By today, the king of Saudi Arabia will have spent more time in his career in the eyes of the world than a lot of the Saudi population has, and he did so on a U.S. Navy flotilla.
And these days, who can argue that Prince Abdul Aziz — now known as the Crown Prince — isn’t among the most powerful rulers in the world. He’s in charge of the world’s biggest oil reserves, a $1.5 trillion economy, 26 million people and many billions of dollars worth of U.S. military contracts.
And all that is a vast understatement. If you take into account the 2.7 million U.S. troops stationed in Saudi Arabia as well as billions in defense contracts, according to Michelle Chen, President Barack Obama has invested more than $50 billion in Saudi Arabia alone.
What’s more, the Obama administration — both Obama and Obama before him — has spent years, perhaps decades, unofficially and personally working to prop up Prince Abdul Aziz, says Sarah Blakely, a Middle East expert at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
“That’s a pretty staggering sum,” Blakely said. “I mean, this is an absolute abject effort.”
Whatever the motive behind the entourage’s trip, the optics are striking. “It seems like every move is strategically aligned,” Blakely said.
As for the Pentagon, it’s not out of line for a U.S. commander to make a point of meeting with the crown prince, no matter his stature or where he may be.
“That kind of overture is one of the things that we rely on for guidance and advice from our leaders in the [United] States,” said Chief Master Sgt. Tony Murrell, spokesman for the Marine Corps Corps Installations West.
Reporter Jeff Wilson said the U.S. Navy is portraying the tour — which included a stop at U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East — as an “important” event. But it “hasn’t been up front about it.”
Closing military bases is part of a wider exercise.
“The U.S. has really had a couple of attempts at closing the bases in Saudi Arabia over the last few years,” Blakely said. “It’s been a slippery slope for the general public.”
The easy answer would be to blame or not blame U.S. foreign policy and Republican presidents. “It’s not a brand new deal,” the veteran analyst said. “It’s just that the public discussion has gone out of the equation and into the bunker in a more behind-the-scenes effort.”
(Note: This is an edited version of a story that appeared first on Military.com.)
— Bryant Jordan can be reached at [email protected]