Since his first day in office, President Joe Biden has spared no opportunity to castigate the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, especially Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS). This madness has produced an unbearable cost; As the war in Ukraine pushes global oil prices to unprecedented highs, the average price of gasoline in the United States jumped above $4 a gallon for the first time since 2008. The inflationary spiral is likely to impose a heavy political cost on Democrats ahead of the upcoming midterm and presidential elections.
Only Saudi Arabia can help by appealing to OPEC+ – the oil cartel of twenty-three countries, including Russia – to increase crude production and lower gasoline prices. Saudi Arabia has already acted as a stopgap producer, cutting or increasing its oil production to compel the United States. More recently, in 2018 and 2020, it avoid global energy crises by playing this crucial role at the request of President Donald Trump.
After defeating Soviet Communism and fighting global terrorism together, the United States and the Gulf countries have weathered the storm for decades. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are believed to be the only two major oil producers able to increase reserve production relatively easily. With that in mind, why is Saudi Arabia currently reluctant to rescue the United States from its growing economic woes? What has gone so wrong that MbS and his Emirati counterpart, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, are now even refusing to speak to President Joe Biden, as the US media reports to suggest?
Cordiality takes years to develop in a relationship and it should be based on mutual respect for each other’s vital needs and interests. The foundation flickers when either party loses its commitment to it. The Biden administration now faces the same dilemma in its sordid dealings with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
For more than a decade, the United States has been disengaging from the Gulf. President Barack Obama started the process by failing to manage the post-Arab Spring unrest in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. The 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), allowed Iran to undermine the security of Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries through the through a proxy war waged by the Houthis, Hezbollah and other Islamic-affiliated militias. Revolutionary Guard Corps. The Trump administration tried to redress partner security grievances by waiving the JCPOA in 2018, but it failed to confront Iran when its drones and missiles hit major Saudi oil facilities in 2019 .
Biden’s approach has been more consistent in this regard. His political vendetta against Trump has clouded his misguided policy choices in the Gulf. He refused to deal with MbS on the pretext of frivolous allegations. Biden delisted the Houthi militia in Yemen as a terrorist organization and also removed Patriot missiles from Saudi Arabia, which left Saudi Arabia vulnerable to Iranian drone and missile attacks. The Biden administration has made reviving the JCPOA its top foreign policy goal, ignoring regional concerns about Iranian ballistic missiles and nefarious activity.
Consequently, Iran has once again become emboldened to escalate its proxy war against Saudi Arabia and to deploy themselves its reach to the United Arab Emirates, which began facing Houthi missile attacks this year. Disillusioned with the Biden administration, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have sought to strengthen relations with China, Russia and India. This is exactly why the Saudis and Emiratis opted for neutrality in the Russian-Ukrainian war. Like India, the United Arab Emirates abstained from voting on the UN Security Council resolution against Russia.
Therefore, in a recent maintenance with the Atlantic, MbS advised Biden to focus on “America’s interests” instead of interfering in Saudi affairs. “We have no right to lecture you in America. The same goes the other way,” the crown prince said. He pointed to the stark differences between American democracy and the Saudi monarchy, which he said should evolve over time. MbS also highlighted the tangible progress that has been made in reforming the Saudi economy and society under the Vision 2030 plan.
Since its launch in 2016, this strategic plan has fundamentally transformed Saudi Arabia by weaning its economy from its overreliance on oil and reshaping its society according to modern values of gender equity, religious tolerance and global openness. . Progress can be seen in several unique Saudi development projects that seek to make the kingdom a hub for global tourism and entertainment, high-tech industry and modern life. This is also reflected in the empowerment of women, the application of the rule of law and the reduction of clerical powers.
As the kingdom is home to the holiest places in Islam, it forms the core of the Muslim world. Therefore, the Saudi narrative on Islamic issues is important to Muslims around the world. MbS is making a huge impact by popularizing an Islamic belief rooted in the Quran and Hadith, the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad. In particular, he called for limiting the use of hadiths in jurisprudential matters to only verifiable accounts compatible with the Quranic text. This historic undertaking exposes extremist narratives, which promote terrorism by misinterpreting the true teachings of Islam. MbS is gradually modernizing the kingdom – without undermining its cultural and religious values – and simultaneously promoting an environmentally friendly development agenda in the Arab world.
Since the days of King Faisal bin Abdul Aziz nearly half a century ago, Saudi Arabia has hardly seen a leader with such a sense of purpose. MbS is the Arab personality type Biden should have made common cause with at this critical moment. On the contrary, Biden decided not to cooperate with the young Saudi leader.
As a Saudi citizen with a long career in diplomacy, I know how much Saudis cherish their historical connection with Americans, and vice versa. For its part, MbS has expanded Saudi investments in the United States and invited major American companies to invest in projects in the kingdom. Thousands of young Saudis graduating from American universities are now contributing to Vision 2030 projects. The kingdom also benefits from the presence of around 40,000 American citizens, who make up the bulk of Saudi Arabia’s western expatriate population.
Therefore, the current problems in the Saudi-American relations are only the fault of President Biden. Saudi leaders want to overcome these problems. The crown prince also reiterated in the same interview that the kingdom has a “long historic relationship” with the United States and aims to strengthen it. But MbS also wants future Saudi-US relations to be based on mutual respect and reciprocity.
By refusing to cooperate with MbS and appeasing Iran’s expansionist regime, Biden has disrupted the reform process in Saudi Arabia and forced the kingdom to seek alternative partnerships with China and Russia. Since 1974, Saudi Arabia has only traded oil in dollars in exchange for security guarantees from Washington. By compromising these safeguards, the Biden administration has forced Saudi Arabia to even consider the option of pegging its oil sales to the Chinese yuan. Its trade, investment and security ties with Russia have also deepened, which is clear from their shared approach to the OPEC+ production cap. On the JCPOA, Biden ended up straining relations with the Saudis and other U.S. allies in the Gulf with nothing in return; the talks in Vienna have stalled following the war in Ukraine. Why would American leadership reward a regime whose enmity with America is rooted in its expansionist constitution and terrorist history?
In this context, the current breakdown in Saudi-American relations is serious and cannot be resolved by the recent trips of American officials like Brett McGurk or British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to the kingdom. Indeed, the redeployment of American Patriot missiles in Saudi Arabia and the recent transaction rescuing two American women from Yemen are positive signs. But they are insignificant, because the relationship needs structural transformation. Only Biden can fix the current problems by clearly exposing Saudi Arabia and the security role of the United States in the Gulf. And he can do it without a flip-flop.
Fortunately, the JCPOA is pretty much dead now. By acknowledging this, Biden would reassure Riyadh and other Gulf capitals of Washington’s renewed interest in regional stability. He can also go the extra mile by charting a new course in US relations with Saudi Arabia based on mutual respect and non-interference, while helping its leaders defeat Iranian forces in the Gulf. These overtures will inevitably encourage a positive response from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, leading them to encourage Russia and other OPEC+ members to increase monthly crude oil production well beyond the limit agreed upon at the start. of the month.
I’m sure the Saudi-American bond is resilient enough to overcome its current problems. The historic partnership dates back to 1945, when King Abdul Aziz and President Franklin Roosevelt met on a US warship off the coast of Saudi Arabia. They laid a solid foundation, which helped to cushion the shock of the oil embargo of the 1970s. Subsequent irritants were also resolved through mutual consultation. Pragmatism must again prevail in order to support the reform process in Saudi Arabia and to overcome the current energy crisis in the world. It is time to heal the unfortunate wounds of the recent past and rebuild a strategic partnership that will continue into the future.