The Saudi Exception

The U.S.-Saudi relationship is fraught with complications. Saudi Arabia has the largest oil reserves in the world, giving it influence over what Americans pay at the gas pump. At the same time, the kingdom’s human rights abuses are at odds with the United States’ stated democratic values. Who holds the power in this partnership? And what compromises are being made so the countries can work together?

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  • Gabrielle Sierra
    Podcast Host and Producer

Asher Ross - Supervising Producer

Markus Zakaria - Audio Producer and Sound Designer

Episode Guests
  • Lina Alhathloul
    Head of Monitoring and Communications, ALQST for Human Rights
  • Madawi Al-Rasheed
    Visiting Professor, Middle East Center, London School of Economics
  • Steven A. Cook
    Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies and Director of the International Affairs Fellowship for Tenured International Relations Scholars

Show Notes

Saudi Arabia has the largest oil reserves in the world, giving it undoubted influence over what Americans pay at the gas pump. Middle East experts argue that the U.S. economy is inextricably linked to Saudi Arabia, at least until the United States transitions to cleaner energy sources. Meanwhile, human rights activists around the world have called on Washington to sever ties with Riyadh over its human rights violations. In this episode, Why It Matters examines the often disharmonious U.S.-Saudi relationship, and the compromises being made so the countries can work together.


From CFR Editors, “U.S.-Saudi Arabia Relations


Andrew Chatzky and Anshu Siripurapu, “OPEC in a Changing World


Should the United States Rethink Its Relationship With Saudi Arabia?,” The President’s Inbox


Yasmine Farouk and Andrew Leber, “America and Saudi Arabia Are Stuck With Each Other,” Foreign Affairs 


F. Gregory Gause III, “America’s New Realism in the Middle East,” Foreign Affairs


Richard Haass, “The Keys to the Kingdom,” Project Syndicate


From Our Guests


Lina Alhathloul and Uma Mishra-Newbery, Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers


Madawi Al-Rasheed, Muted Modernists: The Struggle Over Divine Politics in Saudi Arabia


Steven A. Cook and Martin S. Indyk, The Case for a New U.S.-Saudi Strategic Compact


Read More


Jonathan Guyer, “Biden Arrives in a Saudi Arabia Where Human Rights Violations Go Far Beyond Khashoggi’s Murder,” Vox


Ben Hubbard, “Biden’s Saudi Lesson: The Only Path Runs Through MBS,” New York Times


Watch and Listen


Getting More Oil From Saudi Arabia or the UAE Could Require U.S. Concessions,” All Things Considered



Center for Preventive Action

The world is entering a new era of great-power competition. As U.S. policymakers look ahead, it pays to know what global threats to anticipate. Every January, the Council on Foreign Relations publishes a survey that analyzes the conflicts most likely to occur in the twelve months ahead and rates their potential impact on the United States. But can the country prepare itself for mass immigration, cyberwarfare, and nuclear tensions while still cooperating with adversaries on global issues such as climate change?

Global Governance

In 2022, several colossal events dominated the headlines, most prominently the war in Ukraine and the worldwide inflation that it helped spark. But beyond Ukraine, events with global implications continued to unfold. In this episode, Why It Matters checks in with three CFR fellows and CFR President Richard Haass to understand the least-covered stories of 2022 and to take a peek at what could await the world in 2023.

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