Mutual Leveraging: Washington and Riyadh from September 11 to Crawford, Texas
Ever since assuming the reins of effective power in 1995, Saudi Crown Prince Abdallah has sought to put his stamp on Saudi foreign policy. Under King Fahd, the Kingdom had drifted entirely into the American orbit, a process which culminated in the US-Saudi alliance that removed Iraq’s Saddam Husayn from Kuwait and implanted US bases on Saudi territory. But the alliance angered radical Islamists in the Kingdom and hindered the Royal Family’s relations with Wahhabi clerics whom the government needs to give Islamic legitimacy to its policies. Abdallah moved to correct this, starting with a public rapprochement with Washington’s enemy, Iran, which involved the hushing up of Iranian responsibility for the 1996 bombing of the US Air Force barracks in Dhahran. Discouraged by the US failure to eliminate Saddam, Abdallah refused the use of Saudi air bases for American attacks on Iraq within the framework of Operation Southern Watch. And the Saudi view that the US had failed to pressure Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza was another reason to put some distance between Riyadh and Washington.