Saudi Arabia: Friend or Foe?







It is puzzling that after the tragedies of September 11th, America continues to ally itself with the very countries that are known to be contributing to terrorism.




Considering the Saudi support of extremist Wahhabi fundamentalism, why does the United States continue to recognize them as an ally? To what extent should the United States perceive Saudi Arabia as a threat? What are the subsequent implications for U.S. policy?




“Either you’re with us or you’re with terrorism.” This statement, known as the Bush Doctrine, has set the tone for the war on terrorism since the attacks of September 11th. This binary paradigm has caused previously ambiguous relationships with the U.S. to be reexamined. One such case is that of Saudi Arabia. The fact that fifteen out of the nineteen hijackers were Saudis, as well as the mastermind of the attacks, Osama bin Laden, America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia would seem to contradict the Bush Doctrine. Yet, the American policy towards Saudi Arabia has remained largely unchanged. Utilizing the principles of prospect theory, it is possible to determine the extent to which America should perceive Saudi Arabia as a threat.  Robert Jervis states that, “statesmen are indeed more risk-acceptant for losses than for gains[1]” In other words, when states are in a domain of gain, the risks involved in achieving a better position are not worth the costs of losing what they already have. Conversely, when a state is in the domain of loss, they are risk acceptant, or they will take much greater risks to try to return to where they were than they will to make major improvements in the status quo. In order to determine how America perceives the Saudi threat, it is necessary to establish whether America views Saudi Arabia to be in the domain of gain or the domain of loss. The following discussion uses prospect theory as a framework to analyze how America perceives the Saudi threat. By separating the analysis into differing American perceptions of Saudi Arabia, the complexities of the Saudi-American relationship become evident. The sections include America viewing the Saudi threat through the lens of the monarchy, America viewing Saudi threat through the lens of the Wahhabi fundamentalists, and American policy-makers’ recommendations.


Part 1: The Saudi Monarchy’s Dangerous Balancing Act. By Amy Hopcian.


Part 2: American Threat Perception of Saudi Arabia: Radical Wahhabism Equates to an Extreme Threat. By Jeff Phillips


Part 3: U.S. Foreign Policy, Interests, and Perspectives on Saudi Arabia. By Dave Szewczyk (click on index)


Part 4: Concluding Thoughts












[1] Jervis, Robert. Psychology and Deterrence. The John Hopkins Press; Baltimore: 1985. p 39