tv Discussion on U.S.- Saudi Arabia Relations CSPAN September 14, 2022 7:08pm-8:01pm EDT
picture yourself as a newly elected member of congress. what is your top priority and why. make a video that shows the importance of your issue from supporting and opposing issues. be bold amongst $100,000 is $5,000 grand prize. must be submitted by january 20, 2023. visit our website for competition rules for tips, resources and step-by-step guide. >> a conversation on u.s. and saudi arabia relations with discussion happened as chinese president xi. from the hudson institute. this is about 50 minutes. , i amm
the iranians, productively, responded to the take it or leave it offer, and the united states responded that it won't accept any changes to the text, but it will accept changes to the form of the text, which is how the united states and renegotiate the take it or leave it off there, without admitting that is what it is doing. without any further editorializing, let me get our guest. professor, perhaps you can start us out. just give us a scene setter. we have got chinese leader xi jinping coming to riyadh this week, do we not? >> it is not clear if it will be this week, but he will certainly be visiting the kingdom before the end of the year, and saudi-chinese relations are very good, in fact, excellent, and there are all kinds of
agreements on oil and energy and mining, and even missile development that have been made. and the chinese are opportunistic, and they see an opportunity, where the u.s. is sending signals to saudi arabia, but not just to saudi arabia, also to israel and others that, you know, the u.s. is just not as committed, as interested, and that, in fact, the middle east is a source of chagrin and pain for the u.s., and the focus really ought to be on china. i mean, weirdly, i do not think you can trust china without engaging with them at least and preventing it from taking over the middle east. so the u.s. policy is truly bizarre and very difficult to understand, not least of the desperate attempt to become friends with iran, a country
that is a state sponsor of terror, and i just want to remind, you know, your audience that salman rushdie is a great personal friend of mine who was attacked, and someone tried to kill him, and that person is an activist and a big follower of the spring leader in iran, and i find it very difficult that that happened without the knowledge of iran and its proxies. and this is an attack on u.s. soil, by the way. michael: can i ask you, just to connect off a little bit more explicitly, the two threads that you started to unravel, the thread about china and saudi arabia, then threat about the united states and iran. i certainly think that those two things are related, but let's -- and i think you probably think the same as i do, but let me hear you explain the connections between the two. prof. haykel: so, you know, the
view that came to dominate during the obama administration is the way the u.s. can somehow lessen the load in the middle east, becomes friends with iran, strikes a deal with iran, and this has been a highly intellectual, not based on facts , as far as i can tell, view of the world and of the middle east, and it is one that the the biden administration chooses to share, which is if you make up with your enemies, somehow, you don't need to be as engaged. and in the process, the fact that you alienate your strategic allies is not that important. so that has been the view of, i think, the two democratic administrations we have seen. the trumpet administration had a
very different view, which is you side with your strategic allies, and you put pressure on your enemies. we are right now in a race where the u.s. is desperate to make up with iran, even though the iranians refused to speak to the u.s., by the way. paul these negotiations, i hasten to add, iran refuses to speak directly to the americans. and so this kind of constant pattern of humiliation, that the u.s. needs to be willing to accept and take, the last of which is the rushdie murder attempt. now, the chinese see the u.s. and see the obama view of the middle east, and they see opportunity. they have good relations with both the iranians and the saudis. i think i'm on balance, they would be much closer to the saudis, just because the saudis are much more important, strategically, for all kind of
reasons, and they are telling the saudis, whatever you want, we will do. we will be helpful to you. we are lucky in the u.s. that society elite is very american-centered, american educated. the saudi leadership wants to be on good terms with america, would prefer to be good allies with america, puts most of its money invested in the united states, so we are basically spurning, you know, a partner that wants to be friends, wants to be close, and we are saying, no, we don't want you to be close, and the chinese see this come and they want to take advantage of it. dr. doran: it is truly mind-boggling. mohammed, let's turn to you. you are uniquely placed to help us understand all of this, because you are a saudi national, but you have also been educated in the united states, so you fully understand how americans see the world, you fully understand how saudis see
this world. why don't you start by giving us a sense of what all of this looks like from riyadh? how are the leaders in saudi arabia thinking about the saudi american relationship, while the united states moves towards making a deal with iran, and how do they understand the relationships with china in that context? mohammed: absolutely. i think that is an excellent point. look, and some of the analysis that we see, the emerging relationships between saudi arabia and china, i would not categorize that relationship as emerging, because china is the largest buyer of saudi oil in the past. the united states was the largest buyer of saudi oil.
