James Glover II / Reuters Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally at the Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks, Nevada, February 23, 2016.

Clinton, Trump, and Riyadh

How Saudi Arabia Sees the U.S. Presidential Election

The White House recently announced that U.S. President Barack Obama will visit Saudi Arabia in April as part of an overseas trip, with additional stops in Germany and the United Kingdom. The statement came as no surprise; the United States and the countries that constitute the Gulf Cooperation Council—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates—had agreed to convene sometime this year after their Camp David summit last May, during which they issued a joint statement reaffirming the United States’ commitment to the Gulf’s security.

The visit does come at an awkward time, however. In the wake of recent statements by Obama and by the candidates in the U.S. presidential primaries, Washington’s commitment to the region is under increasing scrutiny. In a March article by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic, Obama is quoted as criticizing Saudi Arabia’s foreign and domestic policies and questioning whether Arabia is still a friend of the United States. The article elicited an overwhelmingly negative response from Saudis on social and traditional media. 

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Kuwait's Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khalid Al-Hamad Al-Sabah chat before a group photo ahead of a U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council forum

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Kuwait's Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khalid Al-Hamad Al-Sabah chat before a group photo ahead of a U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council forum in Riyadh, March 31, 2012.

The most noteworthy reaction thus far has been that of Prince Turki al-Faisal, who was the head of Saudi intelligence for almost 30 years and was ambassador to both the United States and the United Kingdom. In a scathing opinion piece in the English-language daily Arab News, Faisal strongly criticized the president’s assessment of the efficacy of U.S.-Saudi relations, taking particular issue with Obama’s apparent inclusion of Saudi Arabia on a list of allies that he characterized as “free-riders.”

Obama implied that Saudi Arabia was not doing enough in the U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State (also known as ISIS). He also suggested that the country had contributed to the rise of Islamist militant groups by funding Wahhabi religious and educational institutions around the world. For their part, Saudi officials have become increasingly frustrated with Western dismissals of their contributions to counterterrorism, especially given that they have arrested hundreds

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