A number of seasoned observers of Middle Eastern affairs agree that U.S. – Saudi relations are at their lowest ebb since U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt established America’s «special relationship» with the Saudi monarchy on February 14, 1945, just a few months before FDR’s death. Subsequent to the Yalta Conference, Roosevelt met Saudi King Ibn Saud on board the USS Quincy on Great Bitter Lake in the Suez Canal in Egypt. Roosevelt and Saud inked the «Quincy Agreement», by which the United States would provide Saudi Arabia with military equipment and training in return for the U.S. establishing a military base at Dhahran in the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia guaranteeing the United States a steady flow of Saudi oil. Except for the Arab oil embargo instituted against the West in the 1970s, the Quincy Agreement has survived six Saudi kings.
However, the Quincy Agreement is in trouble. There are a number of reasons why U.S.-Saudi relations have fractured. They include:
• The decision by the Barack Obama administration to cancel a U.S. military strike against Syria in return for a U.S.-Russian concordat to oversee the removal from Syria and ultimate destruction of chemical weapons.
• The Obama administration’s decision to engage Iran through direct diplomatic negotiations.
• Increasing evidence by U.S. intelligence of Saudi links to Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda-linked terrorists operating around the world.
• Reduced U.S. dependency on Saudi oil as a result of increased U.S. carbon fuel output from the fracking of shale reserves in the United States.
• The closeness of the head of the Ri'asat Al-Istikhbarat Al-'Ama, the Saudi General Intelligence Agency, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, to the Bush family and other leading Republicans, including former Vice President Dick Cheney.
• Saudi concern that the U.S. has turned its «Arab Spring» resources against Saudi Arabia in a low-level manner through the «Car Key Revolution», a widespread protest by Saudi women who broke Saudi law by driving cars.
After the U.S. supported the Arab Spring «Jasmine Revolution» in Tunisia that toppled longtime Tunisian strongman President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali – who received refuge in Saudi Arabia — and the «Lotus Revolution» that ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak from power, Riyadh grew increasingly concerned that the mass demonstrations against unpopular regimes would spread to «the Kingdom.» In fact, Saudi forces quickly suppressed a few demonstrations in Saudi Arabia and sent in military forces to ruthlessly put down a pro-democracy uprising in neighboring Bahrain. The Saudis were never comfortable with the accession to power in Egyptian elections of the Muslim Brotherhood, particularly the presidency of Mohamed Morsi. The Saudis, therefore, instructed the pro-Saudi Nour Party in Egypt to support the military coup that toppled Morsi and replaced him with General Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi.
Although Sisi has Nasserite sympathies, the Saudis view him much more favorably than they do the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi’s establishing of closer relations with Iran was viewed as a threat to the Saudi regime and a breakdown of the established balance of power in the region. Obama’s decision to curtail the supply of military weaponry to Egypt following the ouster of Morsi further inflamed relations between Riyadh and Washington. To make up for the cut-off in U.S. assistance to Cairo, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates pledged $12 billion in aid to Cairo in July of this year. The Saudis also joined Israel in voicing opposition to the cut off of American military assistance to Cairo, evidence of the growing relationship between Saudi Arabia and the nation that Saudi King Faisal once referred to as the «Zionist regime» as he presented beautifully-bound copies of the «Protocols of the Elders of Zion» to visiting dignitaries.
After serving as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States from 1983 to 2005, becoming the dean of the Washington diplomatic corps, and smoking cigars in the White House with George W. Bush while the smoke still rose from the remains of the World Trade Center and Pentagon, «Bandar Bush», as he was known to the Bush family, was certain America would hit targets in Syria in order to deal a blow to the government of President Bashar al Assad. After all, Bandar’s influence with Bush and Cheney helped convince them to launch the military attack on Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein from power.
Bandar concluded that the same U.S. military-intelligence complex that initiated the occupation of Iraq would certainly exercise its muscle against the Middle East’s only remaining Baathist Socialist regime in Syria. Bandar was wrong.
