Saturday, May 20, 2017

USA and Saudi Arabia

As President Trump touches down in Saudi Arabia it is interesting to reflect upon the history of relations between the USA and the Saudi kingdom.  No, we have NOT invaded Saudi Arabia but we Americans have had a deep and longstanding relationship with Saudi Arabia.  And the matchmaker who ignited the USA / Saudi alliance was quite a surprise!

In America Invades ( we wrote this in our chapter on Saudi Arabia...

"Saudi Arabia seems to have been in the American news quite A LOT over the last couple of decades.  During World War I, Lawrence of Arabia was active in part of what is now Saudi Arabia, working with the leaders of the Great Arab Revolt to attack Ottoman troops and drive them from the area. A character made famous in more recent times by Peter O’Toole in the Hollywood epic, Lawrence, although British, was made famous by an American, Lowell Thomas. Along with cameraman Harry Chase, Thomas, as an American journalist, turned up in the Middle East to meet Lawrence and film him. When Thomas got back to America, he turned Lawrence into one of the first war-media superstars, giving lectures accompanied by films at Madison Square Gardens and then around the world.

The United States began diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia in 1933. That same year, the California Arabian Standard Oil Company (later ARAMCO) was formed to develop Saudi oil resources.
Mussolini: the Matchmaker
During World War II, Saudi Arabia remained technically neutral but also supplied Allied forces with masses of critical petroleum products. This fact did not escape the notice of the other side.
Mussolini’s Italy joined the Axis side in 1940, and on October 19 of that year, four Italian bombers (Regia Aeronautica) took off from the island of Rhodes and attacked Saudi oil facilities in Dhahran.

B-25B Mitchell Bomber
Mussolini’s air attack on the Saudi oil fields was a kind of Axis version of Doolittle’s Raid. Doolittle’s Raiders launched their B-25 bombers from the decks of the Hornet to attack Japan. Mussolini’s Regia Aeronautica took off from an unsinkable “carrier,” the Isle of Rhodes. Doolittle’s fliers did not conform to the traditional bombing structure of take-off, fly to target, release bombs, and return; instead, after bombing Tokyo, most flew to China. The Italian bomber pilots bombed oil refineries in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and then flew on to airfields in Italian East Africa (Eritrea)—the longest bombing run in aviation history at the time and one that exposed Saudi Arabia’s military vulnerability.

The Doolittle Raid’s physical impact on Japan was minimal, but its psychological impact was enormous; the Midway campaign was launched in order to extend Japan’s defensive perimeters and prevent another American attack on the home islands. The Italian raid on Saudi Arabian oil
refineries did little damage, but its psychological impact on the kingdom and its future links with America were significant.

World War II saw the real beginning of our military involvement with Saudi Arabia. For instance, the Saudi Kingdom allowed us to operate an air transport facility at Jeddah as part of a network that stretched across Africa and the Middle East. And Saudi Arabia permitted the construction of a US air field near Dhahran, which it operated from 1945 to 1962. Saudi Arabia, though neutral, also received about twelve million dollars in lend- lease, mostly in silver dollars.

Grosvenor Square, London

In 1945, FDR, on his way back from the Yalta Conference, travelled on the USS Quincy to the Great Bitter Lake on the Suez Canal. He was there to meet three important regional leaders—Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, King Farouk of Egypt, and King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia. On Valentine’s Day 1945, a goat was slaughtered and eaten on board the ship to celebrate the kingdom’s new links with America. The American military would protect the Saudi kingdom, while their oil would help fuel the tanks, planes, and ships of the US military. The broad outlines of America’s pact with Saudi Arabia, despite profound differences between our two nations, have now lasted seventy years through many tumultuous times.

During their discussions the Saudi king warned Roosevelt that the Arabs would fight if Jewish settlements in what was then the British- controlled Palestine Mandate expanded. Thus, the creation of Israel in 1948 with American support put strains on our links with Saudi Arabia, particularly during the Arab-Israeli Wars of the Cold War era.

However, America and Saudi Arabia still had shared interests. For instance, during the Yemen Civil War, royalist, conservative Saudi Arabia clashed with Nasser’s revolutionary, Communist-supported Egypt, and each ended up supporting a different side in the war. JFK threw US support behind the Saudis. USAF planes were mobilized to deter Nasser’s Egypt from further action against Saudi Arabia.

Relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia reached a low point after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, but eventually the relationship stabilized again. The Iranian revolution created a new power feared by both Saudi Arabia and the United States, and in the 1980s, America and Saudi Arabia found themselves jointly immersed in arming and helping the Afghan mujahideen fight the Soviets in Afghanistan and the Afghan regime they supported.

During the Iran-Iraq War, Saudi Arabia backed Iraq. On June 5, 1984, a US AWACS plane detected an Iranian fighter approaching Saudi’s offshore oil facilities in the Gulf. Saudi aircraft intercepted the Iranian plane and shot it down.

Bush 41
National Naval Air Museum
Pensacola, FL
However, when we really went to war in Saudi Arabia, it wasn’t Iran that was the problem. Instead, it was Iraq. In August of 1990, Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army invaded Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia (see “Kuwait”). President H. W. Bush led an international coalition that responded with Operation Desert Shield. In late January of 1991, Saddam Hussein ordered Iraqi forces to attack across the Saudi border. Saudi and Qatari troops, aided by US marines, artillery, and airpower, fought the Battle of Khafji. The Iraqi forces were repulsed at a cost of twenty-six American lives and eighteen Saudis.

American airpower based in Saudi played a decisive role in the First Gulf War. A-10 Warthogs, championed by the maverick USAF Colonel John Boyd, flew missions from Saudi bases destroying over nine hundred Iraqi tanks.

A-10 "Warthog"
IWM Duxford
American Hangar
In the course of the First Gulf War, over half a million US troops were deployed to Saudi Arabia. Many stayed after Iraq was expelled from Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm. For instance, thousands of US troops stayed on to help enforce the no-fly zone over neighboring Iraq in Operation Southern Watch. The Saudi king and government supported the American alliance, but many in the Arab street were troubled. To some, of course, this represented an American occupation of the Muslim holy land and was one of the grievances behind Osama bin Laden’s attack on 9/11. Indeed, fifteen of the nineteen hijackers in the 9/11 attack and their mastermind were Saudi nationals.

Attacks on US personnel took place in Saudi territory too. For instance, in 1996, a huge truck bomb destroyed part of the Khobar Towers complex and killed nineteen US servicemen. And in 2004, the US consulate in Jeddah was attacked.

The USAF operated Prince Sultan Air Force Base from 1990 until 2003. It was equipped with air conditioning and all amenities, including Baskin-Robbins and Burger King franchises, although female personnel were expected to wear an abaya when going off base.

Most American military personnel left Saudi Arabia in 2003. Small numbers are still based there, some of them apparently connected with the campaign of drone strikes in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia remains a significant ally of the United States. The two countries share, interests in oil and nervousness about Iran. Military links continue to be strong. For instance, the United States has been actively training Saudi defense forces from 1953 to the present, and the Saudi military has purchased large quantities of weaponry and military equipment from American manufacturers, including aircraft, armored vehicles, and air defense weapons.

In 2011, the corpse of Osama Bin Laden, a Saudi national, was offered for burial to Saudi Arabia, which declined in favor of burial at sea."

You can find signed copies of America Invades

Regular copies can be found on

America Invaded: A State by State Guide to Fighting on American Soil 
will be published in 2017!

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