Trump and his host, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, signed a nearly $110 billion agreement package of defense equipment and services, including a second defense pact valued at up to $350 billion over the next 10 years.

“The only thing holding the relationship together now is Trump—he has a peculiar affinity for Saudi Arabia,” said Bruce Riedel, a 30-year CIA officer, an expert on Saudi Arabia, and now a director at the Brookings Institution.  “But we don’t need the Saudis anymore—this comes in a very different geopolitical environment than previous crises,” said Reidel, and he added, “I think this time is different.” 

Madea Benjamin, co-founder of “Code Pink”, published a book in 2016, “Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US Saudi connection”.  She writes about the ‘odd-couple’ relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia which do not have shared values. She advocates for the re-evaluation of the ties between a democratic super-power, and the only absolute monarchy on earth, which despises religious freedom, women’s rights, free speech, and is the source of funding terrorism worldwide.


9/11 fundamentally changed American society.  It was the worst attack on US soil killing almost 3,000 people, and destroying the World Trade Center by an attack carried out mainly by Saudis, and it was later shown through documentation that some of the terrorists had contact with Saudi officials before the attack.  Congress unanimously passed legislation allowing the families of 9/11 victims to seek damages from Saudi Arabia. 


The Crown Prince, and the virtual ruler of Saudi Arabia, is commonly known as MBS. He was only 31 when he came to power in June 2017. The Saudi war against Yemen escalated in 2015, and MBS has since expanded it. Despite the best military hardware in the region, Saudi military incompetence has shown them to be a US security liability.  The Houthi militia is winning in Yemen, despite Saudi Arabia spending $4 billion a month on the war, which has killed 100,000 people in Yemen, including civilians killed by Saudi airstrikes. About two million children under five years old are suffering from acute malnutrition and require treatment, and the country faces wholesale starvation and a cholera outbreak.


MBS ordered the 2017 kidnapping of the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Saad Hariri.  Hariri’s political opponents inside Lebanon, such as Hezbollah and President Michel Aoun, pressured President Macron of France to personally broker Hariri’s release from MBS. Hariri’s step-father was King Abdullah, who died in 2015, and his relatives and associates are distrusted by MBS.

Blockade on Qatar

MBS imposed a sea, land, and air blockade on Qatar in 2017, after hackers posted false statements attributed to Qatar’s emir. 

Human rights violations

Saudi Arabia executed 185 people in 2019, including 37 people who were killed in a mass execution on April 23, 2019. At least 13 juveniles are awaiting execution. “The targeting of prisoners of conscience and children confirms the retaliatory and political use (of) executions,” the statement quoted Ali al-Dubisi, director of the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights, as saying.

The Ritz-Carlton Prison

The ‘Roundup at the Ritz’ in 2017 saw hundreds of Saudi royals, billionaires and senior government officials held captive in the luxurious Ritz-Carlton hotel on orders of MBS. The detainees had to bail themselves out of the velvet-prison, which served up both psychological abuse and torture, with seventeen who were hospitalized. The Saudi government reported they had raked in $106 billion from the shakedown. 

Khashoggi murder

The CIA in November 2018 briefed the White House that MBS ordered the killing of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. The US Senate also accepted the resolution on December 13, 2018, that holds MBS responsible for killing Khashoggi. 

The numerous crimes and blunders of Mohammed bin Salman give a reason for a reassessment of the US-Saudi relationship. Total foreign reserve assets fell by almost $24 billion in March according to the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority. Saudi Arabia is on track to be both a debtor and an oil importer within a decade.

Steven Sahiounie is an award-winning journalist