Saudi Arabia has led the OPEC+ countries to agree to a cut in their collective oil production of two million barrels a day.
From the very first, Biden as President made it known that he would treat Saudi Arabia as a “pariah” state because of the role of the Saudi Crown Prince, Muhammad bin Salman (MbS), in the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Eventually Biden came round to reality, and the need to stop snubbing the Crown Prince, who, after all, runs a country that is the most important oil producer in the world, and that, furthermore, has a Sovereign Wealth Fund that has invested hundreds of billions of dollars in American stocks, and $120 billion in Treasury Bonds that, were MbS to sell them all, could wreak havoc with the American economy. Biden met with the Crown Prince and his father King Salman at the Al-Salam palace in Jeddah, where a meeting of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) was being held. Biden did not shake hands with the Crown Prince – as he had promised he would never do — but awkwardly fist-bumped him instead. He claims he brought up the death of Jamal Khashoggi with the Crown Prince; if that story is true, it was an unnecessary and ill-considered move, that would do no good but only annoy someone whose goodwill our country needs.
A report on the OPEC+ decision, and the anger this has elicited from President Biden, who has only himself to blame for mishandling the Crown Prince, can be found here: “OPEC+ Oil Output Cut Shows Widening Rift Between Biden and Saudi Royals,” Algemeiner, October 8, 2022:
The OPEC+ organization’s decision this week to cut oil production despite stiff US opposition has further strained already tense relations between President Joe Biden’s White House and Saudi Arabia’s royal family, once one of Washington’s staunchest Middle East allies, according to interviews with about a dozen government officials and experts in Washington and the Gulf.
The White House pushed hard to prevent the OPEC output cut, these sources said. Biden hopes to keep US gasoline prices from spiking again ahead of midterm elections in which his Democratic party is struggling to maintain control of the US Congress. Washington also wants to limit Russia’s energy revenue during the Ukraine war.
The US administration lobbied OPEC+ for weeks. In recent days, senior US officials from energy, foreign policy and economic teams urged their foreign counterparts to vote against an output cut, according to two sources familiar with the discussions.…
The Saudis cut oil production because they wanted to keep prices high; it was simply a pocketbook issue. Still, they might have agreed to American entreaties not to cut production had Biden not previously alienated the Crown Prince, and had Saudi Arabia not come to the conclusion that the Biden Administration was insufficiently supportive of the Kingdom.
What, after all, was the main thing that successive American governments could offer Saudi Arabia? It has always been the guarantor of security for the Kingdom. The U.S. has sold billions of dollars in weapons to the Saudis; it is its largest supplier of advanced weapons. The U.S. trains Saudi pilots at Pensacola Air Station and elsewhere. It trains other Saudi military personnel in the use of the weapons that it sells to Riyadh. Almost 6,000 Saudis each year receive temporary visas for such weapons training. In Saudi Arabia, 3,000 American military personnel, including pilots, are stationed in the country to help protect it. But neither these weapons, nor the training we provide, nor the American military men in Saudi Arabia, have been enough to convince the Saudis that, in a pinch, the U.S. can be relied on to protect them.
Washington’s handling of the Iran nuclear deal and withdrawal of support for a Saudi-led coalition’s offensive military operations in Yemen have upset Saudi officials, as have actions against Russia after the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
This is the crux of the matter: the Saudis no longer trust that the Americans will protect them.
There are several reasons for this lack of confidence. First, the Americans have been distinctly unenthusiastic about the Saudi role in the civil war in Yemen, where it battles the Iran-backed Houthis, in order to prevent Iran from establishing a base along the Kingdom’s southern border. Riyadh expected much more support from the U.S. in this war, but instead discovered that Washington wanted “peace at any price,” and refused to back the Saudis when they wanted to conduct a new offensive against the Houthis. Instead, the Bidenites have pressured the Saudis to conclude a peace treaty with the Houthis, even if this leaves the Houthis still in control of much of the country. The Saudis cannot possibly accept that an Iran-backed group might remain ruling part of Yemen, spread out as it is all along the Kingdom’s southern border. They saw how the Americans skedaddled from Afghanistan, and wonder if, in Biden’s haste to “pivot” from the Middle East to Asia, the Americans might someday abandon them in the face of a nuclear-armed Iran.
