It's hard to keep up with the barbarity the state's leaders keep flaunting: crucifixions, beheadings, institutionalized slavery, sexual repression and other large scale injustices inspired by a dark interpretation of Wahhabi Islam. Of course, I am not talking about the group known as ISIS. I am talking about Saudi Arabia.
Today, Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest recipients of American military hardware, and we continuously refer to them as our partner. But we aren't really partners anymore. We may have hooked up with the Saudis at a time when we were desperate. But now our nation is strong and mature enough to recognize a dysfunctional relationship when it sees one. And if this isn't dysfunction, I don't know what is.
Let's start with Saudis' crimes against humanity, which have earned them Freedom House's label of "worst of the worst" among repressive nations — a distinction shared only with Somalia, North Korea and a handful of other countries. This year alone, Saudi Arabia has decapitated over 100 people for crimes that included sorcery and adultery.
Now the Kingdom is set to outdo itself with the planned crucifixion of Ali al-Nimr, a young anti-government activist arrested in 2012 at the age of 17 and tortured into confessing to a litany of crimes. We condemn ISIS for such acts of barbarity. But when Saudis do it, we apparently invite them for dinner at the White House.
Those who argue in favor of keeping our relationship intact are still living in the past. Back in 1945, when President Roosevelt met with King Ibn Saud aboard the USS Quincy, oil was a critical commodity that America needed to safeguard in order to finish the war. But times change. Today we get our oil on the open market, and the Saudis are too addicted to the largesse that fossil fuels have offered them — they aren't going to stop selling oil now.
During the Cold War, the Saudis fought secular communism by offering a conservative vision to the Muslim world. Saudi Arabia even provided many of the foot soldiers to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s, helping to precipitate the fall of the USSR. This, of course, came at a cost. Some of those foot soldiers, like Saudi jihadist Osama bin Laden, eventually turned their weapons on America. More worryingly, the extremist version of Islam that the Kingdom has so eagerly exported by building religious institutions around the world is still going strong and is now doing untold damage to in places like Pakistan and Bangladesh. There, the Saudi brand of Wahhabi Islam has at least some responsibility to bear for the continuous waves of violence against religious minorities and women in these countries.
Of course, we have seen some of that jihad friendly ideology play out in Iraq. Back when America was losing thousands of service members and untold billions trying to keep Iraq from collapsing, the largest number of foreign suicide bombers streaming into the country were Saudis. Many of them joined al-Qaida in Iraq, the organization that we now call the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
Today, jihadists and Saudis share some important goals. In Syria, the Saudis are actively funding extremists to topple the government, bankrolling part of the civil war that has led to massive death and displacement long after any chance of rebel success has been lost. In Iraq the Saudis have made it clear in their actions they would rather see a weak Iraq than the Shiite government we have supported. The Saudis and Americans have grown so far apart, they don't even share the same goals for the future.
But even dysfunctional relationships have their upsides. For the U.S.-Saudi partnership, it is information sharing. Today, the Saudis and Americans are sharing troves of intelligence. And yet, much of this information is being used to help Saudi Arabia in their war on Yemen — a humanitarian pummeling that has already cost thousands of lives.
Our relationship with Saudi Arabia has played itself out. It is stale and awkward. It is only surprising that it lasted as long as it did. But all things must come to an end, and now is time to look at the Kingdom in the eye and speak the truth: It's not us, Saudi Arabia, it's you.
Nathan Gonzalez is a fellow at the Truman National Security Project and a lecturer of Middle Eastern politics at California State University, Long Beach; his email is Nathan.Gonzalez@csulb.edu.