A Saudi-US partnership beyond transactions

Publish: 5:23 PM, June 22, 2022 | Update: 5:23:PM, June 22, 2022

The White House has confirmed that US President Joe Biden will visit Saudi Arabia this July in what will be his first trip to an Arab or Muslim country. Such an overseas journey could not be timelier: By meeting the Saudi leadership in Jeddah, the US leader can reinvigorate an alliance – one of America’s oldest – that is needed more than ever.
Policymakers may be primarily fixated on the global supply of oil, as well as the war in Ukraine and questions over the future of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or nuclear deal, with Iran. It is understandable that at a time of record gas prices, Americans cannot help but concentrate on the pain in their wallet each time they fill up their car. Likewise, it makes sense that Saudis are prioritizing the exciting opportunities of Vision 2030, as well as security needs stemming from the Houthi drone attacks that have repeatedly targeted population centers and civilian infrastructure in recent years. But when Biden meets King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a narrow American and public focus on these security and economic matters would be a lost opportunity for both countries, the region and the planet. We cannot forget that the US-Saudi partnership of more than 80 years has never been solely transactional, or about just oil and defense needs. From fighting global communism to repelling Saddam Hussein, and crushing Al-Qaeda and Daesh, the relationship at its core has been about shaping a safer, more secure and more prosperous world.
One way in which Saudi Arabia more recently has changed its neighborhood for the better, and opened up a rich and still largely unexplored space of possibilities, is through interfaith dialogue.
Americans are largely unaware that the Kingdom has pioneered many of the breakthroughs in tolerance and understanding that have so profoundly shaken the modern Middle East.
Efforts began with King Abdullah, through a global interreligious conference he hosted in 2008, followed by his interfaith initiative address at the UN several months later. I was honored to participate at both convocations, in Madrid and in New York. Four years later, Saudi leaders were largely responsible for launching the King Abdullah International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, a multinational forum for open dialogue across faiths. The center’s work has endured beyond the late king, and every day it works to strengthen global voices of tolerance.

Rabbi Marc Schneier is president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding