After the visit of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the White House last month, a top advisor to the prince released a statement praising “a historical turning point” in U.S.-Saudi relations. The unnamed advisor said that during President Obama, U.S.-Saudi relations underwent “a period of difference of opinion” but that after meeting with President Trump, “today’s meeting has put things on the right track, and marked a significant shift in relations, across all political, military, security and economic fields,” the advisor said.
“All of this is due to President Trump’s great understanding of the importance of relations between the two countries and his clear sight of problems in the region.”
But just weeks later, President Trump delivered a surprising rebuke of the U.S.-Saudi security relationship in an interview with Reuters.
“Frankly, Saudi Arabia has not treated us fairly, because we are losing a tremendous amount of money in defending Saudi Arabia,” the President said.
U.S. and global defense contractors would likely disagree with the President’s statement. Saudi Arabia made the largest single purchase ever of U.S. weapons and aircraft in 2010, totaling $60 billion. The Kingdom had the third largest defense budget in the world in 2016, behind only the United States and China. The State Department frequently announces new large arms purchases or service requests by Saudi Arabia’s military for Congressional approval.
Moreover, the U.S.-Saudi relationship, traditionally thought of as an oil-for-security mutually beneficial partnership, is no longer that. The United States’ shale oil production has defanged OPEC as the price ceiling-setter, and the U.S. no longer relies heavily on Saudi crude. The term “energy dependence” has largely vanished from the U.S. public political discourse.
With hundreds of billions spent on its own military force, the Kingdom is now waging a war to restore the UN-recognized President Hadi in its neighbor, Yemen, leading a coalition of other Gulf states. The United States is supporting the mission, but is far from leading the fight there.
Reuters was unavailable to reach Saudi officials for comment.