The USA has always had a very complicated relation with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. On the one hand, Saudi Arabia has been a key supplier of oil to the US and its allies, and on the other, the Kingdom has been an ally of a very special nature, an essential one to the interests of the USA, but one that the American public opinion profoundly distrusts, and even a part of it bluntly dislikes.
Saudi Arabia has been a very hotly-debated topic. There is an endless number of books, articles and opinions to be found literally everywhere—majority of which are critical or very critical of the Kingdom. Let’s take as example the book Sleeping With The Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul For Saudi Crude written by former CIA Officer Robert Baer, a real bestseller back in the day it was published.
The reality of Saudi Arabia and of the US-Saudi relations is far from being a distinctively clear black and white situation; it is in fact a constantly shifting shade of dark grey. It has to be said that the perception has been darker in the past, but inspite of the great PR and Lobby efforts deployed by the Kingdom, much remains to be done.
None of this suffices; the goal has to be the changing of hearts and minds of a significant part of the public and published opinion of the USA, and not just the people on Capitol Hill, in the White House, The Pentagon or the State Department. It is true that the Kingdom has changed in recent times and is more a part of the solution than a serious part of the problem it was in the past. That has not at all trickled down to the general awareness of the American Society. It is very clear that Saudi Arabia should be doing much more, and in a completely different way.
The recent visit of President Donald Trump to Saudi Arabia proves that the system and common sense are stronger than the opinions of an ill-informed presidential candidate and that geopolitical problems are very stubborn and need to be confronted in a rational, cautious and professional way.
The grandiose setting of the US-Islam Summit was a symbol of reconciliation and a confirmation of the US hegemony in that part of the world. This is why President Trump’s speech in Riyadh had almost all the elements of solid statesmanship, making a clear-cut distinction between Muslims and yihadists, and recognising at last that over 90 per cent of the victims of terrorism inspired by that ideology are Muslims, and not the other way round.
And it is about time that those who tried to inspire a blanket ban on Muslims for immigration or asylum to the US, finally understand that we can defeat yihadism only with a very solid alliance between the Islamic World and the International community.
To many, what happened in Saudi Arabia was unexpected; for others, it was pure pragmatism. The Trump administration had signaled out the Iranians as the main source of instability and conflict in the region, and that, therefore, it was only logical that they support the worst enemy of Iran, Saudi Arabia, as the lesser of evils.
Not a small part of the heterogeneous coalition behind the election of President Trump would agree, but the fact of the matter is that without moderate Muslims and non-extremist conservatives (no matter how orthodox), there is absolutely no way to win the war against violence, terrorism, ideological cleansing (yihadists assassinating Muslims is not ethnic or religious cleansing—it’s ideological cleansing), and a perhaps powerful spiral descending into chaos and the unstoppable spread of war and terrorism.
If it was just pragmatism and not conviction, then so be it. In this case, the result is what matters. We will have time to explain to the actors why what they did was strategically and morally right, even if they didn’t know it when they started it.
Gustavo De Aristegui
Former Spanish ambassador to India