it is important to note also that the chinese have identical to the united states, when it comes to that, the same way that the united states views those as important, for the people of energy, their own economies, etc. there's an openness to committing resources, to securing the stability of those areas, so that is something strategic between china and saudi arabia, in the same way, you know, it is strategic between the saudis and the united states. but this is an important point,
you think about it as an agent. when you think of it as the problem, countering china and east asia, the south china sea, and the problem with that, when it comes to compartmentalizing it, as we have seen ukraine has an impact on the middle east, the chinese has an impact on the middle east. now, it seems that the chinese view the middle east and the region as a primary region competition for the united states. so china is entering that with the middle east, military bases, trying to get to the military
embassy. they see a vacuum, and american vacuum. now, a lot of the stuff in the obama administration, this current administration, will vehemently deny, but it should be noted -- and sort of, you know, that the youth actually exist, for the first time. but underground, people see the middle east. they feel that the united states has withdrawn. they feel that there is a rebalancing, and the same with iran, right? in syria, it doesn't help.
lebanon is less than the iranians. and in iran, they have an iran- backed militia. so it is important. after world war ii, they were pillars. saudi arabia, iran, georgia, all of these are components of the structure that they have decided is the right security, architecture for the region. the united states, where have they gone? we all live in this area, right? there has to be a structure of success. and the questions that are answered, it does not mean that
they have any others. dr. doran: bernie, let me turn that, let me take mohammed's statement about the trip, biden's trip to saudi arabia as a basis for which to ask you the next question. there was a lot of commentary over here in the united states that said that biden significantly altered his frame of references in the middle east, that the trip to the middle east, saudi arabia and to israel, was a sign that he had moved away from some of the fundamental principles that he began with, namely, he was going to turn mohammad bin salman into a pariah.
he was going to cut the deal with iran. the fossil fuel industry is no longer as important as it used to be, and so on. the continued hostility that the iranians show to the united states and its allies, the importance of fossil fuels and the security of europe, as shown by the ukraine crisis, and the importance, in general, of the saudi-u.s. relationship pushed biden back to israel and saudi arabia, which he had been moving away from. do you accept that analysis? is that, in your mind, what happened, or are we looking at something else? yeah.
prof. haykel: so i think president biden have been trying to put pressure on the saudis to increase oil production, beginning when the price of oil in the united states started going up, which was last year, actually, not this year, so we are talking 2021, so well before the ukraine crisis. and this is with a view to the elections, the midterm elections in november. the thing i think that a lot of americans forget, when dealing with the middle east, is they have a very long history, and they are not simply thinking about the next election and the next couple of months. they don't have the short termism. so as the situation got worse for president biden, because of the war in ukraine and the price of oil and gasoline here at the pump got very high, the desperation increased. and i think it was widely seen as an attempt to get the saudis to increase production, through opec and opec plus. that was the purpose of this trip, largely.
