At the news of the death of King Abdullah, President Obama shortened his visit to India to fly to Riyadh. This shows the foreign policy priorities of the USA.
When 44 heads of state arrived in Paris to commemorate the victims of the attack at the magazine Charlie Hebdo, the U.S. was represented by its ambassador to France, Jane Hartley. President Obama spent Sunday with his family; Vice-President Biden was having a rest in his home state of Delaware, and Secretary of State John Kerry could not interrupt a very important visit to India. The White House has explained that several dozen hours are not enough to prepare a foreign trip for the leader of the United States, but Obama's visit to Riyadh was organized in no time at all, and interestingly, the president will interrupt a very important visit to India in order to give condolences and to congratulate the new King Salman.
Talking about the death of Abdullah, Obama praised his "lasting contribution to the struggle for peace in the Middle East." The head of American diplomacy called the king "a visionary of great wisdom."* Meanwhile, that visionary was, for over 20 years (officially 10), the absolute ruler of the country, which holds the fifth position on the list of the world's most authoritarian regimes compiled by The Economist. There are no political parties in Saudi Arabia and thus no elections — except for local elections. The Quran is the source of law. Criminals receive punishments such as public beheading, stoning, crucifixion or amputation of a limb, for example, for adultery, breaking the precepts of religion, homosexuality, the practice of black and white magic and drug use. Women are deprived of civil rights — they are represented by a male guardian; they cannot drive a car, uncover their faces, or work with men. Even the four “blood princesses,” — Abdullah's daughters, who dared to protest against discrimination — spent 13 years under house arrest.
These flaws do not hide one essential advantage from Washington: Saudi Arabia is the second largest oil producer in the world. Even though the United States dethroned Russia as an oil power through its use of giant deposits of oil shale, the U.S. will only achieve full self-sufficiency in 2035. Besides, the game is more complicated. Despite the fall of oil prices, Riyadh has succumbed to suggestions from the U.S. instead of the OPEC countries, and has not reduced production. The effects of maintaining the oil supply were most painfully felt by Russia and Iran, and this is just about what the Americans wanted.
On the other hand, the contribution of Saudi Arabia to the struggle for peace, which delighted Obama, is at least questionable. During the "Arab spring," Abdullah was embittered against the USA, which double-crossed its eternal ally Hosni Mubarak, and he demanded the suppression of the revolt with armed forces. Contrary to the position of the White House, he militarily supported the king of Bahrain, and gave him 1,000 soldiers who helped to suppress the rebellion of the Shiite majority against the Sunni elite. And Abdullah's support for the insurgents trying to topple Bashar al-Assad has turned against both America and Saudi Arabia itself. The Islamic State still uses the weapons and money smuggled to Syria on the orders of the king.
But what is the meaning of minor disagreements in the case of an alliance based on common interests? Saudi Arabia is the main counterweight to Iran, the biggest Arab oil exporter to the USA, and the most important buyer of American weapons, although to balance the budget, it should theoretically sell oil for $80 a barrel. It has a $750 billion cash reserve, so in contrast to Russia, it can afford to temporarily increase the supply, even at the price of approximately $50 a barrel.
Obama is going to congratulate the new king on his accession to the throne, but most of all, he wants to talk with the Minister of Interior Muhammad bin Nayef. The new ruler is ill and reportedly suffers from dementia, and while the 55-year-old bin Nayef is the second person in line to the throne after Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, he is closely associated with Washington. He often visits the capital of the USA, works closely with United States Homeland Security Advisor to the President Lisa Monaco, and the White House staff calls him "our man." Well, Salman is 80 years old, and bin Abdulaziz is 70, so thinking ahead makes perfect sense.
*Editor’s Note: These quotes, although accurately translated, could not be verified.