The decision of OPEC+ to introduce a deep cut to its oil production definitely came as a shock to the West (the US and the EU). Democrats, including Joe Biden in the US, were quick to point fingers to Saudi Arabia as the culprit. In fact, many Democrats are already demanding that the Kingdom be penalized for its actions. A bill has already been introduced in the US Congress by some Democrats suggesting Washington to remove US troops from Saudi Arabia “amid drastic cut in oil production.” But the fact that the Democrats, including Biden himself, are signaling out Saudi Arabia is nothing more than a political tactic helping the ruling party to shift the attention away from the Biden presidency’s diplomatic failure to improve US ties with Saudi Arabia. In fact, as it stands, the Biden administration stands squarely responsible for pushing Saudia away in the first place by directly implicating Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
But Biden realized, soon after the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, that Washington needs Riyadh’s help against Moscow. With that in mind, he paid a visit to Saudia in July and reported to have a cordial chat with MBS. But that chat, as is evident now, failed to yield any meaningful result, leading many in the US to question Biden’s diplomacy, including his decision to make the murder report public, claim to make Saudi a “pariah” state and then ending up visiting Saudi Arabia to enlist it as an ally against Russia. The failure of this massive u-tun has now led Democrats and some White House allies to deny that the purpose of Biden’s visit was oil production. They now say, as a means to mask Biden’s failure, that the purpose of the visit was ‘the Middle East’ and relations with Israel.
Masking this failure was/is crucial insofar as this failure – and the subsequent increase in energy prices – was feared to cause significant damage to the Democrats in the Mid-term elections. In other words, the Biden administration now believes that the Saudis are deliberately creating conditions for the Democrats to lose majority in the US Congress and for Biden to eventually lose the presidential elections. Many in the White House believe that the Saudis are doing this as a result of Riyad joining the ‘Russian nexus.’
In other words, the Democrats, instead of realizing their own folies, are using the deeply embedded Russophobia in the US to explain ‘energy crisis.’ But this strategy is unlikely to work, at least in terms of whether or not it will have an impact on Saudi policies. In fact, Riyadh is not holding back. There is a reaction from them, making it a lot more complicated and difficult for the Washington to manage the crisis than it has been the case.
On October 13, Saudi officials rejected the US allegations that Riyadh was necessarily working in tandem with Moscow. The Saudi official was quick to point out that the decision of OPEC+ was the unanimous opinion of the members of the group and that purely economic, rather than geo-political, considerations were behind it. The Saudi official also made a startling disclosure that the Biden administration did in fact try to convince Riyadh to postpone the OPEC+ decision by a month, thus exposing the White House’s lie that the purpose of Biden’s visit was not ‘oil’ and that the visit was not a failure.
Saudi revelations not only reveal that the US-Saudia ties, at least in the current scenario, are underpinned by oil but that Washington has failed completely to make one of its erstwhile and closest allies to toe its foreign policy line. This failure, in other words, shows the ongoing rapid disappearance of the US global clout. A decision to withdraw from Saudia and the Middle East, in this particular context, will only accelerate this downfall.
But Biden is squarely on course to contribute to this downfall, as he aims to become a bit more aggressive towards the Saudis. In fact, this is what he said in a recent interview to the CNN: “There’s going to be some consequences for what they’ve (Saudis) done, with Russia. I’m not going to get into what I’d consider and what I have in mind. But there will be — there will be consequences.” A White House official later clarified that the Biden administration was going to take another look at the US ties with Saudia to evaluate whether these ties were serving the US national security interests or not.
The failure, however, to convince the Saudis has repercussion elsewhere as well, especially in Europe. Many European states are already buying gas from the US to reduce/end their dependence on Russia. But this has not ended their ‘energy crisis’ insofar as the US companies are charging extremely high prices. The German Minister for Economy accused the US of charging “excessive” price of the gas they are importing. This has led many in Europe to believe that the US actually played them.
While Europeans were happy to pay the high price to have enough gas to supply for residential use during the upcoming winter season, they still do not have enough gas to supply to the industry. This industrial downturn is going to have a strong impact on the European economy, with political consequences to follow inevitably. Economic instability is driving political instability in the UK already. If that spreads, Europe could be forced to review terms of its alliance with the US and/or its stance on the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Such a review can also take place as and when Europeans realize that the Biden administration used their support only to sell them expensive gas and keep the US industry running at their expense.
In other words, Biden’s diplomatic failure in Saudia could translate into a much broader failure of his presidency to keep allies with Washington.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”