Middle East Notes and Comment: The Puzzle of U.S.-Saudi Ties

The Puzzle of U.S.-Saudi Ties

​​​​​By most accounts, the Biden administration is pleased with the results of its policy toward Saudi Arabia. The Saudi leadership has stepped up its efforts to end the war in Yemen, it has generally stayed mum about the administration’s nuclear negotiations with Iran, and it has opened up its own dialogue with the Islamic Republic to try to reduce tensions. Domestically, advocates for women’s rights have been freed from jail, and the extraordinary effort to harass—and in at least one instance, kill—prominent Saudi critics overseas has been dialed back.

Saudis seem less satisfied, though. They feel the Biden team has pocketed their efforts at partnership and has given little in return. They also express wonderment that the Kingdom is undergoing a deeper transformation in economics and society than any in the country’s history, and it is happening at breakneck speed, yet their closest and most important partner neither notices nor cares.

Read Jon Alterman's commentary on the CSIS website.

Babel: Translating the Middle East

In our most recent episode of Babel, Jon spoke with Chloe Cornish about sectarianism and protests in Iraq and Lebanon.

In another episode, Jon spoke with  Emile Hokayem about changing Middle Eastern perspectives of the United States.

We also released two new mezze episodes: one on the modernization of traditional female roles in Egypt and another on integrating young African migrants into Moroccan society.


On September 29, 2021, the Middle East Program hosted Jordanian finance minister Mohamad al-Ississ for a conversation on Jordan's fiscal security and development in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

You can read the transcript of the conversation here.

In the News

Jon Alterman spoke about Colin Powell's passing during an interview with WTOP-FM. "He made you believe you could make a difference," Jon said. (10/18/21)

Will Todman spoke to Middle East Eye about Tunisian president Kais Saied’s public "dissatisfaction" with Congress's hearing on Tunisia. Will said that it was "amazing how bold it is" and that it shows Saied "is feeling more and more confident with the passing of time." (10/15/21)

Natasha Hall spoke with Defense One on U.S. military presence in Syria. U.S. troops are there for counterterrorism efforts, but their presence is “also about keeping Turkey from going further,” Natasha said.


Jon will lead a session on China's growing economic relationship with the Middle East during CSIS's executive education course on China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) from November 15-17. You can register for the course here.