Saudi Arabia Is a U.S. Ally, Not a Friend

Saudi Arabia has never been a true friend of the United States because of its extremist Islamic ideology, but for decades it has been an important ally. We share many important strategic interests.

Riyadh is not necessarily a stabilizing force in the region; its repressive regime has bred terrorists and supported radical Islamic groups. But it has been a constructive force in many countries. Its recent vocal and generous financial support for the military takeover in Egypt has been very valuable, while a confused United States has sought to keep the fundamentally anti-Western, anti-Israel Muslim Brotherhood either in power or part of the power structure. Egypt’s military has been a longstanding ally of the United States and our Israeli and Arab allies, and shares our animus toward the Iranian regime, Hezbollah and Hamas.

Since the Arab upheaval, Saudi Arabia has also put aside historical antagonism and financially supported the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan, another longstanding but under-supported ally of the United States. It has also been constructive in supporting a weak Yemeni government.

Perhaps most importantly, Saudi Arabia is an arch-enemy of the radical Shiite regime in Iran, and its proxies in Syria and Lebanon. The Saudis helped undercut Iran’s economy and, along with our other regional allies, share the stated U.S. position of preventing a nuclear Iran by all means necessary.

Saudi Arabia’s roles as the world’s only real swing oil producer and leading oil exporter have long played a key role in U.S. strategic considerations. But as North America continues its march toward energy independence over the next decade, U.S. policy toward Saudi Arabia should not change drastically. Growing energy independence will be a significant strategic and economic boon to the United States, but the oil market is global and prices here will be impacted by world events, including in Saudi Arabia.

For the foreseeable future, the stability of the Saudi regime and its energy sector will remain important to the economic and strategic interests of the U.S. and our allies.

Originally appeared in The New York Times on August 21, 2013