Saudi Arabia and the United States
The American president and the Saudi king will havean unusually edgy meeting
BARACK OBAMA may recall a tricky moment when hefirst met King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia five years ago. Bending to shake hands with theoctogenarian monarch, the taller American appeared to bow deeply. Republican snipers inAmerica gleefully blasted the president for “kowtowing” to rich Arabs. Such protocols should runmore smoothly when Mr Obama heads to Saudi Arabia on March 28th for his second time inoffice. Unfortunately, however, relations between the two countries have seldom been moreawkward.
Their close alliance dates to the end of the second world war, when an ailing Franklin Rooseveltmet Saudi Arabia's founding king, Abdul Aziz, aboard the cruiser Quincy in the Suez Canal.Then, and for decades after, the equation was simple: America would provide security, theSaudis oil. Those shared interests, cemented by a mutual loathing of communism (and a morerecently shared hatred of Iran's Shia theocracy and of al-Qaeda terrorists), papered overinevitable differences between a hermetic autocracy, backed by fearsomely puritanicalWahhabist clerics, and an ebullient, proselytising democracy.
Such differences have inexorably widened since the end of the cold war, a process that hasaccelerated since Mr Obama took office. The reasons are not hard to find. For a start, surgingoil production at home has sharply lessened America's dependence on Saudi oil, even as MrObama's determination to extract American forces from such quagmires as Iraq andAfghanistan has been reducing the American bootprint in the region.
At the same time America's pursuit, with its European allies, of a nuclear deal with Iran hasexposed underlying differences. America sees the problem primarily as one of nuclearproliferation and secondarily as a threat to Israel. The Saudis instead fear Iran as a subversiveregional rival, geopolitically in unstable countries such as Iraq and Syria, and ideologically as aShia power challenging the Saudis' fundamentalist Sunni creed. Despite the slowness ofprogress in nuclear talks and the legacy of deep mistrust between America and Iran, Saudiofficials openly fret that America could “sell them out” for the lure of an historicrapprochement with a power they see as intrinsically hostile.
Other differences, too, are brewing. Unable now to rely so much on American might, thekingdom's rulers have taken to a more aggressive pursuit of their own regional interests.Widely cheered in the West, the outbreak of the Arab spring in 2011 was viewed with dismayand alarm in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. With scarcely a nod to the White House, Saudi troopsintervened in the neighbouring statelet of Bahrain to rescue its king from a pro-democracyuprising by his majority-Shia subjects. While America welcomed the election of the MuslimBrotherhood's Muhammad Morsi as president of Egypt as a step towards democracy, theSaudis viewed it as a power grab by an Islamist cult, financed by another impertinentneighbour, Qatar, whose noisy Al Jazeera satellite TV channel has long disturbed the royalSaudis' sleep. In recent weeks Saudi Arabia has dismayed America, which has long urgedgreater co-operation between Iran's Arab neighbours, by pulling its ambassador out of Qatar.
The Saudi rulers see the Brotherhood, with its cells inside the kingdom itself and powerfulfellow-travellers in countries such as Turkey and Tunisia, as a threat from within Sunni Islam.Small wonder that they have strongly backed its foes, from the Egyptian generals whooverthrew Mr Morsi last year, to Syrian rebel factions that have quietly sidelined the oncedominant Brothers from Syria's exiled opposition. Bruce Riedel, an American counter-terrorexpert, quotes Saudi officials as saying that the kingdom spent $25 billion subsidising suchallies as Jordan, Pakistan and Bahrain in 2012, and expects to spend more, now that Egypt hasbecome a prime recipient of such largesse.
Much of this aid does not necessarily flout America's wishes but, even where interestscoincide, friction can arise. Such as in Syria, where joint Saudi-CIA plans to supply anti-government rebels have consistently stumbled against what Saudi operatives view as quibblingAmerican qualms. The halting nature of such supplies, the Saudis complain, has emboldenedIslamist extremists who have more regular sources of funding and weapons and weakened theAmerican-backed political opposition. Last August, when Syria's president, Bashar Assad, wascaught red-handed gassing his own people in their hundreds, the Saudis saw a goldenopportunity to strike hard. Mr Obama instead shrank back, apparently satisfied with thenarrower aim of eliminating Mr Assad's chemical weapons.
Despite this growing list of grievances on both sides, the two countries need each other.America retains a strong military presence in the Gulf, and cannot be replaced as the ultimateguarantor of Saudi security in the foreseeable future. In the midst of turmoil across theregion, and with the threat of jihadist terrorism ever-present, America still relies heavily on theSaudis as the leading local policeman.
And the countries have other things in common, not all of them helpful. Decision-making inboth Riyadh and Washington has grown increasingly erratic, even dysfunctional, albeit fordifferent reasons. Saudi Arabia's senior rulers are old and weary, and prone to factionalrivalry as younger princes jostle for power in the inevitable succession to the king, who isthought to be at least 89. Mr Obama's administration, meanwhile, has been shackled by anunusually obstreperous legislature. He will not even be greeted in Riyadh by an Americanambassador. He nominated one in November, but Congress has refused so far to confirm hisappointment.
1.appear to 似乎;好像
例句:By all accounts, Rodger would appear to be afine fellow.
2.head to 引至，通到
例句:I let the horse drop his head to crop the springgrass.
3.depend on 依赖;依靠
例句:They depend on the goodwill of visitors to pick up rubbish.
4.such as 例如;譬如
例句:Issues such as these were not really his concern.