Thicker Than Oil: America’s Uneasy Partnership with Saudi Arabia

Council Senior Fellow and Director for Middle East and Gulf Studies Rachel Bronson reveals why the U.S.-Saudi partnership became so intimate and how the countries’ shared interests sowed the seeds of today’s most pressing problem -- Islamic radicalism.

April 05, 2006

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The first full history of the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia, revealing why the partnership was formed and what we stand to lose if it collapses.

NY Book Party at the Council on Monday, April 10, at 5:30–7:00 p.m.
RSVP required.*

DC On-the-Record Meeting with Bronson andWashingtonPost Investigative Reporter David Ottaway on Monday, April 17, 5:45–7:30 p.m.
RSVP required*

April 6, 2006—For fifty-five years, the United States and Saudi Arabia were solid partners. Then came the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which sorely tested that relationship. In Thicker Than Oil: America’s Uneasy Partnership with Saudi Arabia, Council Senior Fellow and Director for Middle East and Gulf Studies Rachel Bronson reveals why the partnership became so intimate and how the countries’ shared interests sowed the seeds of today’s most pressing problem—Islamic radicalism.

Drawing on a wide range of archival material, declassified documents, and interviews with leading Saudi and U.S. officials, Bronson chronicles a history of close, and always controversial, contacts. She argues that, contrary to popular belief, the relationship was never simply about "oil for security." Saudi Arabia’s geographic location and religiously motivated foreign policy figured prominently in American efforts to defeat "godless communism." From Africa to Afghanistan, Egypt to Nicaragua, the two worked to beat back Soviet expansion. But decisions made for hardheaded Cold War purposes left behind a legacy that today enflames the Middle East.

In this authoritative work, Bronson exposes the political calculations that drove this secretive relationship. Her lively narrative is interwoven with colorful stories of diplomatic adventures and misadventures—including details of high-level, backchannel conversations, awkward cross-cultural encounters, and a bizarre American request for the Saudi government to subsidize Polish pork exports, a demand with which the U.S. ambassador refused to comply. Looking forward, Bronson outlines the challenges confronting the relationship, including continued instability in Iraq, an emboldened Iran, an oil-hungry China, and the continued presence of a zealous internal opposition inside the Kingdom. This book shows us how this crucial relationship evolved and suggests ways to steer its future course.

Rachel Bronson is a Senior Fellow and Director for Middle East and Gulf Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.


"Rachel Bronson has written a book, at once ’cool’ and authoritative, on a subject of great controversy and importance. She makes her own way through the thicket of U.S.-Saudi relations. A work of careful scholarship and analysis loaded with interviews and drawing on a vast literature. No axe to grind, just the story told with care and judgment."
Fouad Ajami, Majid Khadduri Professor and Director of Middle East Studies at Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies

"Dr. Bronson provides a highly readable survey of the twists and turns that have typified the U.S.-Saudi relationship. While there is plenty of intrigue, she also paints a picture of a relationship far more complex than most would expect. The author brings a refreshing sense of balance to one of the hot-button topics of our day. Thicker Than Oil points the way to redefining the national interests of both America and the Saudis."
Robert W. Jordan, United States Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, 2001–2003

"Thicker Than Oil is a highly-engaging book on a critical topic—the nature and future of the U.S.-Saudi relationship. Rachel Bronson brings much-needed balance to an issue that has too often been the subject of unhelpful polemics, and she has proven herself to be a world-class researcher, unearthing numerous gems about that relationship. Her book is a vital reminder of the value of our long-time allies at a time when we have developed a bad habit of taking them for granted."
Kenneth M. Pollack, Brookings Institution Senior Fellow and Author, The Persian Puzzle: The Conflict Between Iran and America

"This is the most solid book to date on the vital relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, with important new historical material and a hardheaded look at our tough policy choices for the future."
Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus, Council on Foreign Relations

Founded in 1921, the Council on Foreign Relations is an independent, national membership organization and a nonpartisan center for scholars dedicated to producing and disseminating ideas so that individual and corporate members, as well as policymakers, journalists, students, and interested citizens in the United States and other countries, can better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other governments. For more information, go to


Published by Oxford University Press; 368 pages, $28.00
ISBN13: 9780195167436 / ISBN10: 0195167430

Call Kate Zimmerman at 212-434-9537 to RSVP and please specify which event you would like to attend.*This event is open to accredited journalists only.


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