The Atlantic

The U.S.-Saudi Alliance Is on the Brink

The relationship has survived for seven decades. A Democratic president could change that.
Source: Evan Vucci / AP / Shutterstock / Thanh Do / The Atlantic

An effort is under way in Washington to fundamentally overhaul, if not end, a decades-old American alliance—but it didn’t come at the direction of the alliance-skeptical Donald Trump. The president, in fact, has paradoxically emerged as the greatest force of resistance to the change.

Fed up with the catastrophic human cost of Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen’s civil war and appalled by the murder of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, Congress seemingly attempts some sort of measure to censure the kingdom every week. Yet at every turn, the White House has blocked or circumvented those moves, standing staunchly by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, or MbS, while escalating its confrontation with his archenemy, Iran.

The real reckoning in the U.S.-Saudi partnership could come if a Democrat is elected president in 2020, though early warning signs are already visible. Virtually all Democratic lawmakers, along with several Republican members of Congress and various lobbyists, analysts, and former officials, are shunning the Saudis to the point where a visit to Washington, D.C., by MbS, the heir apparent who was welcomed in 2017 and 2018, seems inconceivable anytime soon.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt and King Abdulaziz met aboard the USS Quincy in 1945, neither could have foreseen the cracks that would form in a relationship built on mutual benefit: a steady supply of Saudi oil in exchange for U.S. military protection.

But even the fallout from the September 11 attacks—in which 15 of the 19 hijackers Saudi—did not present the kind of existential challenge

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