Yemen Seen as Only a Minor Issue in US-Saudi Split

Disagreements are built around oil policy

Disagreements and conflicting interests are stretching US relations with Saudi Arabia to what some are warning could be a breaking point yet, ironically, what are seemingly the most visible issues rarely register.

The US wants to steer Saudi oil production in favorable ways. Most recently, its been to help the US with lower prices and undercut the Russian economy by competing with them.

There are disagreements on Yemen, with Biden talking up extricating the US from the war. The Saudis are at least somewhat interested in getting out of the war, but US officials openly say they envision a post-war Yemen to remain heavily influenced by the Saudis. Yet when the US-Saudi split is discussed, that disagreement is hardly getting serious discussion.

The Yemen disagreement resonates with a lot of Americans, but US leadership would be more comfortable just dictating energy policy with more success. The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudi government is, similarly, an issue that at the time seemed important, but which US leadership is loathe to push to deeply on.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan brought up Khashoggi to the crown prince, who reacted with furious shouting. He was meant to get an oil production boost, and he didn’t get that.

Nothing in the history of Saudi relations would suggest that they couldn’t quietly get rid of a political liability with a kill team. The US seemed uncomfortable that this wasn’t maybe as quiet as it could’ve been, but objection to the summary murder of a journalist was, in the grand scheme of things, not something that threatened US-Saudi ties.

That is was brought up at all was likely the result of media colleagues of Khashoggi pushing for it to be brought up. In practice, though, making with the oil is probably all the administration really needs from the kingdom.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.