It would be hard to have not seen the news about the recent disappearance of Saudi citizen and dissident reporter Jamal Khashoggi, last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, which has whipped up international concern, with new Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman increasingly the focus of sharp criticism.
Turkish officials have said they believe Khashoggi — a Washington Post contributor who was critical of Prince Mohammed’s policies — was killed inside the mission, and lurid claims have even been leaked that he was tortured and even dismembered.
Saudi King Salman has begun weighing in to try to defuse the growing crisis over the missing journalist, as the kingdom goes on the offensive triggering a fierce online media campaign.
As this matter continues to evolve, I found an interesting book on the long-term relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia, called “Thicker Than Oil“, America’s Uneasy Partnership with Saudi Arabia.
Published in 2008, and written by Rachel Bronson, she details how for a period dating back to 1945, the United States and Saudi Arabia were solid partners. Then came the 9/11 attacks, which sorely tested that relationship. In Thicker than Oil, Rachel Bronson reveals why the partnership became so intimate and how the countries’ shared interests sowed the seeds of today’s most pressing problem–Islamic radicalism.
History of Saudi Relations
The United States, first through its oil industry and then via government contacts, established a relationship with Saudi Arabia’s founder, King Abdulaziz, and his successors that evolved into a close alliance despite a stark clash in values. U.S. businesses have been involved in Saudi Arabia’s oil industry since 1933, when Standard Oil of California (now Chevron) won a concession to explore in eastern Saudi Arabia, discovering oil in 1938. U.S. companies were preferred to European drillers operating in Iraq and Iran because Saudi Arabia’s founder was wary of colonial powers that controlled much of the region at the time.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s meeting with King Abdulaziz aboard the USS Murphy in Egypt in 1945 solidified the relationship. Saudi Arabia was officially neutral during World War II but allowed Allies to use its airspace, according to the author.
The Arabian American Oil Company, or Aramco, established by Standard Oil and three partners—who would later become Texaco, Exxon, and Mobil—discovered the kingdom’s reserves in 1944 and made the country the world’s largest oil exporter. Saudi Arabia gradually bought out foreign shareholders by 1980, and the company is now known as Saudi Aramco, but U.S. energy companies maintained business interests in Saudi Arabia. Chevron, Dow Chemical, and ExxonMobil continue to be involved in refining and petrochemical ventures.
The United States is far less dependent on Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members than even a decade ago, when a drilling frenzy began in shale fields across Texas and North Dakota. American production has more than doubled since 2007 — to 10.5 million barrels a day, from 5.1 million barrels a day — and the United States has become a major exporter for the first time in decades.
The United States imports only 800,000 barrels a day from Saudi Arabia — 600,000 fewer per day than a decade ago — and much of that goes to a Gulf of Mexico refinery owned by Saudi Aramco, the Saudi national oil company.
U.S.-Saudi relations have never been in complete harmony. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a source of contention from early days in the relationship. This is an interesting book and I hope you enjoy it.
In the Prologue of the book, the author takes us back in time to 1949. “In 1949 Saudia Arabia was cautiously engaging the modern world. Jeddah, one of its most cosmopolitan and dynamic cities, was an old walled city of about thirty-thousand people. It didn’t have a single paved street, and camels wandered through the middle of town. There were no public utilities of any kind-no electric lights, running water, or sewage system. Fifty-gallon tanks from Wadi Fatimah, twenty miles away, were hauled in each morning to provide the legation with water. The tanks usually ran dry about two in the afternoon.”