It was a logical and moral stretch to justify some of the alliances that Washington forged with repulsive, autocratic regimes to wage the struggle against the Soviet Union. Decent Americans had to restrain their gag reflexes to see their government support the likes of the Shah of Iran, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, South Korea’s Chun Doo‐hwan, or the Saudi royal family, given the massive human‐rights abuses those regimes committed. With the dissolution of the USSR at the end of 1991, and the disappearance of even an arguable existential threat to America’s security, maintaining close relationships with corrupt, murderous autocrats became harder and harder to justify.
Today, two such relationships should have especially become acute embarrassments for Washington. One is the decades‐old strategic and economic partnership with Saudi Arabia (and indirectly with Riyadh’s smaller Gulf client states). The other is the multilayered partnership with fellow NATO member Turkey. From both the standpoint of American interests and American values, those associations cry out for termination.
I’ve written previously about Saudi Arabia’s appalling human‐rights record (including the imprisonment, torture and execution of peaceful critics) and the support that members of the Saudi elite have given to Sunni extremist movements throughout the greater Middle East. Either factor alone should be enough to disqualify Riyadh as a friend and ally of the United States. Taken together, that behavior should easily put the Saudis on the U.S. policy blacklist. Although it would be an overstatement to say that Saudi Arabia created the Sunni branch of the current terrorist threat, Riyadh’s behavior certainly has exacerbated the problem. As my colleague Emma Ashford points out, the Saudis are pursuing the interests of their country as they see them, whatever the impact on America’s security. At one time, it was possible to make the argument that U.S. and Saudi interests greatly overlapped. But it is getting ever harder to make that argument. Indeed, American and Saudi interests (and well as values) seemingly now conflict far more often than they coincide.