28.06.2022 Author: Viktor Mikhin

What is President Biden Looking for in the Middle East?

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A “dramatic and landmark” decision has finally been made in Washington on Joe Biden’s visit to the Middle East.  The White House made generalities, announcing that the US President would visit Israel and Saudi Arabia on July 13-16 to meet with officials and discuss a range of issues, including Israel’s growing “security and prosperity and its integration into the region.”   Biden will also attend the Gulf Cooperation Council summit, where Egypt, Iraq and Jordan will be present in addition to the permanent members. He will meet with his counterparts in the region to promote the security as well as economic and diplomatic interests of the United States.  Remarkably, he will start his trip with Israel, not Saudi Arabia, as former President Trump did back in the day, who signed billion-dollar US arms contracts in Riyadh and was awarded the highest Saudi order on a gold chain worth $1 million.

Of course, when the exact objectives and parameters of a visit are not defined, generalities about creating security conditions, promoting political and economic interests and supporting peace for the prosperity of all peoples in a given region are used. In this case it is also a question of whether the very elderly Joe Biden will be able to push through American interests and impose those conditions which are currently favorable to the USA. After all, he is not the energetic Trump, who could force many rulers in the Middle East to serve strictly American interests. However, a bright light on the specific goals and objectives of the US President’s upcoming visit to Saudi Arabia was shed by the US National Security Committee, which together with five other congressional committees sent six enquiries, or rather instructions to President Joseph Biden. It is only natural that there was no such instruction on Israel: everything is clear there, and the “lovebirds” will coo peacefully and in unison.

The committees’ joint statement emphasizes that since 2015, as reported by news website CNN ARABIC, the Saudi authorities have often pursued a course different from US policy interests in the region. The committees’ statement notes the destructiveness of Riyadh’s refusal to take steps to stabilize global energy markets, which is economically damaging for American citizens. In addition, the US side reiterated its criticism of Saudi Arabia’s policy in the Yemen conflict, which undermines regional security. The committee sent 6 key demands to the US leader, stressing the importance of strengthening relations with the kingdom and the need to get Saudi Arabia to make further commitments to stabilize global energy markets, to ensure it rejects the “Trump-era oil deal with Russia.” Another demand was to emphasize the risks of further enhancing Riyadh’s strategic cooperation with Beijing.

The “instruction” clearly carries the message that Biden should promote a “reset” of bilateral relations in the interests of the United States.  Of course, it is easy for congressmen, sitting back in Washington with a cup of coffee in their hands, to give “valuable instructions” to the president. But will the senile Biden be able to “break” the young and ambitious Mohammed bin Salman and impose his stale policies on a kingdom that has developed a taste for free policy and “oil” relevance in the world. Biden, as the Democratic presidential candidate, called Bin Salman a “pariah” because of his human rights violations and pledged to review US-Saudi relations. With this “baggage” in hand, the President now plans to meet the Crown Prince, the de facto ruler of the kingdom, and “ask” him for an increase in oil production. Of course, at a time of skyrocketing gas prices, growing concern over Iran’s nuclear program and constant concern over China expanding its global presence, Biden and his team decided that a “freeze” on the Saudis, especially the Crown Prince, was not in the interests of the US.  Democratic Senator Dick Durbin told CNN that Biden “has a tough job dealing with gasoline prices.” He stressed that he had “mixed feelings” about the visit, calling the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia “an outrage.” He said: “It’s a shame that the President is in this position” and accused Biden of paying too little attention to the US energy.

It was only natural that Biden immediately took a swipe at the oil industry and literally “told it off.”  Average fuel prices are now over $5 a gallon, up from $3 a year ago, and the surge is affecting the entire economy, raising inflation to unprecedented levels. “High refinery profit margins are unacceptable,” Biden wrote in a letter to executives of Shell, MarathonPetroleumCorp, ValeroEnergyCorp, ExxonMobil, Phillips 66, Chevron and BP.

Incidentally, the White House announced the trip after Saudi Arabia this month helped push OPEC+ to increase oil production by 648,000 barrels a day in July and August, while agreeing to extend a United Nations-brokered ceasefire in its seven-year war with Yemen. According to the US administration, it was Prince Mohammed who played a “decisive role” in mediating the extension of the ceasefire. This war against a fraternal neighboring nation has brought neither Mohammed bin Salman nor Saudi Arabia any laurels, only prompting a wave of worldwide criticism and condemnation of the Saudi regime.

Saudi political analyst Dr Hamdan Al-Shehri warned in an interview with Arab News on June 16:  “Biden will face some difficulties during his talks in Saudi Arabia as a result of his lax policies toward many issues, foremost of which is his commitment to the security of his allies, the reluctance to meet their needs for weapons, his sudden withdrawal from Afghanistan, his ‘softness’ in dealing with the Iranian nuclear file, and other stances.” Biden should remember that this is not 1945, when US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and King Abdul Aziz bin Abdurrahman Al Saud of Saudi Arabia quickly agreed on everything aboard the US cruiser Quincy. It should also be noted that the increase in Saudi oil exports is not a sacrifice by Saudi Arabia, but a goldmine, and Riyadh will be able to claim that it supports the whole world in this difficult time!  But any promise from the Saudis and Mohammed bin Salman will have little impact on oil prices over the next few months. Saudi Arabia’s likely increase in oil production will do little, given the surge in consumption of oil and its derivatives during the busier summer season.

The US once prided itself on being a “shining city on a hill”, but now it has become a crumbling one-horse town. It has not lived up to this self-proclaimed title for some time now, as evidenced by the illegal invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the horrors of Guantanamo (Cuba) and Abu Ghraib (Iraq) prisons, the total defeat of US troops in Afghanistan and the supply of intelligence, air refueling and weapons for a genocide in Yemen.

Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia might bring global gasoline prices down a bit, if he manages to “bow down” to Mohammed bin Salman sufficiently. But this will surely only highlight the current administration’s unprincipled and haphazard approach to foreign policy and economic sanctions. And, in the end, the prestige and support of the United States around the world will only be undermined even further.

Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

 


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