It’s not just Washington, it’s London, Paris, the EU, most of the ‘international community’…
Whereas Obama’s material support for a disastrous Saudi-led war had drawn little protest in Washington, his words of muted criticism for Saudi Arabia provoked days of sustained outrage. His comments were denounced as “play[ing] the blame game”; “betraying a grievous misunderstanding of what it means to be the world’s No. 1”; “the mark of a careless and clumsy amateur”; “turn[ing] allies overboard”; “overweening arrogance”; blaming others for his own failures; comparable to Donald Trump; and so on.
The moment was just the latest manifestation of something strange about Washington’s foreign policy community: It is deeply, viscerally committed to defending and advocating for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a country whose authoritarian government, ultra-conservative values, and extremist-promoting foreign policy would seem like an unusual passion project for American foreign policy professionals.
That advocacy has consequences. Though Saudi Arabia often acts counter to US interests, for example by working against US policy in the Middle East and by funding extremists, the US still provides direct support for Saudi actions that undermine the regional stability America desires, for example by backing the Yemen war against Americans’ better judgment.
The Obama administration decided on its own to support that war, and for reasons beyond how it would play on Massachusetts Avenue. But that decision, like so many before it, was informed by a culture in Washington that encourages nearly any action in support of Saudi Arabia and punishes any aberration.
Why is this? What explains the Washington consensus in favor of Wahhabist autocrats who often act counter to American values and interests?