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US-Saudi Arabian Relations - Obama

Towards the end of the second Obama Adminstration, the Saudi princes could no longer rely on the United States to take their side in maters such as their disagreements with Iran. In the past, the United States needed Saudi oil; now, thanks to fracking, the US surpassed the Saudis as the world's largest producer.

Saudis were incredulous that the West did not take a strong stand against Iranian involvement in Syria, Yemen and other regional conflicts. Iran gave direct support to the Syrian government in its war against rebel factions backed by the Kingdom, and supported Houthi rebels battling Yemen's Saudi-backed government.

In 2003, the US invaded Iraq and overthrew Saddam Hussein, against Saudi advice. And in 2011 the US supported a revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak, against Saudi advice. The Saudis began to chart their own course, having concluded their only effective course was to go off on their own.

By October 2013 tensions between Saudi Arabia and the United States caused a severe strain on what has been a rock-solid relationship. Saudi officials are expressing anger and concern over Americas evolving policies in the Middle East. Saudi government officials fumed over US policy regarding the bloody Syrian civil war. In Egypt, the Saudis supported the military-backed government. While the United States is suspending hundreds of millions of dollars in aid following the coup which ousted president Mohamed Morsi. But mostly the Saudis were worried about the military strength of arch-rival Iran.

By late 2013 Saudi Arabia was worried that America was only interested in the nuclear issue with Iran and Israeli security, and would leave the Saudis to handle the mess in the Middle East. The mess in the wake of the Arab Spring is extensive, from coups to civil war and growing religious strife. Saudi officials were furious over the US reversal on military strikes against Syria's government, an ally of Saudi rival Iran. Frustration grew over Washington's handling of Egypt. US Mideast policy lately was seen largely as a series of missteps.

Roby Barrett, an analyst with the Washington-based Middle East Institute said that by May 2015 The Saudi perspective is that the Iranians have made enormous gains, and the only thing that saved Bahrain from an Iranian-backed Shia takeover was their intervention there... They also believe the US destroyed their Sunni buffer in Iraq and is now fighting ISIS in such a way that its solidifying Irans control over Iraq and the government in Baghdad.

I dont expect Saudi Arabia to ask for F-35s because it already knows the Obama administration will not provide them in order to keep Israels military technological edge over Arab countries in the region, said David Ottaway, a senior scholar at the Wilson Center in Washington, May 13, 2015.

Karen Elliott House wrote that "An even bigger shock to the Saudi rulers came a year later when President Obama famously proclaimed his redline against Syrian President Bashar Assads use of chemical weapons on his own people. To the horror of the Saudis among many others, President Assad not only used chemical weapons on defenseless Syrians but the US president erased his redline almost as soon as he had drawn it. Everything that has happened since in Syria has only widened the gap between the Saudi regime that adamantly opposes Bashar Assad and an American administration that has been unwilling to confront him."

In a wide-ranging discourse about his foreign policies during his seven-plus years in office, Obama acknowledged to The Atlantic magazine that he is "controversial" when it comes to the use of American military power. In one defining foreign affairs moment of his presidency, Obama backed off from an imminent 2013 attack against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad when Western experts discovered he had amassed chemical weapons and believed he was ordering their use against rebel groups fighting government forces.

"The competition between the Saudis and the Iranians -- which has helped to feed proxy wars and chaos in Syria and Iraq and Yemen -- requires us to say to our friends as well as to the Iranians that they need to find an effective way to share the neighborhood and institute some sort of cold peace," he [Obama] said.

Saudi Arabia drew Obamas criticism on a couple of fronts. The president faulted Riyadh for funding Wahhabi madrassas that promote a strict Islamic fundamentalism and for its resistance to effectively share the neighborhood with rival Iran, beneficiary of a new nuclear deal negotiated by the United States and other global leaders.

Karen Elliott House noted that "Most insulting of all to the Saudis is President Obamas moral equivalency between a longtime ally in Riyadh and Tehran, which still labels the US the great Satan. In his March interview with The Atlantic magazine, the president said Saudi Arabia must learn to share the region with its Iranian arch enemy, implied that Saudi Arabia is among the free riders eager to drag the US into sectarian conflicts, and said that the Saudis need to find an effective way to share the neighborhood with Iran even if only in a cold peace. It is as if a woman who already suspected her husband of infidelity now heard the husband openly proclaiming that his wife must learn to share him with his mistress."

Joyce Karam, Washington Bureau Chief for Al-Hayat Newspaper, noted in December 2015 that "The dramatic increase in arms sales cannot be seen, however, in isolation from the US policy pivot in the Middle East. If anything, the two biggest milestones in 2015 namely the war on ISIS and the Iran deal rebranded Washingtons role in the region, from a perceived caretaker into an unenthusiastic spectator. In both tasks of fighting ISIS and assuring the regional skeptics about the Iran deal, the Obama administration chose to use military sales and not hands on regional diplomacy as a way to comfort its allies."



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