October 28, 2022 | OPINION | By Zoraiz Zafar | Illustration by Sydney Morris

My idealistic side believes that an alliance between two nations should exist based on the degree of overlap in their political, ideological, and cultural aspects. On the other hand, my pragmatic side says the existence of a bilateral alliance is dependent on whether both nations stand to gain something out of it.

From an American perspective, this allows us to evaluate current and historic alliances of the U.S. from these angles. Using this rubric, one can argue that most alliances of the U.S. have been at least somewhat justified. But in my opinion, there exists one major anomaly; the decades-old alliance with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Through an idealistic lens, it’s easy to see the gaping disparities in the foundational principles of both countries. At its core, the U.S. believes in the freedom of all people to make choices for themselves, be it economic choices or personal choices. Though the U.S. may not perfectly adhere to this belief and there may be significant internal disagreements on how to get there, it will always strive as a nation to move in the right direction when it comes to the issue of freedom. For a nation that was founded with the intent to break the shackles of imperialism and monarchism, the push for freedom will always remain a unifying theme.

Saudi Arabia, under its theocratic absolute monarchic system, has been known as one of the world’s greatest human rights violators. This characterization stems from the horrid treatment and lack of rights extended to women in the Islamic kingdom. Additionally, the total disregard for freedom of speech and thought in the country speaks further to the authoritarian nature of its government. To this extent, Saudi Arabia faced severe diplomatic backlash in late 2018 after the assassination of a dissident journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. Yet, the words were not followed by any meaningful actions.

This brings us to the second lens: pragmatism. According to the architects of modern American foreign policy, maintaining a relationship with Saudi Arabia has two apparent benefits. One, it provides the U.S. with the comfort of enhanced energy security, by decreasing the influence of certain strategic adversaries, such as Russia and Iran, in global energy markets. Two, having an alliance with a regional hegemon allows the U.S. to contain and counter multiple threats in the Middle East, namely terrorism and Iran.

However, I believe that when you consider realities on the ground, both these arguments become moot. Firstly, the illusion of the Saudis enhancing America’s energy security has been disproven time and time again, with the most recent incident being a few weeks ago when the Saudis, despite intense lobbying efforts, voted to cut OPEC+ oil production by two million barrels a day. This will not only hurt the incumbent political party in the U.S. but will also hurt the average American who has had to endure pain at the gas pump for months.

Secondly, the U.S. has better alternative options to monitor potential threats in the Middle East, namely Turkey and Israel. Both these nations, though not exactly embodiments of freedom and democracy, have demonstrated their capabilities to counter regional threats, be it a hostile country or a global terrorist network.

In conclusion, I am of the view that the U.S. must end its unholy alliance with Saudi Arabia. This no-win situation is economically hurting Americans while also undermining American democratic principles. The time has come to pull the plug on the most inconvenient friendship of convenience.

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