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President Trump and Prince Mohammed bin Salman during Saudi Arabia's visit to the United States in March. Source: AFP.
President Trump and Prince Mohammed bin Salman during Saudi Arabia's visit to the United States in March. Source: AFP.

The eternal romance of the United States and Saudi Arabia

For a president who inaugurated his administration by blocking the entry of hundreds of Muslims into the United States, it is paradoxically fundamental to…

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At a time when the United States seems to be leading the anti-Islam campaign and the "hard-line" policy against regimes like that of Bashar Al-Assad in Syria, few remember that American interference in the Middle East has almost a century of history.

A century of economic interests

Since the United States recognized Saudi Arabia as a state in 1931, the deep economic ties between the two nations have only grown, especially thanks to oil exploitation agreements by U.S. companies concerning Saudi soil.

The founding of the Arab American Company during the oil boom of 1933 allowed the United States to access 50 percent of crude production on Saudi soil, but the debut of World War II froze relations until the U.S. government resumed interest to "colonize" production abroad in 1945.

It was then when the first exchanges between both countries began, where the United States benefited from the exploitation of crude oil in exchange for financing the defense platform of Saudi Arabia.

Photo of the beginnings of the Arab American Company. Source: saudiaramco.com

Despite the conflicts of the Cold War - which led to governmental disagreements and the loss of confidence between President Eisenhower and Prince Abdulaziz - the increase of the Soviet presence in the Arabian Peninsula only stimulated U.S. interest in Saudi territory.

The insurgency of Iraq's power in the region allowed the arms agreements between the United States and Saudi Arabia to solidify, but the U.S. government's unconditional support for Israel challenged Arab tolerance, making collaboration increasingly difficult.

However, U.S. interest in the black gold mine represented by Saudi Arabia outweighed the post-World War II interests and for the fiscal year of 1975, the two countries signed arms contracts of up to $2 billion.

This set the precedent for what would be the Gulf War, triggered by the invasion of Iraq into Kuwait in August 1990, which would affirm the military presence and security agreements between the United States and Saudi Arabia.

Some experts believe that it was the continued presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia that led to the 9/11 attacks, while others have noted that the germ of the terrorist organization Al-Qaida was sown during the military support of both countries to anti-communists groups in Afghanistan in the early 1980s.

In one way or another, the economic and military destinies of the United States and Saudi Arabia were firmly committed from the 2000s, while the oil business supported an American military deployment never before seen in Saudi territory.

Political remodeling

The change of the international political landscape during the following years led to political agreements between Saudi Arabia and China, as well as the rapprochement between King Abdullah and Russian President Vladimir Putin between 2005 and 2007, when the production of natural gas was granted to Russia for the first time.

During the Obama administration, relations began a more prudent new stage, and the detonation of the Civil War in Syria finally put both interests in opposite trays.

Controversies such as the financing of terrorist groups or the constant violation of human rights in the Saudi kingdom created another obstacle in the country's relationship with the United States, but the oil and defense agreements were never affected.

Russia and Saudi Arabia consider an oil agreement between 10 and 20 years. March 2018. [Pavel Golovkin / Reuters]

With the victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential elections, this relationship would suffer an unexpected turn, raising new agreements that included Israel and drove Trump's government to the center of the matter.

The Trump Paradox

The presidential campaign of Donald Trump was entangled in accusations of plotting with foreign agents, especially Russians, to manipulate the election in its favor, while blocking the entry of thousands of immigrants from Muslim-majority countries.

What few know is that his campaign also sought help from countries in the Gulf, planning meetings between the princes of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, the Lebanese-American lobbyist George Nader, and an Israeli specialist in social media manipulation, Joel Zamel, according to the New York Times.

To the surprise of many, the first presidential visit of Donald Trump was to Saudi Arabia, where he signed a contract for the sale of arms for $110 billion over a period of ten years, thus ensuring the Saudi interference in the conflict in Yemen and, ultimately, in the future of other Arab countries such as Syria.

Behind the scenes, both players had agreements of another kind.

A journalist breaks the game

Thanks to the recent scandal of the alleged murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul by Saudi special forces, the position of the Trump administration in the face of the Saudi reign is particularly compromised.

Despite pressure from Congress for an investigation, and from the international community for sanctions against Saudi Arabia, Trump has refused to reconsider the arms deal, and recent reports have determined that the participation of the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in the consolidation of the United States-Saudi Arabia alliance is much more intricate.

According to The Guardian, Kushner "took the initiative" to promote Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) as the new Saudi leader, labeling him a "visionary" and subsequently persuading his father-in-law's administration to "engage U.S. policy in the Middle East to the rising star prince."

Jared Kushner, center, principal adviser to the White House, in the Oval Office while President Donald Trump meets with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia at the White House in Washington on March 20. More than anyone in the Trump administration, Kushner cultivated the crown prince, whose family may have played a role in the disappearance of a Saudi journalist, elevating him to a key ally in the Arab world and the White House's main interlocutor to the kingdom. (DOUG MILLS/THE NEW YORK TIMES)

"Together, the two thirty-something princelings, MBS and Kushner, stayed up late into the night planning to remake the map of the Middle East with bold thinking and mountains of cash," the report continues.

This explains the pompous and wasteful welcome to President Trump in Saudi Arabia during his inaugural visit, which was sold as a meeting for purely economic purposes.

"Arms sales were just part of the bonanza that MBS promised Trump," the Guardian explains. "When the crown prince made a three-week tour of the United States in March this year, he made a point of visiting the titans of U.S. tech industries on the west coast. The Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), pledged $45bn to the Japanese group SoftBank towards its planned $100bn technology venture capital fund.”

PIF also negotiated with Uber, Tesla, and Virgin Galactic.

Since then, President Trump has decided to attack the archenemy of Saudi Arabia, Iran, on all possible fronts, moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem (Kushner and the Israeli president are close friends), has supported the war in Yemen, and has ignored any accusation against the reign for violation of human rights.

In return, the Saudis have invested "$27m on Washington lobbying firms in 2017, three times what they spent in 2016," destined in part to the campaigns of senators and members of the House of Representatives that "were urged to turn a blind eye to Saudi excesses.”

But now, a bipartisan group of 22 senators has requested an investigation into the Khashoggi affair and will determine in 120 days whether sanctions will be imposed on Saudi Arabia and whether the arms sale agreement should be reconsidered.

In short, the White House has been forced to punish its intimate friend, in the same way that the country has seen the president's stances when defending Vladimir Putin, demonstrating that autocratic countries and those with a history of human rights violations have compromised the president on almost every front.

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