ADC Sponsors Hill Event on U.S.-Saudi Relations
On March 26, 2003, ADC hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill on U.S.-Saudi relations. The four distinguished panelists were: Ambassador Richard Murphy; Hasib J. Sabbagh, Senior Fellow in Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations; Professor Shibley Telhami, Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution for Foreign Policy Studies and University of Maryland Anwar Sadat Professor; Maj. General Bill Nash, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations; and, Mr. Nathaniel Kern, President of Foreign Reports, Inc. and Expert on Middle East Oil Affairs with particular emphasis on the Gulf. ADC President Dr. Ziad Asali moderated the discussion.
The panelists discussed wide-ranging aspects of the long-standing U.S.-Saudi relationship. Ambassador Murphy stressed the importance of the American perception in the relationship between the two countries. He noted that historically it has been a relationship “between the elites,” but has recently become a relationship that is swayed by public opinion. The current concerns of the American public have been education reforms, which have traditionally been the “domain of the religions” allowing the perpetuation of fundamentalism; and the monitoring system that has decreased the transparency of the “money trail” in and out of the country. The Ambassador noted that reforms are currently taking place which may facilitate future bilateral relationships. Professor Shibley Telhami focused on the reformation taking place in Saudi Arabia and the changing role of public opinion. Professor Telhami stated that there has been a large disconnect between government relations and the public opinion. Public opinion of the US in Saudi Arabia has generally been unfavorable. In a recent survey, only four percent of the Saudi public responded with a favorable view of the US, whereas 68 percent responded with an unfavorable view. Despite Saudi public sentiment, relations between the US and Saudi Arabia have been favorable. The Saudi government‘s inability to shift public opinion can be partly attributed to the influence of international media as 95 percent of all Saudis have satellite television. Professor Telhami noted that this is a dangerous gap, implying that attention should be paid to the public opinion regarding the UA. Major General Bill Nash provided a candid and sympathetic, first-person account of his experience with the Saudi National Guard. Major Nash‘s observation was of the unwavering support that existed in the US-Saudi military relationship. Nat Kerns discussed recent Saudi Arabian actions taken to address a world oil supply crisis due to difficult situations in Venezuela and Nigeria and the build up to the war against Iraq.
Several attendees noted that the panelists contributed to a deeper understanding of the U.S.-Saudi relationship.