Secondly, the Saudis haver been alarmed at the negotiations conducted by the Bidenites with Iran about a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, and Washington’s insensate willingness to make a great many concessions, which led several State Department negotiators to resign their positions in protest at the capitulationist behavior of senior negotiator Rob Malley. It may be that the Iranians will finally overplay their hand, demand too much at the last minute, and cause even the appeasement-minded Bidenites to at long last come to their senses and call a halt to the farcical negotiations. But Riyadh has been stunned at the American willingness to concede so much to Iran, and Riyadh knows that if the deal is concluded, the lifting of sanctions will provide the Islamic Republic with one trillion dollars by 2030, with $275 billion made available to Iran just in the first year of the deal being resurrected. Some of that money will be distributed by Tehran to its network of proxies and allies around the Middle East, including the Houthis in Yemen, the Kata’ib Hezbollah in Iraq, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Saudis, naturally, are most worried about any strengthening of the Houthi armory; Iranian money will certainly allow the Houthis to greatly expand, and improve, their arsenal, perhaps even with precision-guided missiles.
Third, the Saudis are made very nervous by the Iranian nuclear program, which they expected the Americans would have halted, if necessary through military action. Instead, it has been left up to Israel’s Mossad to slow down Iran’s nuclear project, but even the Mossad admits it may not be able to halt the project from coming to a successful conclusion. The American military has the bunker bombs big enough to hit the underground nuclear sites at Natanz and inside a mountain in Fordow, but has so far refused to give them to Israel for likely use. And though Biden has solemnly sworn that Iran will not get a nuclear device “on my watch” neither the Saudis, nor the Israelis, are inclined to believe him. The Saudis are looking elsewhere for a reliable protector. Some American policy makers worry about a Saudi rapprochement with Russia. I think it more likely that the Saudis will recognize as their only reliable ally, and the only one that has a chance of derailing the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, is a country the Saudis formerly excoriated – Israel.
The Saudi orchestrating of a two-million-barrel production cut means there will be an unavoidable steep rise in the price of oil, and hence, too, a steep rise in the price of gasoline at the pump for American consumers. That rise in gasoline prices should arrive just in time to harm the Democrats’ chances in the mid-term elections. No wonder Biden is seething over the Saudis, but there is not much he can do about their decision. The Democrats have been putting huge swathes of federal land off-limits to drilling for decades, and now there is almost no new production to come on line.
The Saudis might have prevented that cut in production if, over the course of Biden’s presidency, he had not in so many ways alienated the Crown Prince. All these events collectively have left Riyadh with deep fears of being abandoned by the Americans. Some Americans worry that the Saudis will forge an alliance with Russia. I doubt that it will come to that. Russia has for some time been an ally of Iran. For years it has been fighting on the same side as Iran in Syria, both countries helping to prop up the military of Bashar Assad. Iran and Russia are also allies in the Ukraine war, where Iran is one of a handful of countries to back Russia to the hilt, and Iranian drones are being used to great effect by the Russians. Iran and Russia are a natural fit as allies; Saudi Arabia and Russia – competitors on the world oil market — are not.
Biden’s trip in July to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to attend a summit of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council), was aimed at patching up relations with the Saudis, but Biden could not control himself; he brought up the Khashoggi affair – or so he says – directly with Bin Salman, who again denied with a poker face any responsibility. for the journalist’s death. Biden’s willingness to bring that matter up may have won points among human-rights groups at home, but hardly helped win over the Crown Prince, whose goodwill America needs. It made little sense, too, to refuse to support a Saudi offensive against the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen. Do we want to have an ally and proxy of the world’s worst terror state, Iran, retain its control of much of Yemen, where it can continue to threaten Saudi oil installations and shipping in the Red Sea? Do we want to abandon the Saudis to a nuclear-armed Iran, or will we take on the task of ending, through military force, Tehran’s nuclear program? And if the Bidenites are reluctant to do so, one hopes that at least the U.S. will be willing to supply Israel with whatever it needs to deal with Iran’s growing nuclear threat, including supplying the Jewish state with the largest bunker-buster in our arsenal, that the IAF does not now possess, and will need if it is to destroy the nuclear facilities built deep inside the mountain at Fordow.