In their long marriage of economic and military necessity, things haven’t been this icy between the United States and Saudi Arabia since 2001, when the world learned that 15 of the 19 hijackers involved in the September 11 terror attacks were Saudis.
Back then, confusion and anger at the eventual War in Iraq bubbled up across America in a simple slogan: “We invaded the wrong country.”
Today, those same tensions are coming to a head, albeit with 15 years of additional baggage. In the past year alone, gas prices have dropped dramatically worldwide, John Kerry negotiated an historic nuclear deal with Iran — a huge shift in regional power away from Saudi Arabia — and hundreds of thousands of people have called for a halting of arms sales to Saudi Arabia as the horrific civilian cost of the war in Yemen becomes increasingly evident.
The Saudi Arabian royal family is keenly aware of two recent developments in American politics: First, the efforts in and outside of Congress to declassify 28 pages of the Congress’ 9/11 report which potentially discuss Saudi involvement in the attacks. Second, a bill with bipartisan support which would allow victims of state-sponsored terrorism the ability to sue foreign governments in American courts.
Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton announced their support of that bill ahead of Tuesday’s New York primaries, and they join Chuck Schumer in antagonizing the Obama administration, which has said that such a law would open the American government up to lawsuits abroad should similar measures be passed worldwide.
The Saudi government, for its part, has made its feelings clear on America’s newfound boldness: it has threatened to sell off hundreds of billions of dollars in U.S. treasury bonds should the state-sponsored terrorism bill pass into law — a move that could reasonably be considered economic murder-suicide, though one which many experts say is very unlikely to happen.
When President Obama landed in Saudi Arabia Wednesday, no high-level Saudi officials greeted him at the airport. Instead, the regional governor of Riyadh filled in — a minor slight, but one that signifies a generational dip in the U.S.-Saudi relationship.
Photo: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman is seen during U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Erga Palace in Riyadh January 27, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Bourg