Saudi-US relations: President Biden ... welcome to the Kingdom

June 23, 2022
Abdulateef Al-Mulhim

Just a few days ago, a statement was issued by the Saudi Royal Court that said: Upon the invitation of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, President of the United States of America, Mr. Joseph R. Biden will visit the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on July 15 -16, 2022.

The announcement was breaking news in media outlets around the world.

So, what does the world expect from this historical visit?

Facts, not opinions

Every Saudi family has or had a father, mother, son or daughter who either visited the US or attended schools in the United States. Every Saudi I know has visited more American states than many Americans did. I myself have been to every American state. And, yes, including Alaska. For many decades, Saudi Arabia had the most extensive scholarship program in the world in which tens of thousands of students went to the best schools in the world, mainly in the United States of America.

What’s more, I have heard a few Americans who know the depth of the Saudi-American relations go as far as saying, American relations with Saudi Arabia is one of the best things that ever happened to the American taxpayers. And this could be very true because Saudi Arabia was and still is the America's number one trading partner in the region and one of its closest allies.

But, for now, some say and talk about strained Saudi-American relations. Some say because of oil production, some say because Saudis and Americans don’t agree or share common political issues and others say the US is slowly pulling itself from the Middle East, but a few analysts say it is because the United States is busy and have its hand full of other world issues and trying to stay a few steps ahead of rival countries, mainly China? Note that the Russian-Ukrainian conflict is a picnic compared to the Chinses-Taiwanese issue.

For now, let’s go back to the 19030’s.

Saudi-American relations — the beginning

What if the party of American geologists working for Standard Oil of California didn’t arrive at the eastern part of Saudi Arabia in 1933 to start a journey to explore and search for oil?

That was the million-dollar question I was asked after my graduation from State University of New York, Maritime College, in 1979 and when I planned to seek a master’s in political science, the politics of oil.

Now, besides oil and oil discovery, the reality is that it has been almost 90 years since the Saudi- American relations started not by the Saudi Royal Court, the White House or the Congress. It all started by a bunch of simple, hardworking and adventurous Americans who weren’t specialized or interested in political science. Their interest was to look for and examine rocks. And not just any rocks.

The question is still valid because the American geologists arrived when the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was only one year old. Saudi Arabia was established on September 23, 1932, the Americans arrived 1933 and oil was discovered in 1938. That year was a bad year for the whole world. It was the start of World War Two and the world economy was in chaos. In short, if the American geologists didn’t arrive on the right time or oil discovery wasn’t made in 1938, then the face of the area and probably the whole world would have been different. And let’s not forget the fact that Saudi Arabia might have broken apart. But, at the end of the day, it was oil that played a major factor in the course of all battles in World War Two.

Ironically, even with oil discovery in 1938 and the arrival of many Americans, Saudi Arabia didn’t have an American embassy or a consulate. It wasn’t till much later when in 1944, Foreign Service Officer Parker Hart was dispatched from the American Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, to the eastern part of Saudi Arabia to set up a consulate to take care of American citizens in the newly established little town named Dhahran. And finally, in the late 1940s with the blessing of King Abdulaziz Al-Saud, Hart selected a site and a chancery was built in August 1949. And the consulate responsibilities were extended to cover Saudi Arabia and the whole Arabian Gulf region. The establishment of the consulate was a significant milestone in the Saudi-American relations.

But, the most important historical milestone in the Saudi-American political relation happened on February 14, 1945 not in government offices. It happened aboard USS Quincy with the first highest level meeting. On that day, the relationship was consolidated with a historical meeting between Saudi King Abdulaziz Al-Saud and American President Franklin Roosevelt.

All this happened after the oil discovery which resulted in a unique and solid strategic relationship between the two countries. The oil discovery also resulted in establishing the world’s largest oil company in the world, Saudi Aramco.

It is true that during the many decades of Saudi-American relations, the two countries differed on several issues. But the differences were often resolved or simply evaporated as time passed. But, in general, the relationship was always good not just for the two countries, but also for the region and the whole world. Many regional issues were dealt with and solved through Saudi-American cooperation, coordination and joint efforts. One notable issue is the liberation of Kuwait and other complex issues that shook the region.

Joe Biden’s visit to the Kingdom

Now, not only the Saudis or Americans who are looking forward to the visit, but people in the Middle East and the world as well. The visit will include a summit meeting which will bring together the Saudi King, the US President, the other five Gulf Cooperation Council leaders, the King of Jordan, the President of Egypt and the Prime Minister of Iraq. In other words, the visit is not about oil, but about regional and global challenges at a time when the world is facing one of the most difficult times — from high inflation, economic recession, regional instability, Russian-Ukrainian conflict, South China territorial dispute, increased numbers of refugees, food and energy security to climate change.

Global challenges are best resolved when influential countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United States head in the same direction, putting all differences aside and working together for the common interest for both countries and the world at large. The United States like in the past can do more to influence the course of issues that disrupt peace and stability in the region. Like putting more pressure on Iran to end its threat to the region through supporting and sponsoring terrorist organizations and stop exporting its ideologies that created chaos in places like Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen.

The Saudi-American strategic relationship was and still is deep and important. And there should be continuous trust and mutual understanding of each other’s interests and the way of governing without deepening or being hooked up or interfering in the internal affairs of the other. There are differences between the two countries regarding the governing system, social life, heritage, culture and other matters of everyday life. And this is what is beautiful about this world. It’s the differences in the way people live. And two countries are never alike, no matter how much they have in common. Relations between countries with common interests shouldn’t be tarnished by interfering in the other’s internal affairs. What is suitable for country A doesn’t mean it is suitable for country B.

— The writer is a political analyst. He can be reached on his email almulhimnavy@hotmail.com

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