PRINCETON – US President Barack Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia this week, to attend the summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council, comes at a time when relations between the two countries have rarely been worse. And yet, however negatively most Americans view Saudi Arabia, the country remains an important regional ally. Obama would be wise to mend the bilateral relationship.
Saudi Arabia, the source of one in nine barrels of oil consumed globally, is not just a linchpin of the global economy; its government’s stability is crucial to the international order. Should the Al Saud dynasty fall and the country splinter into rival territories ruled by jihadi factions and tribes, the civil wars in Syria and Libya will seem like minor conflicts in comparison.
The collapse of the Saudi state would quickly spill over into neighboring Gulf countries, triggering a regional implosion, with unthinkable humanitarian consequences. The US would not be able to avoid being dragged militarily into the region, if only to safeguard the supplies of oil and gas on which the global economy depends.
A major cause of the deterioration of the US-Saudi relationship is Obama’s decision to diminish America’s direct involvement in the Middle East. In a long interview with the journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, Obama expressed his desire for Saudi Arabia to “share” the region with Iran, its principal regional rival.