The Close US-Saudi Connection Began with Reagan, not Bush

Roundup: Historians' Take

Rachel Bronson, in the Los Angeles Times (July 9 2004):

The close, cozy relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia began with Ronald Reagan, not George W. Bush as some filmmakers and journalists contend.

When Reagan came to office in 1981, he inherited a turbulent Middle East. Oil prices had jumped from $3.39 per barrel to more than $21. The zealously anti-American Shiite leader Ayatollah Khomeini had recently replaced the American-friendly shah of Iran. The Soviet Union was reinforcing its position in Afghanistan and one step closer to the oil-rich Persian Gulf. In the words of Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, the Soviet Union had"progressed from a continental power to a global one."

What few realized at the time was that these events would set the stage for the next two decades of U.S.-Saudi relations.

Reagan wanted not only to contain the Soviet Union but to"reverse the expansion of Soviet control and military presence throughout the world." The goal of the Reagan doctrine was to raise the costs of Moscow's foreign policy by championing democracy, outspending the Soviets on defense and supporting anti-Soviet insurgencies in the developing world.

The problem for Reagan was that his doctrine was expensive and America was exhausted. Still recovering from Vietnam, there was little public support for adventures in the Third World. But Reagan believed that his predecessors' failure to turn back Soviet advances in Angola and Ethiopia and elsewhere in the mid-1970s had only emboldened the Soviet Union.

To high-level administration officials, it became clear that to roll back the communists would be costly. CIA Director William J. Casey set out to find others to provide arms and money. The possibility of Saudi Arabian assistance dawned on the administration very early on. Not only could they provide the help Reagan wanted, but with the shah of Iran gone, the Saudis could also play a more prominent role as an oil-rich ally in a turbulent region....

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