Ever since Franklin Roosevelt’s historic rendezvous in 1945 with Abd Aziz Ibn Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia, American presidents have been enamored with Saudi kings.

But nothing in the 70 plus-year history of U.S.-Saudi ties comes close to the cosmic groveling that now defines President Donald Trump’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and his slavish obeisance to its dangerous and irresponsible policies.

Aaron David Miller
Aaron David Miller, a vice president at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a former State Department adviser and Middle East negotiator, is the author of The End of Greatness: Why America Can't Have (and Doesn't Want) Another Great President.

Since Trump became president, the U.S. has enabled and supported a disastrous Saudi war in Yemen; watched as Riyadh launched a political and economic war against Qatar that’s split the Gulf Cooperation Council and enhanced Iran’s influence; virtually kidnapped the pro-American Lebanese Prime Minister in a bungled attempt to weaken Hezbollah; remained silent while the Saudis under the guise of reform cracked down on journalists, bloggers, businessmen and anyone else who dared criticize the 30-something crown prince; and said nothing as Riyadh battered Canada—a close U.S. ally that dared challenge Saudi human rights abuses.

In our 65-plus years of combined experience working inside and outside the State Department on U.S. Middle East policy, we have never seen anything like the Trump administration’s willingness to prostitute U.S. interests to Saudi Arabia—a country that increasingly pursues policies at home and abroad that undermine American values and interests.

Richard Sokolsky
Richard Sokolsky is a nonresident senior fellow in Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program. His work focuses on U.S. policy toward Russia in the wake of the Ukraine crisis.

Indeed, amid all its failures, the most successful Saudi foreign policy initiative in recent memory is the successful capturing and bamboozling of Donald Trump.

How to explain the Trump administration’s abnormal and unseemly attachment to Saudi Arabia? Why the suck-up and, more important, exactly what is America getting in return?

Where his presidential predecessors traditionally used their first foreign trip to reassure our neighbors in Canada or Mexico, Trump opted to make his first international appearance in Saudi Arabia. From his perspective, that made a certain amount of sense: Trump is notoriously averse to criticism and enchanted by ostentatious flattery; what better place to visit than a police state where oil-rich leaders brook no criticism from their subjects or attacks on their guests?

With a sovereign wealth fund in the billions, a potential (even if now delayed) trillion-dollar IPO offering of Saudi Aramco, and royals who acquire some of the world’s most expensive yachts, homes and artwork, Saudi Arabia is Trump’s kind of place. Trump loves order, pomp, circumstance and—above all—flattery, and his hosts offered it up in a veritable buffet. Saudi King Salman and his son and heir to the throne, Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman, feted the president with sword dances, lavish receptions and medals. “It was a great day,” Trump exclaimed on his first night in the kingdom after his arrival.

Saudi wealth is both an incentive and a rationalization for Trump to court Riyadh to buy arms—reportedly more than $100 billion worth—and it’s no coincidence that big-time American CEOs accompanied Trump on his maiden voyage to the kingdom in search of deals. For this president, dealing with friends is a series of transactions: He believes that, as in any protection racket, if you get from the U.S., you need to give. (And he no doubt realizes that being nice to the Saudis might ultimately secure business deals that might be of great interest to the Trump Organization.)

Another reason for a U.S.-Saudi love affair is Trump’s yearning to repair the damage he believes President Barack Obama did to the U.S.-Saudi relationship because of the Iran nuclear deal, and to make Riyadh an Arab partner to play a leading role in realizing his two greatest ambitions in the region: cutting Iran down to size and pursuing the ultimate deal on Arab-Israeli peace. The Saudis share the first goal with the U.S. and Israel, but counting on them to do much about it is magical thinking. The world has witnessed the havoc the Saudis created in Yemen, and it’s clear that the kingdom’s policies toward Yemen and Qatar are enlarging, rather than contracting, Iran’s influence.

As for Israeli-Palestinian peace, Crown Prince Muhammed seems interested in getting involved. But recently, the Saudis sent signals that they won’t endorse any peace deal that doesn’t include Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state—likely a manifestation of King Salman’s worry that his son is too eager to do U.S. bidding. To bring the Saudis along, the Trump administration would need to accommodate the Palestinians in ways they don’t seem prepared to do.

here’s no doubt that maintaining a productive relationship has served U.S. national interests. The oil-for-security contract that long drove the U.S.-Saudi bond is dead: Thanks to the advent of fracking, we don’t need their oil, and they don’t want to rely on a risk-averse America for their security. Yet preserving access to Saudi oil and stability in the Arab Gulf—through which 30 percent to 40 percent of the world’s oil flows—is still vital to the health of the global economy. (Indeed, the administration is already counting on the Saudis to ramp up production to offset the potential loss of Iranian oil to the market.) And in the wake of the Arab Spring and the meltdown of four Arab states, Saudi Arabia remains a force for stability and a counterterrorism partner in a dangerous and tumultuous Middle East.

What we do not concede and cannot abide is that the Trump administration’s ties with the Saudis should be exclusive, particularly in view of Crown Prince Muhammed’s reckless policies abroad and his repressive behavior at home.

