US President Joe Biden is caught in the most humiliating situation of his career. Inflation in the United States is hitting historic levels. Crude oil has breached $120 per barrel and is expected to hike up to $150 per barrel. The average gasoline rate in the United States transgressed 2008 recession levels to hit $4.17 for a gallon. The mid-term election is knocking at the door. The rising oil prices predate the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine, so putting the blame on Russia is not serving as an airtight defence. And the only ones who can stop this carnage and rescue Biden are the Saudi and UAE leaders. But here comes the interesting part: they don’t want to talk to him. In fact, over the past few months, they have sat back to enjoy the sight of this inflationary bloodbath.
According to a report released by the Wall Street Journal, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and the UAE Prince Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan do not want to speak to Biden and both of them have dismissed overtures made by his administration for a phone call.
The Biden administration was in desperate need of Saudi Arabia and UAE to let loose their oil taps and “stabilise” the markets, in other words, help the United States offset the bloodletting in its domestic markets. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the US was hopeful that the Arabs would strip Russia of the current energy supply leverage that it holds over the US’s allies in the West. Venezuela’s autocratic regime is too close to Russia, and pleading with Moscow for oil as if the last few years of heightened sanctions on Caracas did not happen is not a good look. The possibility of a new nuclear deal involving Iran is still hanging and that too will attract a lot of pain if Israel and Arab allies of the US are asked. Only Saudi Arabia and the UAE have the power to seize the uncontrolled spike of oil and let the White House walk out of this crisis with dignity. Unfortunately this time, the Princes of both the Gulf nations had an axe to grind with the American President who a few days back opted for a series of sharp turns to discard the old Middle East allies of the US. Keeping Biden waiting has been their revenge.
Until UAE’s latest icebreaker – an Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) proposal to increase oil production reportedly without discussing with allies, the two OPEC leaders dismissed USA’s requests for months and suggested that the USA drill its own oil to help itself. By refusing to pump more oil and stonewalling the US, the Princes of Saudi Arabia and UAE were united in teaching Biden a lesson – one that could not have faced more terrible time given that the 2022 mid-term elections are around the corner, a very crucial precursor to 2024. The fact remains that for Russia, which serves about 10% of the world’s oil and is an OPEC+ member, sanctions will never do the sort of instant economic harm that free-flowing, dirt-cheap oil in the markets would. And only Saudi Arabia has exhibited that capability when in the year 2020 it drained billions of dollars by pumping oil beyond its storage capacity – all prove its production-related efficiency in a standoff with Russia. Even though it brought some momentary self-harm, it also harmed Russia and soon enough Moscow caved into the spiralling madness that Riyadh put OPEC+ members through. What followed was an accord with Russia on the production of oil.
That was then when Saudi Arabia had a very good reason to bleed Russia, even though it meant bleeding itself. But why would the Gulf nation do that to bail out the Biden administration? Why would it do anything to hurt Russia’s interests even in the slightest? The US is expecting too much – “drop the oil price to save our economy and then drop it a little more to help defeat Russia.”
Had it been any other time, it could have been considered. After all, the United States is an ally for Saudi Arabia and the UAE and under the Trump administration, the ties were tight. Surely Biden would have built further on those gains. In fact, one of Biden’s many poll promises was to reassess ties with Saudi Arabia. Once the new administration came to power, the Middle East saw the US dump its two best friends in the Arab world.
Biden dragged Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman on journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder and hoped that Salman would be removed from his position. But he wasn’t. The Biden administration withdrew its support for Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the Yemen war, and to add salt to injury, it started vehemently battling for a new nuclear deal with Iran – which among several other things would raise Arab and Israeli concerns on regional security and bring back Iranian oil in a sanctions-free space. Other than this, in a snub to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, Biden quickly granted Qatar the status of major non-NATO ally making it the third Middle Eastern nation after Bahrain and Kuwait to be designated as such. Furthermore, the new administration suspended the F35 jet sale that the UAE signed with Trump right after the Abraham Accord and before the 2020 US election. Disregarding the Trump era agreement, the Biden administration sought a revision of the terms of the deal which was not taken kindly by the UAE. Months later, the UAE dumped the 50 F35s and 80 Rafales from France and pulled out of talks with the US altogether. Interestingly, France seemingly had its own revenge in mind after the AUKUS plan of the US President stole its submarine deal with Australia.
Perhaps it was not anticipated by the Biden administration that it would need them so badly or perhaps they were expected to crawl at the first opportunity they got, but either way, the moment they had the chance, Saudi Arabia and the UAE made sure they had the last laugh as the world watched.