In a review of America’s Kingdom in the London Review of Books, Tariq Ali writes that, “Critical academic works on the Saudi kleptocracy are rare. …Which is why America's Kingdom comes as a pleasant surprise. Robert Vitalis, who teaches political science at the University of Pennsylvania, has produced a scholarly and readable book on the interaction between Saudi society and Aramco, the US oil giant that had its beginnings when the Saudi government granted its first concessions to Standard Oil of California in 1933. Combining history with political anthropology, Vitalis sheds a bright light on the origins and less savoury aspects of the Saudi-US relationship in its first phase, when oil production was accompanied by the manufacturing of myths that prettified the US presence."
Robert Vitalis not only provides a historical basis (spanning more than seventy years, three continents, and an engrossing cast of characters) for understanding this “special relationship” between the United States and the Saudi monarchy, but he also argues that despite the constant media scrutiny after 9/11, the special relationship continues today. And there’s plenty of evidence going around. The Wall Street Journal reports in an article today that instead of taking explicit measures against a powerful Saudi bank in 2003 (or even earlier), which allegedly finances terrorist networks from the Middle East to Indonesia, the U.S. government has chosen to lobby the Saudi royal family quietly about its concerns, with little success so far.
The book points to a major divergence between the official “myths” (perpetuated by both the U.S. and the Saudis) and the political and historical realities in the Middle East. It shows how the development of Saudi Arabia’s oil under a racist and unfair US-owned company generated a lingering resentment and hatred against the West. As Tariq Ali's review suggests, these feelings persist in our times, even among Saudi elite.