In the long arc of history, while regimes come and go, civilizations endure. Bet on the former against the latter, and you’re taking one helluva gamble. The House of Saud is a regime, a dynastic enterprise masquerading as a nation-state. Iran, by contrast, is the modern incarnation of an ancient civilization. The antagonism between the two is deep-seated, genuine, and destined to persist.
How the United States found itself aligned with the former against the latter is a story fraught with miscalculation, folly, and hubris. Taken as a whole, it’s our version of Lawrence of Arabia, albeit without a charismatic protagonist on which to hang the tale. Our own equivalent of T. E. Lawrence would be an in-over-his-head mischief-maker like Graham Greene’s fictional Alden Pyle, albeit relocated from Indochina to the Persian Gulf. Imagine a composite figure combining the signature traits of Kermit Roosevelt, Oliver North, and Max Boot, and you have the makings of an epic of sorts, even if shorn of the wide-angle grandeur that was a hallmark of David Lean’s film.
Saudi Arabia qualifies as an American friend and ally in precisely the same sense as does the state of Israel. In both countries, cold calculation rather than warm regard governs attitudes toward the United States. Each faces a list of national security challenges longer than it can comfortably handle on its own. Over several decades, in hopes of mitigating those challenges, each has worked assiduously to cultivate a close relationship with Washington.