Saudi King Abdullah in 2014.
rendan Smialowski/ Courtesy Reuters

When the recently deceased Saudi king, Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, was crown prince, Western capitals worried that, when he eventually assumed the throne, Abdullah would be focused on internal Arab identity issues and would be less friendly or flexible when it came to outside powers’ priorities, such as regional security. His legacy will turn out to be more textured than any could have imagined.

It is certainly true that Abdullah cared less than his predecessor, King Fahd, about pleasing the West, and that he was more driven by ambitions to ensure a stable and prosperous future for the Kingdom. He did not always agree with his security partners about how to handle the various sources of regional instability. He took strong positions on the Arab-Israeli dispute that, in hindsight, look pretty good. His deep-seated antipathy for the Shia world worked to the West’s disadvantage in the case of Iraq,

This article is part of our premium archives.

To continue reading and get full access to our entire archive, you must subscribe.