"...we in the United States are prisoners as well: handcuffed to Saudi Arabia, bound to its corruptions and repression, with no immediate possibility of escape."
Possibly a rare occasion when a dyed in the wool conservative columnist like Ross Douthat may find an agreement with editorial predisposition of a liberal outlet like NYT. He laments America's inability to resist complete anti-democratic political structure of Saudi Arabia and consequent full repression of people's rights in that kingdom. Ross Douthat is right when he points helplessness of America in nudging Saudi Arabia towards a more liberal and egalitarian society. But President Obama will not be the first American President to sacrifice a 'love seat' to kiss the newly minted king in Saudi Arabia. There is a long tradition of American Presidents who carry waters for House of Saud - it is bipartisan.
Ever since Richard Nixon invested in Saudi Arabia, part of America's enduring global geopolitical influence since WW II arises because House of Saud decided to denominate Oil Trade in Greenbacks and that cemented the love of Saudi Green among Red and Blue elites of America. It is a mature Statecraft when an American President continues this tradition. Since when affairs of nations have been conducted on 'principles' exclusively? They are not and so why hold Barack Obama and his predecessors to an unrealistic criteria? If 'principles and values' were sole reasons to guide America's foreign policy, neither Nixon would have adopted the 'open China' policy nor Reagan would have gone to Reykjavik to negotiate with Gorbachev.
It may be detrimental to America's Hydrocarbon production when Saudi Arabia crashes Oil prices. But the fact is we need Saudi Arabia as the bulwark against ISIS. It suits West's narrative when Saudi Arabia opposes extremism in the name of Islam while claiming custodianship of entire Islam. It is lot better for the global peace that House of Saud manages Islamic shrines of Mecca and Median rather than some virulent and nihilistic ideology misuses those places of worship and instigates unrest among Muslim population all over the world. When Sunni Wahhabism is followed scrupulously - in quick, no frills burying of the king rather than lengthy drawn out process of saying good by to a deceased leader; in not building any named tombs and in not declaring any official mourning period - House of Saud puts forward the best side of Islam in front of the world. No wonder French President Hollande, British PM Cameron and American President Obama see the political value in aligning with House of Saud during this political transition. As a family run business, what House of Saud could do right; they have done so - quickly establishing the line of succession and continuity in its Oil and Foreign Policy. Reaffirming this steady and non-disruptive policy framework is the duty of Obama Administration and it is good to see that it intends to do so by way of avoiding any recent slip ups.