Kings and Presidents | Bruce Riedel

Summary of: Kings and Presidents: Saudi Arabia and the United States since FDR (Geopolitics in the 21st Century)
By: Bruce Riedel


In ‘Kings and Presidents: Saudi Arabia and the United States since FDR’, Bruce Riedel delves into the intriguing partnership forged between the United States and Saudi Arabia since 1945. Despite significant ideological differences, the partnership stemmed from shared interests in maintaining stability in the Middle East and the selling of oil. The book further explores the United States’ support of Israel, which remains a point of contention in US-Saudi relations, and traces the reigns of various Saudi kings, their interactions with US presidents, and how international relations have shaped policies and power dynamics.

The US-Saudi Alliance

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded in 1932 by two families, where the Shaykhs became its religious authority and the al Sauds became its political authority. In 1945, a meeting between Franklin Delano Roosevelt and King Ibn Saud kickstarted a prosperous alliance between the United States and the Saudi Kingdom. Both countries shared mutual interests: Saudi Arabia wanted to sell oil, and America wanted to buy it. However, the two leaders disagreed on one critical point: the relocation of Jews displaced by the war. Roosevelt pushed for a special Jewish state in Palestine, while Ibn Saud believed that Germany should offer refuge to war victims. Despite their disagreement, the meeting was successful. Roosevelt’s successor, Truman, supported the UN decision that created Israel. Still, this action has created bitterness in the US-Saudi relationship ever since. Roosevelt’s legacy lives on as he negotiated with Ibn Saud as the first foreign head of state to the country.

Faisal’s Transformation

Faisal, the Saudi Arabian king, took advice from American President John F. Kennedy to implement reforms to avoid a popular coup, including the abolition of slavery, restructuring of the religious police and judicial system, and establishment of free medical care and education. He also consolidated his political power and established a clear line of succession. Faisal quadrupled oil prices in response to President Richard Nixon’s aid to Israel, resulting in a drop in America’s GDP. He insisted on the return of Jerusalem to the Arab people as a condition for peace. Faisal transformed Saudi Arabia into a stable, modern country and a dominant political force before his assassination in 1975.

King Khalid’s Turbulent Reign

King Khalid’s reign was marked by five extreme events that threatened the stability of the Saudi Kingdom. The Iranian Revolution, the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the Iran-Iraq war. The Saudi royal family’s strict religious commitment and alliance with the US played significant roles in navigating through these crises. Despite this, some religious dissidents exploited their faith to justify terrorism, as seen in Osama bin Laden’s case.

Saudi Arabia’s Political and Military Turmoil

Saudi Arabia underwent a tumultuous period during King Fahd’s reign, which lasted ten years. Controversial arms deals with the UK and China, the Iran-Iraq war, and the US-Saudi relations were key highlights of this time. President Reagan’s secret arms deal with Iran increased tensions among Gulf State leaders. Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, and the subsequent Operation Desert Shield, marked the first public display of US-Saudi relations. However, it also led to the rise of Al-Qaeda and terrorist groups within Saudi Arabia.

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