It is never difficult to describe the nature of the relations between the US and Saudi Arabia. For almost every observer of the regional affairs, Riyadh’s dependence on Washington in political, military, and even economic areas is crystal clear. But the US President Donald Trump has recently in remarks has proven the master-follower nature of the relationship between the two allies.
Speaking at a campaign rally in West Virginia on Saturday, Trump said he had complained that Washington was not getting what it should from Saudi Arabia during a phone conversation with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.
Trump said he had told King Salman that Riyadh has "trillions of dollars" and could pay its military bills.
"I love Saudi Arabia. They are great, King Salman, I spoke with him this morning. I said, king, you have got trillions of dollars. Without us, who knows what’s going to happen. .... With us they are totally safe. But we don’t get what we should be getting," he said.
Trump further threatened to end what he claimed to be subsidies for the Saudi military.
"We are subsidizing their military. I said let me ask you a question. Why are we subsidizing the military — it’s one thing if a country is in deep trouble and in danger," he noted. "I said íSaudi Arabia, you are rich, you have got to pay for your military. You have got to pay for your military, sorryí."
Repeating his undiplomatic remarks, US president also said on Tuesday he has told Saudi King he would not last in power "for two weeks" without US military support.
Speaking to cheers at a rally in Mississippi, Donald Trump said, "We protect Saudi Arabia. Would you say theyíre rich. And I love the King, King Salman. But I said íKing — weíre protecting you — you might not be there for two weeks without us — you have to pay for your militaryí".
Such a tone by the US president quite blatantly indicates that even for the top ruler of Saudi Arabia submission to the White House is a normal and accepted matter. This was expressed by Trump’s words when he brazenly told the king without Washington’s help, it Al Saud would not last for two weeks without Washington’s military support.
The Saudi rule’s foundation is built on the full reliance on the US. This relationship has been in place since the US President Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president, met the Saudi King Abdulaziz Al Saud on the USS Queens Navy aircraft carrier following the Yalta Conference in February 1945 and announced the US support for the Al Saud family’s rule. Since then, neither the king himself nor his predecessors, who were his sons, took an approach independent of the US in their policy and show no signs they want to seek an independent path in the future.
The ties with Saudi Arabia, aside from the diplomatic advantages, has been of huge economic benefits for the Americans. The US oil companies operate oilfields in Saudi Arabia and the arms companies sign multi-billion weapons deals with the Saudis. Over the years of their relationship, Washington tried to make the most of its ties with the monarchy. It is no surprise that Trump tells King Salman they have trillions of dollars and they have to share them with the US.
Trump has already used humiliating tone in addressing the Saudi leaders. During his campaign-time speech to his supporters in Maryland in 2016 he openly called Saudi Arabia “milk cow” that should be milked to the last drop and when its milk is over, it should be beheaded.
Trump’s instrumental look at Saudi Arabia was even more apparent during his visit to Saudi Arabia. Trump chose Saudi Arabia as the first destination of his first foreign tour as the president of the US and during the visit, he signed a $110 billion arms deal. All these behaviors in dealing with the Saudi heads make his recent demeaning remarks on King Salman look quite normal.
One point should be taken into account, on the other side. The Americans often seek to make Riyadh feel weak and subject to threats from Iran amid an ongoing Iranophobic, and lately Qatarophobic, media campaign. Exaggerations about the threats Saudi Arabia faces from the regional rivals seem to be part of Trump administration’s effort to further milk Saudi Arabia.
But some of the Saudi officials try to paint their country as an independent state when it comes to the policy. Last week, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubair, at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, asked Canada to apologize for demanding the release of Saudi women’s rights activists. He said that his country was not a “banana republic” and Canada should stop treating it like that. Unlike the FM’s gesture of independence, Saudi Arabia’s policy does not bear hallmarks of being independent.
The banana republic is a novel political term used to describe a nation with a single-product, weak, and corrupt economy with an unstable political system run by an oligarchy. All these features are true of Saudi Arabia, a kingdom running an oil-reliant economy, dependent on foreign military help, and governed by a ruling family. In fact, not only Saudi Arabia is a banana republic but also it is a conspicuous paradigm of this form of state in the world.
On the other side, Trump’s talk of the vulnerability of the rulers of Saudi Arabia can never best show how the ruling family is subject to serious risks, with a substantial part stemming from home factors. The government’s crackdown on the Shiite citizens, predominantly in the Eastern Province, and pressures on the social and political activists, render the Saudi home situation quite fragile. This raises serious doubts about the continuation of the rule of the Al Saud family. News reports have recently revealed that the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has lately been living on his half-a-billion superyacht protected by foreign guards for the fear of an attack by his domestic rivals. It is these shaky ground of rule in Saudi Arabia that causes the US leader to tell the king he would not last for two weeks if it is not for the US protection.