Old friends, new woes

President Barack Obama meets with Saudi King Abdullah at Rawdat Khuraim, Saudi Arabia, Friday, March 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Close friends for decades, the United States and Saudi Arabia’s relationship, has, since President Barack Obama came into office, been slowly deteriorating.

Based on shared interests and mutual confidence, the kingdom was America’s best friend in the Arab world. But Obama’s policy mistakes in the Middle East have shattered this confidence, from where the Saudis are standing.

From the failure of the Palestinian peace process, the clumsily handled support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the softening of its Iran policy, or the blindness to red lines on Syria, the U.S. has consistently been a worry to Saudi Arabia, where once it had been a rock.

On Syria particularly, Obama has shown that his words are often meaningless, and his policy in this region is guided by American interests, not Middle Eastern ones.

And Obama’s dithering comes as Saudi Arabia has taken a string of steps, all which meet the interests of the United States. It blacklisted the Nusra Front and Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria as terrorist groups, and it warned its citizens that heavy punishments would await them should they perform jihad in Syria.

And on the very eve of his visit, it appointed Prince Muqrin bin Abdul-Aziz as deputy crown prince, ensuring succession will be smooth.

Obama now needs to do his part to save this relationship. On Palestine and on Syria especially, the U.S. is going to have to make some tough decisions. Saudi Arabia has changed in recent years, and is now more willing to play an active role in the region. If Obama is incapable of making the necessary decisions, he might lose Saudi Arabia as one of its best friends in the Middle East.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 29, 2014, on page 7.




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