Analysis & Opinions - Bloomberg View

Qatar Crisis Shows Risk of Trump's Saudi Reset

| June 09, 2017

The kingdom took Trump's full-throated support to quickly act against U.S. interests.

President Donald Trump feels his recent trip to the Middle East was a great success, and the actions by Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies to isolate and punish Qatar this week were the first fruits of his new policy. In reality, the schism between Gulf Cooperation Council allies is a setback for U.S. interests, and the reset between Washington and Riyadh, heralded by the administration and many observers, if not a farce, is clearly far from complete.

Trump made a good move in choosing Saudi Arabia as the destination of his first foreign visit.  The kingdom remains the most powerful country in the region, and the partnership has long been a pillar of regional U.S. policy.  The bilateral relationship suffered significantly under the Barack Obama administration, which sought to position the U.S. as a neutral broker in the feud between the Arab Gulf states and Iran. The Saudis increasingly felt disrespected, questioned the U.S. commitment to the Middle East, and lost confidence in America’s ability or willingness to work with them to address regional challenges. 

Moreover, the Saudis were more eager for a reset with the U.S. than nearly any other country.  During my trips to Saudi Arabia over the past three years, I was repeatedly asked whether recent U.S. disinterest was merely indicative of the Obama administration, or whether it suggested a larger U.S. trend.  So keen were the Saudis to find out the answer that they were willing quickly to look beyond Trump’s negative rhetoric about Saudi Arabia on the campaign trail to see what sort of relationship could be established in the early days of the new administration.

That said, the focus of Trump’s visit was surprisingly narrow and, as a result, involved some missed opportunities.  Saudi Arabia is in what could be an existential struggle to reform its economy to meet the new realities of global energy markets.  This will not only require economic changes, but social and possibly political ones, as the royal family seeks to build and maintain support for what inevitably will be austerity measures affecting the whole population. 

For more information on this publication: Please contact Geopolitics of Energy Project
For Academic Citation: O'Sullivan, Meghan.“Qatar Crisis Shows Risk of Trump's Saudi Reset.” Bloomberg View, June 9, 2017.