so it was driven by american electoral concerns. this is a pattern, by the way, that come almost every election, some american official shows up and asks for more oil. then there was all this other stuff that was couched into it. what happened with biden if he put himself in a corner. this was his own goal, as we say, and he got desperate and then has to go there in person, and in so doing, kind of humiliating the united states and showing the u.s. to be weaker than it actually has to be or is. and he got very little for it, by the way. the saudis were very polite in the meeting, but they did not agree to increase oil production. in fact, they have not increased oil production by more than 100,000 barrels in the latest
opec plus meeting. so i think that, you know, i think biden has probably internalized that the midterm elections will go badly for him. and as you know, in american politics, when you lose congress, the only room for real maneuver for domestic presidents 's foreign policy. so we will see more active aside in foreign policy in the last two years of his term, and i think some of it has to do with, you know, his trip to saudi and other trips that he will be making. and i see the u.s. as having gotten very little for this set of maneuvers, and, frankly, an unnecessary, giving unnecessary offense to the saudis and others in the region. it is a very bizarre kind of behavior on the part of the american president. dr. doran: you have used that word "bizarre" now a couple
of times, and i can't say that i disagree with it at all. but let's try, um, let's assume there are rational actors in the white house, and that they knew -- they had to know, in going to saudi arabia, that the saudis were not going to change course significantly after all that has happened with united states, without the united states coming forward toward their concerns about iran. what were they telling themselves in the white house they were going to get from this trip? prof. haykel: i think that they thought maybe they would get more oil, and that that would help their, you know, electoral chances, the democrats, that is. i think there's a lot of pressure, like the white house chief of staff, who has an eye on the election. but what you have in that visit
is a kind of -- a lack of long-term planning, a lack of strategic thinking, and it is all tactical. in the saudis are not interested in practical moves or increasing production to help an american president's political prospects in an election. they are interested in strategic matters, namely the threat from iran, the threat from iran's proxy, like the who these in -- the houthis in yemen, attacking the oil installations. those are real concerns. those are real, concrete things, not the sentiment of americans and how they are going to vote in november. dr. doran: [laughs] right, right. i'm going to come back to you on that, on the iran question and the bizarre politics. mohammed, let me turn back to you.
can you just give us, again, the view from riyadh? how was the trip? how did the saudi elite, what did they think biden was coming to do, and what did they want out of the trip? did they get it or not? mr. alyahya: yes, so to be fair, one of the biggest moves not only for the saudis before the americans in the region, for this trip, was to understand what they are capable to do, committed to the architect, do they talk to the chinese, or did they go to the russians? the reason that they go to the saudis and others in the region is to meet with the russians on a strategic message, because of obama's policies in
syria, and putin made the russian role in syria of reality, where everybody in the region had no choice but to deal with russia. that is one of the issues we saw with ukraine more, right? -- war, right? people sought as a result of -- iran and the nuclear fire, when none of the countries -- but when we talk about the investments of the united states, it is a serious thing. the saudi relationship, it is weak, right? they get these technologies, and
it is affected, the technology. and there are hundreds of thousands of young people today, under 30, who have going to receive a higher education in the united states, notwithstanding there are other hundreds of thousands of people in the previous generation, you know, those over 30, 40, 50, that went to school in the united states. my father went to school in the united states. i went to school in the united states. all of my siblings went to school in the united states. and what we do see, which is bizarre, and you and i have spoken about the u.s.-saudi relationship, and we have spoken about this, i think it is a foolish idea to think that the united states deal with china, trunk, 10 years ago, 15 years ago, that is when the conversation was had.
today, there is no longer a conversation, right? you can have event like this and actually discuss it passionately. it will tell you the extent to which the chinese have changed, the technologies, etc. now, people in saudi arabia do seem frustrated with the way they are being portrayed in the united states, especially young people in saudi arabia, young women, like in "united states," -- "the new york times," the rating the outfits, the concert. hundreds of thousands of people go to school in america. dr. doran: sorry, just to make sure your point was clear to our listeners, you are seeing articles berating the artist for performing in saudi arabia? mr. alyahya: correct. among other things. dr. doran: right.
