The Senate this month confirmed retired four-star Gen. John Abizaid in a 92-7 vote to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. The posting in Riyadh is one of the most prestigious ambassadorships in the Middle East, but it also happens to be a position in dire need of a principled, tough American diplomat who will unapologetically protect and promote American interests first.

The U.S.-Saudi relationship, historically defined by a security-for-oil tradeoff, is in the midst of major turbulence. The Saudi monarchy, under the operational control of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has been on a destructive spiral of foolish foreign misadventures and shoddy human rights practices at home (nothing new for that region of the world). Riyadh’s domestic policy is oppressive, and its foreign policy is reckless, tactless, and paranoid. The state-sponsored killing of Saudi journalist and U.S. permanent resident Jamal Khashoggi and the arrest and torture of dual U.S.-Saudi citizens in the kingdom have only added insult to injury.

Through it all, the Trump administration has largely given the Saudis a pass for behavior unbecoming even (or especially) in a relationship of expedience. A U.S. partner, for instance, doesn’t kidnap the prime minister of a neighboring state, extradite him to Riyadh, and force him to submit his resignation on television. A U.S. partner doesn’t send cash and military backing to a renegade Libyan general in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions or launch a disastrous military intervention in a neighboring country while expecting Washington to offer assistance without question or reservation. Nor does a U.S. partner create a diplomatic crisis in the Persian Gulf by quarantining another neighboring state (in this case, Qatar) in a vain effort to compel it to become a client-state.

Saudi Arabia, however, has done all of this and more. And worse still, the leadership in Riyadh continues to treat its relationship with the U.S. like a spoiled rich kid treats his parents — with an air of entitlement and an assumption that business as usual will be the order of the day regardless of poor behavior. Though the senior party in the U.S.-Saudi relationship, Washington is operating like a junior partner in a law firm trying to please the boss.

During his confirmation hearing in March, Abizaid told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he would be a strong voice for U.S. interests in Riyadh. But while he denounced the killing of Khashoggi as unacceptable and condemned the Saudis for reckless actions in the region, Abizaid also argued it’s in the U.S. interest to improve bilateral relations with the Kingdom. “It requires forceful discussions on behalf of the U.S. with the government of Saudi Arabia, and I am prepared to have those discussions if you confirm me,” Abizaid said.

Those were nice words, but they will amount to hot air if Abizaid doesn’t follow through on the promises he made. As a longtime student of the Middle East, Abizaid should understand he can be far more assertive on the kingdom than the White House has been to date.

This means Abizaid should not be afraid to put his foot down when Riyadh overreaches or places U.S. security interests in jeopardy. This will require him to send a tough and unequivocal message to the Saudi monarchy: that the U.S. will not be taken advantage of or hoodwinked into a policy harmful to our interests and reputation. Washington and Riyadh may be strategic partners on specific issues such as counterterrorism cooperation and the maintenance of stable energy markets, but we are not allies tied at the hip. Abizaid should make it abundantly clear to his Saudi colleagues that the U.S. has no obligation or responsibility to come to the defense of the kingdom whenever its crown prince decides to foment another regional quagmire.

Many in Washington will not be eager for Abizaid to follow this advice. Saudi Arabia, they say, could retaliate against a stronger U.S. strategy by spiking oil prices, stopping its purchases of U.S. military hardware, or perhaps even cut off diplomatic or intelligence contacts entirely.

Such arguments, however, unrealistically inflate the kingdom’s power. The reality is Saudi leverage is relatively limited, particularly against a superpower like the U.S.

Cutting oil exports would hurt Riyadh far more in the long term than it would hurt Washington, as the U.S. is relying less and less on foreign suppliers in the Middle East for our energy needs. With youth unemployment at 25%, a private sector generating few opportunities for its people and limited growth, and economic reforms hitting the skids, Saudi officials can’t afford such aggressive maneuvers. For a country that depends on the sale of crude for 90% of its export earnings, capping oil exports to register displeasure to tougher U.S. diplomacy would be downright suicidal.

The Middle East is less geopolitically important today than it was even a decade ago. The Saudis know this, but they are hoping U.S. officials in Washington haven’t caught on. The basic premise Abizaid must remember throughout his tenure in Riyadh is that Saudi Arabia needs the U.S. a lot more than the U.S. needs Saudi Arabia. While the Saudis hold a few cards, America has most of the leverage.

When the security interests of the U.S. and Saudi Arabia align, it’s only prudent for Washington to cooperate. This is the sign of a country whose foreign policy leadership seizes opportunities when they present themselves and embraces the realism that powers good statecraft.

But in no circumstances should the Trump administration, or any administration, delude itself into thinking the U.S. should bend over backwards to cater to Riyadh. If anything, it’s the Saudi royals who should be doing cartwheels.

Daniel DePetris (@DanDePetris) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. His opinions are his own.