Thicker than Oil | Rachel Bronson

Summary of: Thicker than Oil: America’s Uneasy Partnership with Saudi Arabia
By: Rachel Bronson


In ‘Thicker than Oil: America’s Uneasy Partnership with Saudi Arabia’, Rachel Bronson unfolds the intricate story of the longstanding but tenuous relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. The two nations, initially drawn together by oil and anti-communism interests, ventured into politicizing religion and funding Islamic extremists for their mutual goals in Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, and Pakistan. The book takes readers through pivotal events from Standard Oil’s entry into Saudi Arabia in 1933, to the Six Day War, the oil embargo, and 9/11 – delving into the rise of Islamic politics and revealing the strategic bilateral partnership that has impacted the Middle East.

The Strategic Relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia

The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have a strategic relationship based on shared interests in oil and anti-communism. This relationship strengthened as world demand for oil steadily increased. The Arab state owns 25% of the known oil supply, which accounts for 95% of its export revenues. The U.S. has been involved in Saudi oil since 1933, which led to the rise of Islamic politics and the use of religion as a base of power in Saudi Arabia. In the mid-’50s, Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser urged Arabs to overthrow the monarchies in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Jordan. This precipitated an “Arab cold war” with the Saudis using religion to counter Egypt’s anti-Western nationalism. The ’60s and ’70s saw the geopolitics of religion become more complex, as politics became enmeshed with religion in countries such as Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, and Pakistan. Finally, the 1967 war challenged America’s relationship with all Arab countries, Saudi Arabia being no exception. Although there have been bumps in the road, their relationship continues to this day.

The Complex Relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia

This book summary explores the tumultuous relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia from the 1960s to the post-Cold War era. The narrative highlights how the US prioritized democratic reform in underdeveloped countries to counter Soviet influence, while concurrently supporting the conservative Saudi regime despite its lack of internal reforms. The book illustrates how the US’s involvement in the region catalyzed the Saudi monarchy to use Islam to bolster its political base, leading to the formation of an Islamic block in the mid-1960s. The book describes events such as the border dispute between Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the Six Day War, and the multibillion-dollar partnership between the two nations to challenge the Soviets in Afghanistan. The book dissects the impact of Israel’s victory and the rise of Saudi Arabia’s radical Wahhabi Islam on the geopolitical dynamics of the region, highlighting how oil and anticommunism still served as the bedrock of the US-Saudi relationship.

The Impact of Oil on Politics

The 1970s saw a sharp increase in demand for oil, causing its price to double. Arab nations, empowered by oil profits, began using oil as a weapon against the US. As a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Saudi Arabia played a key role in launching a plan to nationalize multinational oil companies and urging other Arab OPEC nations to use oil profits to buy weapons. This was a threat that the US administration failed to recognize. When Syria and Egypt attacked Israel, OPEC increased the price of oil by 70% and cut production by 5% for each month that the US supported Israel. The Arab embargo, together with the Iranian oil crisis that doubled the price of oil, led to a recession in the US. Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia continued to prioritize its global anticommunism push over regional anti-Israel ideology, working to strengthen US relations until the September 11, 2001 attack.

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