Secretary of State John Kerry, although surprised by it, could not resist Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s extension of a deal that saw Syria disarm its chemical weapons arsenal in return for no American strike. Bandar and the Saudi regime were furious. Cheney, appearing on the radio show of right-wing fringe commentator Hugh Hewitt, lamented that the Saudis could no longer trust its «historical relationship» with the United States. Cheney condemned Obama for erasing the «red line» on the use by Assad of chemical weapons that Obama earlier imposed on Syria. Cheney stated that the Obama administration let down America’s allies that warred with the U.S. against Iraq in Operation Desert Storm, but he ignored the fact that those allies included Assad’s father, Hafez al Assad. Neo-conservatives like Cheney and Hewitt find altering history to being not only a science but an art form.
The U.S.-Russian agreement on Syria also slightly improved the overall bilateral U.S. relationship with Moscow. This was especially true in the area of count-terrorism. After Bandar reportedly offered Russian President Vladimir Putin a lucrative deal by the Kingdom to purchase Russian weapons and an order to its Al Qaeda units to observe a truce on terrorist attacks against the Sochi Winter Olympics in return for Russia’s abandonment of Assad, it became clear that the Salafist and Wahhabist terror groups in Russia were financed by the Saudis. In fact, the Saudi terror support network in Chechnya and Dagestan was the same as the one that struck the Boston Marathon. Bandar’s offer to Moscow ignored one important facet of Russian history. Russia is known for supporting its foreign allies, from the United States during its civil war with the Confederacy to the government of Afghanistan battling Islamic mujaheddin guerrillas. Syria is no exception.
In preparation for the Sochi Olympics, Russian and American intelligence began sharing intelligence on Al Qaeda’s and their allies’ plans. The same money flows and trails detected prior to 9/11 from Saudi sources to Al Qaeda cells were lighting up in financial intelligence fusion systems.
The realization that America and Russia had a common foe in Saudi Arabia prompted some interest by former U.S. members of the intelligence community to expand a regular dialogue with their Russian counterparts that took place in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union and, more recently, through the «Elbe Group», which has mainly focused on counter-nuclear proliferation issues.
The Saudis and their supporters in neo-conservative power circles in Washington responded to this initiative by planting stories in the press that the FBI was investigating increased Russian espionage efforts in the United States, especially surrounding the activities of the Russian Center for Science and Culture in Washington. The Saudis and their neo-con American friends realized that the Russian center, which sponsored professional exchange visits to Russia, would be one potential avenue for a low-level dialogue visit by former but influential U.S. intelligence officers to Russia. Every effort had to be made to scuttle such meetings and the best way was to accuse the Russian center of being an espionage front.
The decision by Obama to phone Iranian President Hasan Rouhani in New York before he departed John F. Kennedy International Airport after his address to the UN General Assembly was considered another affront to the Saudis. It was the first direct contact between an American president and a president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Further meetings between Kerry and his Iranian counterpart and between other U.S. and Iranian officials, amid reports of Iranian willingness to have its nuclear facilities inspected and activities curtailed, gave rise to hopes of a U.S.-Iranian détente.
With U.S. reliance on foreign oil being reduced from 60 to 40 percent and forecasts that the U.S. could soon, as a result of shale fracking and offshore pumping, become self-sufficient in oil, the Saudi leverage of oil was no longer a weapon it could use to influence U.S. policy in the Middle East.
Having more leeway in its dealings with Riyadh enabled the Obama administration, mainly through National Security Adviser Susan Rice and U.S. ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, to give quiet support to a George Soros-style «thematic revolution» in Saudi Arabia. The decision by Saudi women, who are banned from driving in the Kingdom, to violate the law in a national protest, was met with some driving citations being issued by Saudi police. But the decision by the White House to quietly support the «Car Key Revolution» was the first indication, albeit low level, that Washington was prepared to tear up the Quincy Agreement.
But one thing that is certain about Bandar and his neocon allies in Washington and Israel. When backed up against the wall, they will strike like desert asps. America, Russia, and other nations should remain on alert.