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Think US-Saudi Relations are Bad Now? The 70s Almost Saw an Invasion


Much has been made of the recent chill in relations between the Washington and Riyadh, with the two sides at odds over everything from regional policy to oil prices, to threats by the Kingdom to pull out billions in assets over investigations into 9/11. But as bad as things are, they aren’t as bad as the time in the 70s’ when the US almost invaded.

Last week, world media took note of President Obama’s lukewarm welcome in Saudi Arabia, with analysts suggesting that the Saudi diplomatic faux pas may have serious long-term implications for relations between the two countries.The diplomatic clash, commentators suggest, stems from policy differences in the region, with the Obama administration stepping back from efforts against the Syrian government, which Riyadh desperately wants toppled, and attempting to normalize relations with Iran, the Saudis’ main enemy in the region. Another sticking point includes a bill making its way through Congress which would allow 9/11 victims to sue foreign governments, including the Saudis. The bill has enraged Riyadh to the point where it has threatened to sell off billions in US assets if the bill becomes law.

But as bad as things are now, they have a long way to go before reaching the lows of the oil crisis years of the 1970s, according to Michael Peck, contributing writer for US foreign policy magazine The National Interest.

In a timely piece on a very important moment in the history of US-Saudi relations, Peck recalls that low point came in the early 1970s, when the United States, embargoed by Arab oil producers including Saudi Arabia, for aiding Israel during the Yom Kippur War of 1973, actively considered a military intervention on the Arabian Peninsula to stop the economic bleeding.

At the time, Peck writes, “like the rest of the world, the United States tamely paid the inflated oil prices. But rather than forking over the money, what if America had chosen to take the oil by force? In 2004, declassified British government documents revealed that the United States had considered a military seizure of Middle Eastern oil.”

“Though no explicit military plan was mentioned, the documents do show that British leaders were worried by a conversation between US Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger and Lord Cromer, the British ambassador to the United States.”

“Schlesinger told Cromer that ‘it was no longer obvious to him that the US could not use force. An interesting outcome of the Middle East crisis was that the notion of the industrialized nations being continuously submitted to whims of the underpopulated under-developed countries, particularly of the Middle East, might well change public perceptions about the use of the power that was available to the US and the Alliance.'”

Ultimately, Peck recalled, Britain’s Prime Minister at the time, Edward Heath, “was worried enough by Schlesinger’s tough talk, as well as hints of military action from Secretary of State Henry Kissinger,” that he would “order a British intelligence estimate of US intentions.”

“The report concluded that the United States ‘might consider it could not tolerate a situation in which the US and its allies were at the mercy of a small group of unreasonable countries. We believe the American preference would be for a rapid operation conducted by themselves to seize oilfields…The force required for the initial operation would be of



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