The ballots have been counted. There were plenty of contenders. But in the end, Saudi Arabia was found to be America’s worst friend without even having to buy the good favor of the judges.
You wouldn’t know what a terrible ally the kingdom is based on the kid-glove treatment that it gets from the president, his son-in-law, his secretary of State and, most recently, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, formerly of Dancing with the Stars. But the pathological relationship between Team Trump and MBS is one of the reasons the Saudis must be considered the worst of America’s friendships—because it so rooted in corruption, lies, miscalculations and bad motives on both sides.
The Saudis have raised being a bad friend to an art form. They honor the president and puff up his ego and then Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman whispers that they have Jared Kushner in their pocket. They do business with the Trump Organization, and then they murder and dismember an American resident, a journalist for The Washington Post, Jamal Khashoggi.
They do big military deals with the U.S. by our technology and then, according to the account in the Daily Beast this weekend by security consultant Gavin de Becker, they use the tools they have to spy on his employer and the owner of the Post, Jeff Bezos—an enemy not only of theirs but of Trump’s. While American Media, publishers of the National Enquirer, argue that they did not use Saudi sources for their efforts to shake down Bezos with scandalous photos, they are hardly a credible source and they too have been shown to be deeply in bed with the Saudis, notably through a bizarre pro-Saudi special magazine they put out to promote the leadership of MBS, who by all reports masterminded the Khashoggi murder.
They used U.S. weapons in an unnecessary war that has killed tens of thousands of innocents and put millions of others at risk of famine in Yemen. And then, in exchange for that, they managed to coax nuclear weapons technology out of the U.S.—in a deal that was originally worked by disgraced former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. They got the technology because Trump does not give a damn about the serial human rights violations of the Saudi leadership, and Trump and those around him are itching for a confrontation with Iran—one that requires that Saudi Arabia be propped up and empowered.
That’s how a really, really bad friend behaves. They insult you. They violate the rights and standards that you stand for. They use your weapons to kill innocents so the blood ends up on your hands. They kill your people. They mock you behind your back. And then, using flattery and an open checkbook, they corrupt you into giving them just what they need to do more harm and put more of your national interests at risk.
Saudi Arabia—soon to be the subject of much in-depth investigation from the House of Representatives into money-laundering and Trump’s business ties, into the backstory of the Khashoggi murder and whether the U.S. tacitly approved either it or the smear against Bezos—may be in the running for the sleaziest relationship of the Trump Era.
Russia, after all, was an enemy. We should have expected the worst from them. But the Saudis were allegedly our friends. In the end, though, they may have miscalculated. A bipartisan backlash is brewing in the form of the investigations cited above and it may not be much longer than they can cite their special friendship with the U.S. as being truly special, or, for that matter, a friendship.
The only way to avoid that fate will be for the government in the kingdom to recognize that they have gone too far and that having a good relationship with the United States, a democracy, is not the same as having a good relationship with Donald Trump. For the moment at least, we still have no king here.
David Rothkopf is CEO of The Rothkopf Group, an advisory firm with public and private clients from around the world, including the United Arab Emirates.