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Upending relationships? Maybe not so fast.

Upending relationships? Maybe not so fast.

John Donvan
Tuesday, February 7, 2017

For the reason you probably know (a certain new president), it's been a tough few weeks for a number of America's traditional allies.

Saudi Arabia, however, has thus far escaped the browbeating. Apparently, when President Trump and Saudi King Salman had their first phone call several days ago, it went rather pleasantly.

Which is interesting, because on the list of America's most stalwart overseas relationships, the partnership with Saudi Arabia is the one most often bashed by critics as meriting a downgrade.

Partly, the argument is based on values: how, it is asked, can the U.S. be so cozy with a state whose justice system cuts off heads and lashes women (and men) for transgressions like adultery? Partly, it is about competing agendas: the Saudis are major funders of radical Islamic education around the world. Partly, it is the fact that, due to fracking, we've become a little less desperate for the oil that made Saudi Arabia interesting to the U.S. in the first place.

But there is a counter-argument, too: the Saudis have been steadfast allies in the military and security arenas, as when Saudi territory served as staging areas for the first Gulf War. Moreover, they are a critical counterbalance to Iran, their bitter enemy in the region. As for their treatment of women, and other anti-democratic processes, they are, in a fashion, evolving, albeit slowly, in a more palatable direction.

We're putting these arguments to the test, and in competition with each other, when Intelligence Squared U.S. takes the stage in Manhattan to debate this motion:

The Special U.S.-Saudi Relationship Has Outlived Its Usefulness.

Sure to come up: why Saudi Arabia does not appear on the list of seven Muslim nations targeted for the temporary travel ban (when most of the 9-11 hijackers were Saudi citizens); what it means that the Trump business organization recently shut down plans to build a hotel in the kingdom. We have four great debaters, who will all teach us something. I hope to see you at the debate, or online where we stream live at 6:45 PM,  February 8th.

--John Donvan

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