From The Washington Post:
Few diplomatic marriages are as hopelessly knotted — or emotionally fraught — as the one between Saudi Arabia and the United States. First joined in 1945 under an oil-for-security agreement, the two countries leaned on each other through the Cold War, the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The House of Saud provided welcome relief to President Jimmy Carter during the energy crisis in the '70s; later, Saudi mujaheddin were dispatched against Russian-occupied Afghanistan. Only after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when it was discovered that 15 of the hijackers were Saudi nationals, did this “special relationship” — always informal, never really defined — begin to sour.
As former Washington Post reporter David B. Ottaway hints in his sweeping history, “The King's Messenger,” it's a miracle the odd couple made it even that far. Saudi Arabia is “a secretive monarchy, Islamic theocracy, and Sunni monoculture,” while the United States is a “religiously pluralistic society, wide-open democracy, and Babel of cultures,” Ottaway writes. “Holding the alliance together was a delicate diplomatic task for both sides, requiring the downplaying of differences, secrecy, and often outright duplicity.” Over the years, much of that diplomacy — and on occasion, the duplicity — fell not to a king or president, but to a single courtier: Bandar bin Sultan, the self-proclaimed “peasant prince.”