Straining of relations between the US and Saudi Arabia has not come as a surprise, in fact what intrigued is, it happened just in the wake of American hegemony getting a rude shock, suffering ignominy after Russia emerging as the key player for restoration of global peace following its decisive action against the terrorists and ISIS in Syria.
The nature and dynamism of the alliance between the USA and Saudi Arab could be gauged from the simple fact that with avowed aim to help the US president Barack Obama to force Russia out of Syria, Saudi Arab had also floated the “Islamic Coalition” of Sunni countries and entered into an understanding with the NATO countries to unleash a fight against Russia. But that bonhomie is missing in recent times between the two countries.
The bilateral relation has depreciated to such a level that during the recent visit of Obama to Saudi, to attend a regional summit of Gulf leaders, he was welcomed by the local governor, not by King Salman Bin Abd al-Aziz himself. In sharp contrast monarch personally welcomed the other world leaders who arrived at the summit. This action of Monarch was a major rebuff to Obama and also to the USA and its stature of being the world leader.
Saudi hardened its posture towards USA and particularly towards Obama just after USA refashioning its relations with the Iran. US entered into nuclear deal and agreed to lift sanctions against Iran. The implementation of the nuclear deal was a landmark achievement.
Washington had been working on the modalities of US president’s visit to Saudi with the hope that Monarch would cool down and Obama on his last visit to Saudi as the President would succeed in assuaging his feelings by clarifying US stand on Iran and other issues like the civil war in Syria.
Ever since Arab Spring, the Saudi monarch has been pressuring Obama administration to launch a decisive action against Syrian president Assad and throw him out of the country. But Obama did not respond in a positive manner, instead he took his own time.
In fact Russia outwitting USA in Syria and emerging as the global face of anti-terrorist action and extending full support to Assad, made Saudi jittery. This made Saudi nurse the view that America was simply interested in using Saudi support for achieving its goal and did not believe in reciprocal gesture. This stand of US was also interpreted as giving too much credence to the Shia Muslims. The war in Syria began much earlier.
Actually the conflict began in the year 632 with the death of the Prophet Mohamed. The same is true of the violence, tension or oppression currently gripping the Muslim world from Iraq and Iran, though Egypt, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The Shia and Sunni Muslims are not on the same page on the issue of Islamic terrorism and fighting it out. About the conflict in the Middle East the Sunni Muslims are opposed to the stand of Shia Muslims. In many Muslim countries, the Sunni and the Shia are head-to-head. The division between Sunni and Shia Muslims is the oldest in the Middle East and unfortunately it is shaping the destiny of this troubled region as thousands from both sides pour into Syria. Al-Qa'ida volunteers on the Sunni side and Hezbollah militants on the Shia, are joining the transnational civil war between the two factions.
In most Muslim countries the Shias are in minorities. But in Iraq, Iran, Bahrain and Azerbaijan they outnumber their co-religionists. However in Syria a Sunni majority, nearly 74 per cent of the population is ruled by a Shia minority. President Bashar al-Assad and most of his army officer elite are Shia. That situation is opposite of Iraq under Saddam, where a Sunni strongman lorded it over a Shia majority. The western world always used one sect against other. British colonialists in Iraq in the 1920s used Sunni army officers to suppress a Shia rebellion, paving the way for Saddam's Sunni minority rule. The invasion of Iraq instigated by George Bush and Tony Blair in 2003 was the second big factor in the deterioration of Sunni-Shia relations.
The US had backed Saddam in Iraq's war with Iran throughout the 1980s, in which half a million troops died. The matter of fact is Sunni and Shia are locked in conflict all across the Shia Crescent. Sunni-Shia tensions are on the rise in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, Kuwait, Lebanon, Bahrain, Libya, Tunisia, Malaysia, Egypt, and even in London as issues of identity, rights, interests and enfranchisement find sectarian expression.
Though a number of reasons are being cited for the trust deficit and crisis between USA and Saudi, the main element has been the trepidation of Saudi losing the status of being the uncrowned leader of the Muslim world, particularly of the Sunnis. While USA does not intend to lose out Saudi, it is also scared of alienating the Shia Muslims. True enough the US is busy doing balancing act and this is disliked by Saudi king.
The US has lost ground in the fight against Islamic extremism.
* This was Obama's 4th and final trip to Saudi Arabia since becoming president.
*American diplomats noted that Saudi Arabia was never a formal ally of the United States referring to the distressed bilateral ties.
* Obama was welcomed by the local governor and not the king himself (who always welcomes other world leaders) when he visited Saudi Arabia.
*The nuclear deal with Tehran’s new leaders, the end of sanctions against Iran and the slowly-dawning realisation among Sunnis is evidence enough about America's ties with Iran, and their stand on the war in Iraq (which the Saudis have disagreed to).
*Obama's visit made it clear that America is not going to embark on any more military adventures in the Middle East.
* In 2003-US toppled Iraq's Saddam Hussein; in 2011 it supported a revolution against Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, both against the advise of the Arabs (depreciating the relations even more).