mr. alyahya: and this is in the united states, because hundreds of thousands of people were sent by their own government to study in the united states, in a dramatic show of, you know, confidence in america and their system. these people are romanticizing china, quite naïve, and i speak to a lot of people who say we should learn mandarin, and the chinese will do this and will do that. but what are they doing? the relationship with the united states is important. the military relationship with saudi arabia, saudi arabia's position, and also the saudi nationalists. and because of russian signaling
and recent progressive policies. i mean, the real conflict, this idea amongst a bunch of saudis, you know, the chinese are better. then the saudis. dr. doran: bernie, mohammed wrote a brilliant article -- don't tell him that i thought it was brilliant, but he wrote a brilliant article recently, founded on the points that he just made. basically, and obviously i am paraphrasing here, basically saying, look, there are two different visions of the future that today, before arab youth, middle eastern youth. one of them is represented by iran, and one of them is represented by mohammad bin salman, which is not the way
i think most american newspaper readers, say, college students, are used to seeing mohammad bin salman. my take away from mohammed's article is the united states, and foreign policy terms, is her teaching terms -- i'm not just talking about soft power, it in strategic terms, when biden came to power, he had a choice between the count donald trump was following, which come as you mentioned, contain iran on the ground, try to prevent it from getting a nuclear weapon, working on a coalition of states, arab states, and israel, interested in those outcomes, but also one that pointed toward normalization between the arab states and israel, through the abraham accords. the other alternative was to normalize with iran, which represents all of the worst
elements in the middle east, that are either direct allies of iran, or they are aligned with iran. and i would include al qaeda and isis in this. we don't need to go into -- that could take us down a rabbit hole, but i think the strategic rector of radical sunni islam and of iran is really quite parallel. there are a few areas where there's friction, but for the most part, it looks like they are moving in the same direction. so we could have had, you know, we could present a whole new picture of the region and how it interacts with the rest of the world, and one that would isolate iran, and instead, we chose to build up iran. and i wonder if you, bernie, you are not just an analyst of the middle east for us, but you are also -- you are also a person
who has very courageously gone out to that very strange land, which is american academia, and you have decided, as a pioneer, to build a house in that strange landscape. and so i wonder, could you explain to us how the american academia is understanding all of this? because i think maybe you ought to give us a little bit of an insight into the long view of the biden administration. prof. haykel: yeah. so, i mean, you know, one way to think about this in very simple terms, in a country like saudi arabia, in a country like israel, there are status quo powers, and by status quo powers, i mean they want the american influence to remain dominant, to remain important in the world, in general, and in the middle east in particular, ok? a country like iran is a revolutionary power, is a power
that would like to see the united states depose from the middle east and destroyed all over the world, right? in that sense, iran is a lot like north korea, and saudi arabia is a lot like south korea, ok? imagine if united states sided with north korea against south korea, which is the signal that the obama administration and the biden administration have been making in the middle east. we are going to side with our enemy, and we are going to turn our back to our friend. is a very strange way to think about politics and about geopolitics and strategy. i think that part of the reason for this view of the middle east does come from american academia and western academia, to remember that most academics are , sort of, very influenced by marxism, their. . influenced by leftist ideologies. . they think america is a force of
evil in the world, and therefore, by definition, anyone who is opposed to the united states committee country opposed to the united states can be a fourth for good care you seal most zero criticism of the regime, almost no chrism by iran, and always criticizing american allies in the region, and the middle east, and around the world. and i said that the obama view is the kind of hyper intellectualized view that comes out of academia. it has this sort of knee-jerk view and perspective that the u.s. is just a bad actor in the world. and we live in a strange universe in which, you know, our friends and allies in the middle east are telling us -- by which i mean, saudis, the uae, israel, and others -- are telling us,
"you're good, no, you're michael: as you roam the halls of the ivy league, bernie, to your colleagues ever come up to you and was, "i agree with some --" or -- [laughter] bernard: there are very few because there is a lot of think. you're either a card-carrying member of the party or an enemy of the people the -- the people. [laughter] >> i spent enough time in academia to know that. it is not possible to sit quietly in the corner and do your work. you have to stand up and testify. [laughter]
dr. doran: mohammed, let me summarize or slightly interpret something you set a minute to go and get your reaction to my into jim. -- my interpretation. he mentioned you cannot substitute china for the u.s. 10 years ago, nobody would even suggest that but now you have to have this conversation all the time. i think that structurally, let's forget for a second what the mindset of -- the outlook of the saudi elite and the saudi public is. let's just say that structurally, i also think it is true that there is not a china
option for the saudi arabia or the you a 8 -- the uae at this moment. in terms of the global contest between the u.s. and china, we are not at a oink that is analogous to where the u.s. and the -- at a point that is analogous to where the u.s. and the soviet were in 1986. that is when moscow could deliver massive arms and a superpower patronage that would protect nasa from many counter moves by the united states and the soviet union's arrival. we do not have an example yet of china offering that kind of -- that kind of military, diplomatic support to an ally.
