75 years after a historic meeting on the USS Quincy US-Saudi relations are in need of a true re-think


By Bruce Riedel

Valentine’s Day 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with Saudi King Abdul
Aziz Ibn Saud on an American cruiser, the USS Quincy, in the Suez Canal. It was
the dawn of what is now the longest U.S. relationship with an Arab state. Today
the relationship is in decline, perhaps terminally, and needs recasting. FDR
and Ibn Saud, as they were known popularly, could not have been more different.
FDR was in his fourth term as the elected president of the most powerful
country in the world, and on the eve of winning World War II.

He had traveled
the world and was returning from the Yalta summit with Winston Churchill and
Josef Stalin. He was gravely ill and had only weeks to live. His blood pressure
was 260 over 150. But he was convinced that Saudi Arabia would be crucial to
America in the post-war world, thanks to its oil. Ibn Saud had never been to
sea before, or outside the Arabian Peninsula except for a brief trip to Basra,
Iraq. He was a warrior who had created the modern Saudi kingdom through endless

He had
little experience in international diplomacy. He was an absolute monarch backed
by the fanatical Wahhabi clergy. But he had sent two of his sons, Faisal and
Khaled, to America in 1943 to meet Roosevelt, tour across the country, and
report home that America was the strongest and most advanced country in the
world. The substance of this meeting on the Quincy was dominated by a
disagreement over the future of Palestine: FDR argued for a Jewish state, and
Ibn Saud protested that the Jews should get their state in Bavaria. But the substance
was secondary to the good atmosphere of the session.

president abjured his usual cigarette and cocktail to honor the king’s Islamic
sentiments. They exchanged gifts and left very impressed with each other. And
they forged the basis of a long relationship: America’s security guarantees for
the kingdom in return for access to affordable energy supplies. The
relationship has had ups and downs but every American president has courted the
Saudis. None has been as accommodating 
even sycophantic  than Donald
Trump. He has praised the Saudis for buying American weapons that they have not
actually purchased.

He has
continued support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which has created the worst
humanitarian catastrophe in the world and which costs the kingdom a fortune it
doesn’t have, given low oil prices. Worst, the administration has ignored the
brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, in the Saudi
consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. The execution was the work of the Saudi state,
according to the United Nations investigation, and the mastermind was the Crown
Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The president has absolved his favorite.

But it
won’t work. The crown prince is toxic, his reputation permanently stained. And
the bargain struck on the Quincy is out of date. The United States doesn’t need
Saudi oil anymore, it is almost energy independent. The White House has sent
American combat troops back to Saudi Arabia (they left in 2003), but they did
not deter the Iranians from striking the kingdom’s most critical oil facilities
last September. The Saudis were literally shaken out of their complacency, and
their acute vulnerability was exposed to all. The next president should bring
American troops home immediately from the kingdom and cut off all military
support to the Saudis, at least until there is a permanent political settlement
in Yemen.

Saudi diplomatic facilities in the United States should be shut or
stripped down because they are used to spy on dissidents like Khashoggi. Saudi
soldiers in the U.S. for training or other tasks should be sent home. The
Saudis should understand that anyone implicated in the Khashoggi murder will
not be welcome in the U.S. The attorney general should review what judicial
process may apply to the case. All of this should be part of a larger review of
policy toward the region to reduce our military footprint and use more
diplomacy. Iran should be engaged, and the Iran nuclear deal should be revived
and strengthened. A serious political process between Israel and the
Palestinians should be initiated, not the sham deal announced by this
administration. It will certainly be challenging, but it is time for
fundamental changes.

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