Donald Trump’s decision to make Saudi Arabia the first country he visits on his first overseas trip as US president seems to have caught casual observers by surprise. But those of us who have been paying close attention to the state of Saudi-US relations since Trump assumed office in January are not surprised. Senior officials from both countries have said publicly on multiple occasions that there is broad “alignment” on a wide array of policies.
There also appears to be philosophical agreement on the need for clear, consistent policies and continuous engagement to help bring some stability to the Middle East, which has been gripped by unprecedented political turmoil and violence over the past few years.
Trump has consistently said defeating the Daesh is his top foreign policy priority. It seems clear that the US considers Saudi Arabia a vital — perhaps indispensable — ally in the fight against Daesh and other terrorist groups. Both countries are committed to defeating Daesh, and have demonstrated their resolve in both word and deed.
Close counterterrorism cooperation has become an anchor of US-Saudi relations, although relations remain multidimensional. With Saudi Arabia by its side, the US will not be accused of spearheading a global war against Muslims. It is Daesh and its ilk that have waged war on Muslims and all of humanity.
While the international community’s effort to defeat Daesh will be one of the focal points of the meetings in Riyadh, the participation of dozens of countries from across the Arab and Muslim worlds suggests that other political, economic and social challenges confronting both worlds will also be on the table.
One of the reasons Saudi-US relations have endured for as long as they have is that they are multidimensional. They have political, military, economic and cultural components. This has been stressed by statements released by the White House and a Saudi adviser after Deputy Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman visited Washington in March.
With Saudi Arabia by its side, the US will not be accused of spearheading a global war against Muslims. It is Daesh and its ilk that have waged war on Muslims and all of humanity.
It is safe to assume that economic cooperation and investment opportunities in both countries was discussed in detail at the meeting between King Salman and Trump. The Saudi leadership has made it clear that one of the keys to the success of Vision 2030 is attracting direct foreign investment.
US companies have a long and successful record in the Kingdom, and the Saudi leadership has expressed its strong desire to foster and develop economic ties even further. Trump and senior administration officials have also expressed an interest in encouraging Saudi investment in the US.
Perhaps just as importantly, the summit that brings together Trump and leaders from across the Arab and Islamic worlds will stress the importance of intercultural and interreligious understanding and peaceful coexistence as bulwarks against the destructive forces of terrorist groups such as Daesh, and the equally destabilizing actions of state sponsors of terrorism such as Iran.
The Saudi leadership has consistently made clear that all peace-loving nations must work together closely to defeat the forces of hate and destruction. We must all remember that what unites us is far greater than what divides us.
Chances are good that by the end of Trump’s visit to the Kingdom, we will all be reminded of why US-Saudi relations have endured for eight decades. It has not been by happenstance.
• Fahad Nazer is an international affairs fellow with the National Council on US-Arab Relations. He is also a consultant to the Saudi Embassy in Washington, but does not represent it or speak on its behalf. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, CNN, The Hill and Newsweek, among others.