Trump’s Surprise Shift in U.S. Saudi Policy


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Pentagon officials announced last week that the U.S. is removing two Patriot anti-missile systems from Saudi Arabia and two others from the Middle East, along with dozens of military personnel who were deployed to the region following a series of attacks on the Saudi oil facilities  by Iran last year—the Iranian regime continues to deny this. 

President Donald Trump had already removed two jet fighter squadrons from the region, and according to U.S. officials, the White House is also considering a reduction of the U.S. Navy presence in the Persian Gulf—marking the end, for now, of a large-scale military buildup to counter Iran

Trump said on Tuesday that the United States has been protecting countries “that don’t respect us, and in some cases they don’t even like us,” after he was asked about removing anti-missile systems from Saudi Arabia during his meeting with Texas Governor Greg Abbot in Washington.

Trump’s decision should not surprise us, according to Reuters, the president called the effective ruler of Saudi Arabia Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) in March and told him that if the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)—the Saudis are de facto head of OPEC—began to cut oil production, he would be powerless to stop Congress from passing legislation to withdraw U.S. troops from the kingdom. This amidst the oil war between the kingdom and Russia when they both failed to agree on a deal curbing output as the coronavirus spread around the globe. 

As CNBC reporter Clyde Russell stated: “Saudi Arabia has detonated a metaphorical nuclear weapon in the global oil market, blowing up prices and trade relationships with its decision to slash the cost of its own crude while ramping up output.” 

While the target of MBS’ ire was Russian oil companies, his move served only to accelerate America’s economic collapse during the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The volatility and price crash in oil hurt U.S. shale producers, leading to layoffs in the industry, particularly in Republican-run states. President Trump went so far as to threaten to impose tariffs on oil imports from Saudi Arabia before their differences had been patched up.

Despite the fact that Trump had sent more military personnel and equipment in the kingdom, the White House has been increasingly unwilling to fight their battles. This became obvious after the U.S. did not retaliate on the regime’s behalf against Iran after its oil facilities were attacked last year.  In any case, there had already been a noticeable cooling between the Saudis and the Trump administration in recent months, to say nothing of the criticism from high ranking Republicans, which compelled Trump to reevaluate U.S. policy with Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Middle East.  

Senator Ted Cruz, for example, who had been of the kingdom’s staunch supporters, said at the end of March

“The Saudi kingdom is supposed to be our friend. We are a military ally. We are a diplomatic ally. You are not behaving like a friend when you are trying to destroy thousands and thousands of small businesses all across Texas and the country.”

American policy in the Middle East was bad enough after the Carter Doctrine of 1980, which declared that the U.S. would employ military force against any country that attempted to gain control of the Persian Gulf—this only produced, at the behest of the pseudo-Saudi royal family,  bloodshed, grief, instability and trillions of dollars from American taxpayers. 

President Trump, however, only accelerated the perils in the region by bending over backwards for the Saudis like no other American president has done before, even choosing the kingdom as his first foreign when he took over the reins in 2017 and selling $110 billion of highly advance weapons. The result has been both an impetuous and a capricious protection of the ruling Saud family’s operations—imprisoning and shaking down his own relatives-princeskidnapping foreign prime ministers, and, in the judgment of the CIA, murdering and dismembering the journalist Jamal Khashoggi—at the cost of  American interests. 

Trump had admitted a couple of years ago that the Saudis were exploiting the American government’s friendship. 

Speaking at a campaign rally in Mississippi, the president said: “I love the king, King Salman, but I said: ‘King, we’re protecting you. You might not be there for two weeks without us. You have to pay for your military, you have to pay.’” The Saudis eventually did pay the money American tax-payers have been coughing up for decades. Yet, as explained by Senator Lindsey Graham, this did not keep the Saudis from continuing to exploit America’s friendship.

In 2018, just after the Khasoggi murder, Senator Lindsey Graham told Trump: “Clearly [the Saudis] don’t respect you. They don’t respect us. They feel like they can do anything and get away with it. Now is the time to come down hard.”  And yes, they have taken Trump for a ride.

American presidents, beginning with Franklin D. Roosevelt, have caved to the geopolitical reality of the necessity of Saudi oil and strategic friendship. During World War II the ailing FDR pleaded with the Saudi King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud to help created a homeland a home for the Jews in Palestine. As William E. Eddy, the U.S. Ambassador to the kingdom, reported to FDR, Ibn Saud had told him Ibn Saud ahd told him that “if America should choose in favor of the Jews, who are accursed in the Koran as enemies of the Muslims until the end of the world, it will indicate to us that America has repudiated its friendship with us.” 

The U.S. thereafter established a permanent Military Training Mission in the kingdom and agreed to provide training support in the use of weapons and other security-related services to the Saudi armed forces; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers helped build military installations in the kingdom.

Trump, however, appears to have finally accepted the reality that the Saudis are pretentious allies, at best. As independent economic and political analyst Tom Luongo explained: “This is about Trump realizing that oil should no longer be central to foreign policy objectives. In a world of $20-25 per barrel oil, why are we basing our entire foreign policy, which costs trillions we now truly cannot afford, on controlling the physical commodity markets which we are more than capable of producing?”

Whatever the reason may be, the fact that Trump is removing the Patriot anti-missile systems from Saudi Arabia is a clear indication, for the time being, that the U.S. is not going to blindly protect their draconian regime. Perhaps, just as he became the first U.S. president to impose economic sanctions against Chinese companies for their human rights violations—a fact completely ignored by the Democrats, the mainstream media and the never-Trumpers—he may be the first Chief Executive to finally take measures against the Saudis that their decades’ long fleecing of the American tax payer and their human rights violations. 


Mario Alexis Portella is a priest of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Florence, Italy. He has a doctorate in canon law and civil law from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome; he also holds a M. A. in Medieval History from Fordham University, as well as a B.A. in Government & Politics from St. John’s University. He is author of Islam: Religion of Peace – The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up.