The US-Saudi relations currently continue in a an array of fields including the so-called joint counterterrorist efforts, modern weapons deals, trade exchange, investment, and also education, and are actually well-established. However, there are some rifts on domestic, regional, and international issues that can affect the two countries’ ties in the future.
In fact, the conflict between “Obama doctrine” and “Salman doctrine” in dealing with the regional and international crises as well as countering the terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda and ISIS in West Asia region digs gaps in the two countries’ relations in the region. Obama has shown a policy of flexibility in facing the West Asian problems. The best example for this claim is the settlement of Iran nuclear program and also lending a helping hand to the moderate Syrian opposition groups. But on the opposite side stands King Salman of Saudi Arabia who seeks gaining a regional hegemony for his kingdom, as he expects Washington to consider direct military interventions to find settlements for the crises in the region.
The two allies are now at odds about Yemen, because the rising civilian tolls as well as power vacuum in Saudi Arabia’s neighbor have paved the way for flourishing of al-Qaeda terrorist group. This comes while it can be boldly suggested that Yemen is the only country whereWashington and Riyadh have a tacit agreement upon, and the US through providing Saudi anti-Yemeni campaign with arms and also intelligence has the back of the kingdom in its war against Yemen.
There is one more factor that raises the hackles of the Saudi rulers: the US move towards self-sufficiency in oil and gas production. In 2015, the US increased its oil production, leaving the kingdom, though branded the world’s largest oil producer, far behind. Despite that, the US is still far from being able to quench its thirst for energy with reliance on the domestic resources and still needs oil from abroad. But the Saudi leaders argue that West Asia, and Persian Gulf region specifically, have lost their former strategic significance for Washington and that currently the US puts a premium on Asia and Oceania. Perhaps one of the reasons that drove Mohammad bin Salman, the Saudi deputy crown Prince and the son of the king, to follow policies towards an oil-free economy is this US priority shift.
Furthermore, the Saudis even intensified their concerns about the future of relations with the US following election of Donald Trump as new US president who showed signs of negative approach towards Saudi Arabia. The kingdom in the past three years has spent hugely to save the Egyptian President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi in power until it managed to persuade el-Sisi to grant the two Egyptian Red Sea islands of Sanafir and Tiran to Riyadh, then they were indirectly given to the Israeli regime. Transferring security of the two originally Egyptian islands to Tel Aviv will have a major role in bolstering the Israeli regime’s security in the Red Sea, a security all paid for by the Saudi leaders. On the other side, due to waging a costly war against Yemen and at the same time offering massive military and financial support to the terrorist groups in the region, Saudi Arabia has to bear the brunt of some $100 billion budget deficit. The economic pressure pushed the Saudi leaders to adopt austerity measures in economy, as they had to cancel multi-billion dollar infrastructural projects at home.
Meanwhile, Riyadh expected gracious response from the US for its good services. It is predicted that Trump will not fulfill his election campaign time pledge of reducing the American role in providing security of Washington’s allies in West Asia, because if the new president of the US wants to be paid in exchange for protection of the US allies, without doubt the Israeli regime’s walls of security and existence will more than ever be fragile. Also it needs highlighting that isolation of Saudi Arabia within its borders due to budget problems not only will strike the US military industries but also will allow expansion of the influence of Axis of Resistance and Russia in the strategic West Asia.
Nevertheless, such remarks by the incoming US president have sounded the alarms for the Saudis, and it appears that return to self-reliance will be among the most important options that Riyadh will set high on its future agenda.
The new conditions push Saudi Arabia to seek alternative ways. It now wants to strengthen the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council (PGCC) and even upgrade it to Persian Gulf Union, an issue recently raised by a Bahraini official. This can be one of Saudi Arabian options to address the new situation, although this way is difficult for the kingdom due to severe political, economic, and military dependence of members of the (P0GCC to the US and also their vulnerability to the volatile global energy markets. Also, it has not been long since the Saudi-led Arab military coalition experienced a loss in Yemen. Therefore, it is expected that Mohammed bin Salman, a young prince who during the past three years of his father’s rule has challenged the power structures in ruling Al Saud family, will emphasize on following his announced plans for future including the ambitious Saudi Vision 2030 which is meant to cut Riyadh’s reliance on oil, and a public investment fund.