china does not really have any allies. that model for china has not been tested yet. however, we are seeing the chinese move into areas of hard power that were of global just a few years ago when i worked in the white house which was 2005-2007, our reigning assumption was the chinese had no interest in anything to do with a hard power contest with the middle east because that would put them on opposite sides of conflict and they wanted to be ok with everybody. all they want to do is extract resources and trade with the countries of their region. they do not want to be mired with conflicts. increasingly, we are seeing them get into the hard power arena quietly, not in the form the soviet union did in 1956. the option is not there yet as a kind of clear-cut path. but, we are getting a lot
closer. i wonder, if you can explain to us, how you think the saudi elite is thinking about that? in particular, with respect to the hard power threat that iran represents to the kingdom. mohammed: i think that is an excellent question. i think your characterization when you are in the white house is excellent. at one point, they were a power that was looking to make money and invest, away from hard power of course and strategic aims. in 2017, they took more space abroad in djibouti. also, china has changed unbelievably over the past 15 years. sometimes people doubt whether china would ever have the technology to create flatscreen televisions in 2000 i've and six
-- in 2005 and 2006. china's 5g system has proven that it does not have any issues . china's -- china's military industry has improved by leaps and bounds over the past seven or eight years. and china has excited to have conversations. so, the discussion is when we can have -- is it the capacity for that. now, in terms -- for all of
america's problems. america needs technologically and politically, to ensure that the piece of world war ii and after the cold war. and around the world. the biggest threat to today is of course soviet union or russia. you are right. the chinese have not use a system that is analogous to the american system by russia. let's, what they have been trying to do today in the outreach politically to other
actors. in the beginning, it was right. china is almost like -- whatever you want to -- it is an offer that seems attached political -- and technological transfers. that is what is changing. lord knows what china will look like in five years or 10 years or what it will become or what their capabilities are and what they can sell and buy rated -- and buy. dr. doran: if you are going to advise president biden about what to do to make sure that the china option does not become a lot more real, a lot more
tangible and a lot quicker, what would you tell them to do? what should he have's to mohammed that he did not say? bernard: i think that offering protection, military protection, and ironclad guarantee military protection would be very important. i think many americans and westerners do not quite understand that protecting saudi arabia is not just protect saudi arabia but also protecting global energy resources. it is protecting ourselves. what we do not want is for power , either iran or its properties or china for that matter, that does not think of the world in the way we do. in other words, that they would use oil as a weapon. the saudi's do not use oil as a weapon.
they think of it as an economic commodity. it is that world. i fully understood what is at stake. i think with the war in the rain, that comes to mind -- in ukraine, that comes to mind. even in the biden administration, there is only one person that understands energy. everyone else around president biden doesn't seem to understand how the global energy market works and the role the saudi's have in opec. it has been a real focus on domestic issues and allowing domestic debate to influence foreign policy in ways that have been -- dr. doran: let me take a
position that is unusual for me. i am going to defend joe biden for a moment as an intellectual exercise if nothing else. if i were him and heard what you just said, i can say the following you know, burning, when i went to saudi arabia yeah , i had to eat a lot of crow. because, i came in and took position saying i was going to turn the country -- i'm going to turn away from fossil fuel to a net zero future. i have encountered reality. i aligned my of progressives in the u.s. i adopted a fully progressive foreign policy.
