Maintaining good relations with autocrats is an unfortunate but often necessary component of the delicate balancing act that is U.S. foreign policy. But as Washington learned once again this week, supporting a strongman for the sake of stability can present risks of its own. Here are eight more alliances that could prove embarrassing.
Leader: King Abdullah
Record: The king has ruled Saudi Arabia since 2005. As ruler of a country with no elections, parliament, or political parties, Abdullah and his family exercise unchecked power within the kingdom, and -- thanks to their control of one-fifth of the world's oil reserves and Islam's two holiest sites -- quite a bit of influence beyond their borders as well. Abdullah surprised many by undertaking some minor reforms of the country's clerical establishment in 2009, though this may have had more to do with a desire to consolidate his power than any enlightened pluralistic impulses. The 86-year-old king has suffered poor health in recent years, leading to speculation about which of his relatives will succeed him.
The kingdom remains one of the most repressive countries on Earth, particularly so for its 9 million female citizens, who are prevented from holding many jobs or driving and are considered by law to be legally beholden to their husbands. Practicing any religion other than Islam is banned. Torture and detention without trial are commonplace. Around 2,000 people were arrested in 2009 alone on political charges.
U.S. support: Whether they're kissing and holding hands or bowing, American presidents of both parties can be counted on to show their affection for the House of Saud, a tradition dating back to Franklin Roosevelt's administration. As the only country in the world with "spare production capacity" -- enough extra oil that they can affect global energy prices at will -- Saudi cooperation is crucial in order to keep the U.S. economy humming.
Since 9/11, the Saudis have also provided aid and intelligence to the U.S.-led war on terrorism and cracked down on violent extremists in the kingdom and across the border in Yemen. Yet questions remain about the degree to which members of the Saudi royal family still provide financial assistance to Al Qaeda. The U.S. also relies on Saudi Arabia's stabilizing influence in the Middle East as a counterweight to Iran and as a mediator with the Palestinian Authority. In 2010, the relationship was further cemented by a $60 billion weapons deal including fighter jets, helicopters, and missiles.