Opinion: Saudi Arabia, the UAE aren’t US vassal states


Editor’s Note: Jason D. Greenblatt served as White House Middle East envoy in the Trump administration. He is the host of “The Diplomat” podcast on Newsweek and author of the new book “In the Path of Abraham.” Follow him @GreenblattJD. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion at CNN.



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After being offline for 25 hours observing Yom Kippur, I opened my phone, and the news reports flooded in. The most compelling story was OPEC+’s decision to reduce oil production significantly, which understandably caused much consternation in Washington.

As a result, some Democratic lawmakers are agitating to pull all US troops out of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, claiming the decision is “a hostile act against the United States and a clear signal that they have chosen to side with Russia in its war against Ukraine,” this “despite President (Joe) Biden’s overtures to both countries in recent months.”

I think what is happening to Ukraine is atrocious. I also don’t like paying higher gasoline prices any more than the next person, especially in this wild inflation world we are living in. But these lawmakers’ accusation is disingenuous, dishonest and largely political.

While OPEC+’s decision does harm the United States, we cannot ignore the fact that these countries have their own national interests and strategies. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and others have grand, nation-transforming plans that are breathtaking in scope and extraordinarily expensive. We don’t have the right to tell them to set aside their plans and sell us their valuable assets at discounted prices.

Similarly, arguing, as Sen. Dick Durbin has argued, that US foreign policy can be imagined “without (the Saudi) alliance” is unrealistic and harmful to the interests of the US and our allies in the Middle East.

These lawmakers also criticize Saudi Arabia and the UAE for making their decisions despite Biden’s overtures to them. That’s a distorted view. If we take the case of Saudi Arabia, recall that as a candidate, Biden said that we needed to recalibrate the US-Saudi relationship, that he would not sell more weapons to the Saudis, vowed to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah,” and said “there is little socially redeeming value” in the kingdom’s present government.

Once in office, Biden did not take threats against Saudi Arabia (or the UAE) seriously; he mostly paid lip service to such attacks.

No overtures would have been needed if Biden had handled the relationship with the kingdom differently from the start. Instead, after he tried to kick the kingdom and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the curb, then feebly tried to mend fences with a brief trip and a fist bump, these critics are disappointed that the President’s brief visit to the kingdom did not yield the desired results.

Biden was disappointed in OPEC+’s decision “while the global economy is dealing with the continued negative impact of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s invasion of Ukraine,” according to a statement from national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council.

Let’s consider that Saudi Arabia, the UAE and others could turn the tables on that statement in a hot second. Undoubtedly the kingdom, the UAE and others are disappointed, or more likely, furious, with Biden’s relentless attempts to sign a weak, shorter and incredibly dangerous deal with Iran.

Biden at least tempered his public comments, in sharp contrast to what some of his fellow Democrats are calling for with their incredibly alarming idea of removing all US forces and military equipment from the kingdom and the UAE. Doing so would result in even more instability in the Middle East and would undoubtedly backfire on the United States.

While it’s true these monarchies should (and I believe do) appreciate all the US does to help them, our relationship with these countries is a two-way street. The US significantly benefits from our forces and equipment being there. If we didn’t, the personnel and equipment wouldn’t be there. Let’s not pretend we put the interests of other nations ahead of our own. Similarly, we should not make demands of other nations to put our interests ahead of theirs.

Biden also said that “we are looking at alternatives’’ to oil from OPEC+ countries. That’s fair, as long as it does not involve cutting deals with or easing sanctions on thuggish, brutal regimes such as Iran or Venezuela. Instead, he should focus on once again increasing energy production back home.

How many times do we need to learn the same lesson? Look no further than Europe to see what could happen to us. It is going to be a cold and expensive European winter. And let’s stop hypocritically calling for clean energy while at the same demanding that energy-producing countries ramp up production. This charade doesn’t help make our planet cleaner. The world is just not yet ready to wean ourselves off fossil fuels.

It’s time for us to recognize that Saudi Arabia, the UAE and others in that region are powerful, on the move and not vassal states of the United States. It’s also time for us to recognize the world is run by reality and practicality, hopefully working alongside of noble goals. We can still be a great nation and make the world a better place while living with these truths.



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