How Saudi Arabia captured Washington


Some in the Obama administration, based on what they told the Atlantic (and on my own conversations with administration officials), seem to believe the answer is money: that Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Arab states have purchased loyalty and influence.

But the truth may be subtler than that — and say as much about innate Washington biases as about any foreign-bought influence.

When I asked members of the DC-based foreign policy community what was driving this, they described an establishment whose preexisting worldview — a natural preference for the status quo and the familiar, a mythology of welcomed American hegemony — naturally aligns with Saudi Arabia’s. But they also pointed to ways in which Gulf money, in recent years, has come to distort Washington’s conversations about the Middle East. (All asked to speak anonymously, given the subject’s sensitivity.)

Everyone I spoke to emphasized that the pro-Saudi views expressed in Washington are earnestly held; no one is ordered by foreign funders to express a certain viewpoint. Rather, they described a subtler role, in which money amplifies preexisting norms and habits that favor a pro-Saudi consensus, deepening a bias that would exist in the absence of that money but would not be quite as strongly held or widely expressed.