Middle East&North Africa US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia's King Salman gesturing during a signing ceremony

Published on May 21st, 2017 | by Lidija Bojčić


In Saudi Arabia, Trump turns reset

American President Donald Trump, with his visit to Saudi Arabia, began his tour across the Middle East. This is his first international journey since assuming office in January and leading him to the area of ​​three monotheistic faiths: Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican.

This is a great symbolism of this Trump tour, but also an insight into his international priorities. Much of Obama’s foreign policy was focused on Asia, especially in China. Trump’s first overseas residence offers an overview of his priorities focused on the Middle East, not Asia.

Trump surprised many people when he chose Saudi Arabia and Israel to travel at the same time. So far, former US presidents have avoided visits to Israel and Arab states at the same time as diplomatic neutrality. However, it is known that Trump does not have the feeling of such sensitive diplomatic behaviors.

Trump wants the status quo

Unlike Trump, the former Obama administration sought to move away from some of the traditional ties with Saudi Arabia and began working on a broader balance between Arabia and Iran. Also, Obama has criticized the Saudis for spreading sectarian hatred and disrespect for fundamental human rights.

Such rhetoric caused disapproval in the Saudi political circles. Obama’s attitude towards Saudi Arabia is marked by the end of a long-standing friendly relationship between the two countries.

Obama has sought some degree of harmony in relations between the major players in the region in his Middle East foreign policy. But, Trump does not see that. For Trump, Iran is a dangerous and revisionist state. The Trump administration clearly indicates the Iranian regime as hostile and wants to nurture regional solidarity against Iran.

Unseen glory

Saudi Arabia has shown a resurgence towards Trump’s power with a luxurious glance at him in Riyadh. This is in sharp contrast to Obama’s last visit to that country in 2016. On that occasion, Obama was literally brutally ignored by Saudi king Salman, and he was greeted at the airport by Saudi lower officials.

When compared to the gorgeous to Trump with a large pomp, it gives great and significant signals. Such Saudi behavior will not remain without Trump’s gratitude.

Security in the Middle East

A great welcome was not just for showing. These were carefully planned for the ambitious efforts of Saudi Arabia to deepen the security relationship with the US and to rebuild the US-Iranian detant. Obviously, Trump is more than happy to receive that role. The White House already reveals a plan to build “Arab NATO” that would bring together the coalition of Sunni countries to fight terrorism and prevent the expansion of Iran in the region. Given that Riyadh has power in the Gulf Cooperation Council and in the wider Arab and Muslim world, it is likely that Saudi Arabia will become the central and dominant figure in that formal alliance. This status will give the Saudis a greater foothold in the geopolitical competition in the Middle East with Iran.

Saudi Arabia will work on greater US military aid in Yemen against Houthi’s rebel forces. Riyadh hoped he would still win over Houthi in Yemen in 2015. The Saudis were convinced of their technical supremacy and the Gulf Coalition would make a quick victory over the Yemeni rebels.

Some analysts have warned in advance of the historic Houthi resistance as mountain fighters, especially on their home ground in the inaccessible areas of northern Yemen. Despite its initial successes, the Gulf Coalition was unable to extinguish the Houthi forces from their mountainous areas. Now, two years later, war has turned into a dusk with a growing humanitarian crisis.

So far, American activity in Yemen has been focused on removing al-Qaeda elements. Given the new Trump’s interest in the region, the Saudis are hoping to attract American military resources and strength directly into their struggle with Houthis. However, given the American inability to end the war in Afghanistan – a country with similar geographic and political circumstances as in Yemen – the future of such a desire is far from reality.

Trump’s interest in Saudi Arabia is very large and natural. The Saudis have long been allies with the US in the Middle East. This country is largely oriented to being stable in its goals and political leadership. The Saudis do not mind the special relationship between the United States and Israel. It provides a large and stabilizing resource for a global economy, and most importantly, Saudis are covering their defense needs (as opposed to Israel and Egypt). They pay their weapons themselves and receive US military training. For Trump, such features are more than desirable, and it makes the Saudis as natural allies when it comes to wider challenges in the Middle East.

However, Trump’s administration is prone to scandals and general inefficiency, and its long-term sustainability and the impact of such a post remain questionable. For now, the Saudis are trying to tap as much influence as possible


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