There’s no doubt that maintaining a productive relationship has served U.S. national interests. The oil-for-security contract that long drove the U.S.-Saudi bond is dead: Thanks to the advent of fracking, we don’t need their oil, and they don’t want to rely on a risk-averse America for their security. Yet preserving access to Saudi oil and stability in the Arab Gulf—through which 30 percent to 40 percent of the world’s oil flows—is still vital to the health of the global economy. (Indeed, the administration is already counting on the Saudis to ramp up production to offset the potential loss of Iranian oil to the market.) And in the wake of the Arab Spring and the meltdown of four Arab states, Saudi Arabia remains a force for stability and a counterterrorism partner in a dangerous and tumultuous Middle East.

What we do not concede and cannot abide is that the Trump administration’s ties with the Saudis should be exclusive, particularly in view of Crown Prince Muhammed’s reckless policies abroad and his repressive behavior at home.

Trump has written the Saudis blank checks for policies that are undermining U.S. values and interests without getting much to shout about in return—and they are cashing them. They’re conducting a devastating war in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians, created a humanitarian catastrophe, strengthened Al Qaeda and handed the Iranians and Houthis a propaganda victory and cover for their own misdeeds. They launched a bungled blockade against Qatar that has only enhanced Iran’s influence in Doha and divided the Gulf Cooperation Council. They waged an ill-conceived campaign to cut Hezbollah down to size by kidnapping the Lebanese prime minister—complete with a hostage video that made Riyadh look feckless and heavy-handed at the same time. They cracked down on key female activists who were among the first to champion the right of women to drive cars, and Shia women activists who they accused of undermining the security of the state—and who may now be sentenced to death—effectively erasing whatever goodwill the Saudis created by finally allowing women to drive. They theatrically overreacted to Canada’s criticism of the crackdown by canceling flights, throwing out the Canadian ambassador and pulling Saudi students out of Canadian universities and Saudi patients out of Canadian hospitals.

In the face of all this, what has the Trump administration done to push back? Next to nothing. The U.S. dispatched a three-star general to Saudi Arabia to “investigate” one of the country’s most recent attacks on children in Yemen. And this week, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East called for more transparency in Saudi Arabia’s errant missile targeting. But the Pentagon still hasn’t missed a beat in continuing its unconscionable enabling of possible Saudi war crimes in Yemen. It continues to provide Saudis with intelligence but asserts that it is not giving direct or indirect approval on target selection or execution of bombings.

To put it simply, we don’t believe the White House cares enough about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen or what the Saudis are doing with Qatar or Canada to summon the resolve to rock the boat with Riyadh. As for the crown prince’s increasingly authoritarian behavior, the Trump administration has already amply demonstrated its penchant for courting and forgiving strongmen.

We’re witnessing a shameful example of getting used, abused and confused by a so-called friend. And for what?

There are, of course, steps that the administration could take to bring the out-of-control U.S.-Saudi relationship back into some kind of balance that better serves American—and not just Saudi—interests.

First, if the Saudis want to carry on their destructive campaign in Yemen, they can do it without U.S. support. The Houthis and the Iranians play a key role in Yemen’s misery, but the Saudis and Emiratis are the more coherent and powerful force—and they are wreaking the most death and destruction. They should declare a cease-fire with no deadline and allow the United Nations envoy to work out an equitable and sustainable peace accord. The Trump administration should tell Crown Prince Muhammed that the U.S. expects Saudi Arabia to lift its siege of Hodeida and to allow unfettered access for humanitarian assistance. If the Saudis stiff us, the U.S. should immediately suspend all U.S. military support for the Saudi-led military operation against Yemen.

Second, once the U.S. suspends support for the Saudi bombing campaign, it should make clear to Crown Prince Muhammed that if they continue their operations that cause civilian deaths and injuries, the Trump administration will publicly hammer the Saudis (and the Houthis) for civilian casualties and will support a formal U.N. inquiry, as was done in Syria, into possible Saudi war crimes in Yemen.

Third, the administration needs to send a clear message to Saudi rulers that it will not allow the kingdom to drag the U.S. into a war with Iran over the Saudi-Iranian conflict in Yemen or their broader geopolitical and sectarian conflict throughout the region. Yes, Iran is a major challenge. But we need to make clear to the Saudis that we will not help them fight their sectarian Sunni-Shia war, and that we will cooperate with Iran when it serves U.S. interests, and confront the Iranians when they challenge those interests.

Fourth, at the planned U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council summit in the fall, the administration needs to exert as much pressure on Saudi Arabia and Qatar as possible to get the countries to end their dispute—and make it clear that the U.S. will no longer tolerate Saudi intransigence on its preposterous and unacceptable demands even as we push the hardly blameless Qataris to meet reasonable Saudi demands.

Finally, the U.S. should tell the Saudis that it wants to work with them on an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan that has a chance of succeeding—and acknowledge that this will require addressing both Israeli and Palestinians concerns on Jerusalem and statehood. If the U.S. is prepared to stand up and outline a credible path toward a two-state solution with a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem, it should expect the Saudis to find more dramatic ways to demonstrate their public acceptance of Israel in the region.

To paraphrase James Baker, one of our old bosses, neither of us just rode into Washington on a bale of hay. And the chance that the Trump administration will follow our advice is slim to none.

What kills us more than anything is that we know what to expect from America’s enemies—they will diddle us at every turn—but we don’t expect that behavior from our supposed allies.

If the Trump administration, in defiance of all strategic logic and its own interests, wants to treat Saudi Arabia as America’s best friend with benefits, fine. But Washington should at least stop letting them screw us at every turn.

This article was originally published in Politico.