then, i realized that was not going to work. i went to saudi arabia. yes, i did not get that much tangible from the saudi's but i opened up a window, not controlled by the progressives for a discussion with the saudi's and israelis about the industry. isn't that something that is valuable? bernard: i would say yes. president biden has attempted to change the relationship and effectively admitted he was smoking really weird stuff before and will not be again when it comes to the saudis and israelis. admittedly, what half the
iranians done? they reopened the jcpoa issue. the whole obama doctrine about iran. we will see whether the americans will stick to their guns and say no, we will not reenter disagreements because of this, that, and the other. or, and i suspect that will most likely happen as they will reenter the agreement and we will see a removal of many sanctions yet there already have been many sanctions removed. they will remove a lot of sanctions and iran be flooded with tens of millions of dollars. that will not help anybody in the region and will undermine any guarantees he may have saudi arabia. dr. doran: that brings an end to my effort to see the world through the eyes of joe biden. [laughter] because i could not agree with
you more of course. mohammed, how about you? i realize this is not your job. as a friend of the u.s.-saudi elite -- relationship, if you found yourself alone in a room with joe biden and his top advisers and you wanted to suggest to him things that they could do, knowing full well that you understand the political context in which he is operating , the pressures that are on him from his own left and so forth. if you wanted to offer concrete advice on a healthier basis, what would you suggest to him? mohammed: the u.s. -- any
wrecker before that. in february 2022, when americans were criticizing the israelis and the saudis for not doing enough to stop russia as punishment for invasion of ukraine. i do not blame the u.s. for that because people need their cars to go to work and people need to heat their homes and took. that is a physical need in the physical world within the systems we had that half. -- systems we have. the issue or the discourse on the region and maybe even on russia and other cases is the world is divorced from strategic needs and physical reality and
security. you mentioned the progressive foreign policy. there is this sort of discourse that exists somewhere else, away from the people which are security, stability, energy security, economic growth. i think, if i was to be asked by some policymakers but the best course of action is, it would approach all of these discussions in many terms where people are clear as to whether they bring to the stage. but that -- the saudis know what is required of them. having talked to the soviet union at that point in time and seeing russian troops in afghanistan.
they saw europe in world war ii through stabilizing energy market. they came to the strength of the soviets in the region in various ways. one thing mentioned in one of the articles was the anti-fascist soviet media companies and the corporation the u.s. all of these things that the saudis did with the u.s. were political things that brought results and delivered peace and stability for millions of not billions of people. so, that's what happened after the -- war is the realization that the strategic relationship between them and india is
symbolic. as if -- as a result of allowing the relationship to deteriorate as much as it did, the close cooperation no longer existed. i don't know if that answers your question. dr. doran: i was muted. it does not exactly answer the question. it was an unfair question to put to you but i thought maybe i might get a reaction. at this point us in the right direction. in closing, i would make my summation of what we concluded here and then you guys to tell me whether you are agree or not quickly and then we will say goodbye to each other. i would say that the biden administration is still operating fundamentally within
the framework of the realignment tour of iran. and the evidence of that is the deal with which it continues to pursue iran for the nuclear deal . and all that the nuclear deal will mean in terms of strengthening iran, moving toward nuclear weapons and strengthening forces all around the region and the forces aligned with it. at the same time, there is something of an awareness growing in the white house that this course is causing trouble with allies, saudi arabia and israel in particular, that it needs and is making some moves to try to placate his allies but it really has not -- the white house really has not even begun to entertain the paradigm shift
necessary to really change course and really put those relationships on a sound footing. bernie, would you agree with fascination? bernard: yes, i would. but i do not quite understand is why the obvious reality of the region is not plainly obvious to them. i do not understand why they are still like this. my only explanation is the domestic cost. their domestic commitments within the democratic party that are preventing the biden administration from pursuing what is clearly an america's national security interest. dr. doran: i think you explain to us. this is basically roll by professors. we are in this amazing world now where the worldview of the keeper that people in washington , d.c., running policy is pretty much the same as professors,
something i thought i would never see. i ran away from the ivy league because i thought it was so detached from reality. i never thought to see it chasing me here to washington, d.c. but that is what we are seeing. mohammed, any last words for us? mohammed: i think i am out of last words unless you have another question. [laughter] dr. doran: tell us, just to close, just tell us what beautiful part of saudi arabia are we looking at behind you? mohammed: -- dr. doran: a friend of mine recently went to riyadh and he came back and said riata is flowering riyadh is flowering. he said that is the place to go and now i can see what he is talking about. [laughter]
>> up next on c-span, today's procession for queen elizabeth in london followed by president biden visiting the detroit auto show to announce funding for electric vehicle charging stations. house speaker nancy pelosi speaks to reporters about an abortion bill introduced by republican senator lindsey graham. later, a look at the u.s. senate race in pennsylvania between republican men met oz and democrat john fetterman. >> c-span is your unfiltered view of government funded by these television companies and more, including buckeye broadband.
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