Barely 1 in 5 Americans view Saudi Arabia as a US ally — as Trump weighs military action against Iran over attacks on Saudi oil facilities

Business Insider Politics 1 month ago

A new Insider poll shows that barely one in five Americans view Saudi Arabia as a US ally, even as the Trump administration threatened a military response against Iran for allegedly striking major Saudi oil facilities.

Only 22% of adult respondents said Saudi Arabia was an American ally, a figure that held among self-identified Democrats and self-identified Republicans. Among a list of Middle Eastern countries, it was second only to Israel at 44%.

President Donald Trump vowed on Wednesday to ramp up punishing sanctions on Iran after the administration blamed it for an attack on critical Saudi Arabian oil installations over the weekend, seeking to isolate the country and choke off its battered economy.

Then on Thursday, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif warned of "all-out war" if the US and Saudi Arabia retaliate militarily against Tehran.

The Trump administration has weighed a military response in the days since the attacks, which severely limited Saudi Arabian oil production and escalated fears that ongoing tensions between the US and Iran could trigger a new war in the Middle East. Trump tweeted on Sunday the US was "locked and loaded" though the US would decide how to respond after hearing from the Saudi government "under what terms we would proceed."

The Houthi rebel faction in Yemen claimed responsibility, but US and Saudi officials accused Iran of orchestrating the attack.

Trump has since strongly suggested Iran bears responsibility. And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described the attack as "an act of war" by Iran when he arrived to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, but mostly talked about strengthening ties with allies to enhance deterrence, The New York Times reported.

But Trump says he is holding out for "a peaceful solution," indicating he may be wary of ordering military strikes. Another Insider poll found only 6% of Americans would support the US engaging in air assaults or bombings to back Saudi Arabia.

saudi oil drone strike
Fires burn in the distance after a strike on Saudi company Aramco's oil processing facilities, in Buqayq, Saudi Arabia September 14, 2019 in this still image taken from a social media video obtained by REUTERS
Insider asked over 1,100 respondents the question, "Which of the following governments would you consider an ally of the United States of America?"

They were then invited to select from a list of 16 Middle Eastern governments which ones they believed were allies of the United States: Syria, Iran, Yemen, Oman, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Turkey, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. They could identify multiple countries if they chose.

  • Overall, only 22% of Americans believed Saudi Arabia was an ally of the United States.
  • Around 44% believed Israel was an American ally, the highest in the poll.
  • 38% said none were allies of the US.
  • Meanwhile, only 8% believed Iraq was a US ally, eight years after the US formally withdrew its forces from the country and left behind a shaky democratic government. According to the Defense Department, 4,432 US soldiers died during the American-led invasion and ensuing occupation.
  • Syria ranked dead last in the poll at 4%. The country has been mired in a brutal civil war as its authoritarian president Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons to preserve his rule — and the US has simultaneously waged an air campaign against the Islamic State in the country to reverse its territorial gains.

Though the US and Saudi Arabia have enjoyed a strong relationship stretching back to the mid-20th century, the American public has largely held the Saudi government in low regard for almost two decades.

American presidents like Saudi Arabia, but Americans don't

According to a February Gallup poll, around 67% of Americans had either mostly unfavorable or very unfavorable opinions of Saudi Arabia. That's a 12 percentage point jump from last year. China, an adversarial power, garnered more favorable attitudes in the poll.

"It's not an easy country to like," retired US diplomat Frank Wisner told NPR last year, referring to public attitudes on Saudi Arabia. "The American mind simply rebels at the way Saudi women are treated, the way they execute criminals, the enforced religious doctrine," he says.

Another factor dragging down the country's perceptions among the public is the memory of the 9/11 attacks, since 15 of 19 hijackers were Saudi Arabian nationals.

Despite that, the US government has long treated Saudi Arabia as a key US ally, and the Trump administration has strengthened ties with the authoritarian kingdom — selling it more military weapons and acting as a guard dog when its government came under withering criticism for assassinating Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi late last year.

Read more: Trump and Iran may be on the brink of a war that would likely be devastating to both sides

Iran has long been a strategic rival of Saudi Arabia, and both powers are locked in a competition to expand their regional diplomatic and military influence. And in this battle for supremacy, the Trump administration has staunchly favored Saudi Arabia over Iran.

Earlier this year, the administration went so far as to to try and fast-track an $8 billion weapons deal earlier this year that Congress tried to block over the kingdom's prosecution of its brutal war in Yemen. The Senate failed to bar the agreement and it ultimately went through.

Whether the Trump administration will ultimately launch a military strike is unclear, given that Trump has started to express a willingness to avoid war. But if it does, it won't be popular with an American public that's already tired of Middle Eastern conflicts and doesn't support the country that Trump wants to defend.

SurveyMonkey Audience polls from a national sample balanced by census data of age and gender. Respondents are incentivized to complete surveys through charitable contributions. Generally speaking, digital polling tends to skew toward people with access to the internet. Total 1,142 respondents collected September 17 - September 18, 2019, a margin of error plus or minus 2.98 percentage points with a 95% confidence level.

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