How humiliating. In mid-July, President Biden will travel to Saudi Arabia to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is that nation’s de facto ruler. That’s the same Mr. Biden who, on the campaign trail in 2020, called the oil superpower a “pariah” state and vowed to make sure “America does not check its values at the door to sell arms or buy oil.”
Unless, apparently, polling suggests he really, really needs the oil. Such are the complications that arise when the president of the United States departs from decades-long relationships rooted in realpolitik and follows a childish urge to abandon every policy of his predecessor, even those that were unquestionably successful.
The lead-up to this planned sit-down has been an embarrassment. In March, MBS, as he is known, and his UAE counterpart, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, refused to take a phone call from Mr. Biden.
Imagine, the President of the United States sitting by the phone like a pimply teenager pining for that someone special to ring up. (The White House denied this report in the Wall Street Journal, saying that indeed Mr. Biden had spoken by phone with the “king”; that is called a non-denial denial.)
Why would the UAE and Saudi rulers make Mr. Biden beg? Because the President has gone out of his way since his first week in the Oval Office to insult those two countries and let them know that agreements established under President Trump are null and void.
Early on, Mr. Biden’s apparatchiks told the Saudis that he would not speak to MBS, whom he labeled a “thug” after the Crown Prince was implicated in the grisly murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. He said he would only communicate with the prince’s ailing father.
In February, Mr. Biden withdrew not only U.S. support for the Saudi’s war in Yemen, but also the terror designation awarded the Iran-backed Houthis fighting against Riyadh’s forces and the internationally-recognized government.
Finally, he re-engaged with Iran, attempting to reboot the Iran nuclear deal bitterly opposed by the Arab Gulf states. Then Mr. Biden’s high-mindedness (or mindlessness) got him and our country into trouble.
Oil demand soared as the world recovered from the pandemic lockdowns and prices began to rise. A drop in American production and, eventually, the war in Ukraine, squeezed supplies further, and prices took off.
The day of Mr. Biden’s inauguration in 2021, oil cost $53 a barrel; a year later it was $84. Mr. Putin invaded Ukraine at the end of February this year, helping to drive prices to their current level of $119.
In the meantime, the price of gasoline for American consumers has hit an all-time high above $5 a gallon, pushing consumer confidence and Mr. Biden’s approval ratings to an all-time low.
Suddenly, offending the only two major oil suppliers that have shut-in production and that could actually help reduce energy prices looks like a grievous error. The desperate White House has asked OPEC on several occasions to boost output and been summarily turned down.
So off Mr. Biden will go, hat in hand, to rescue his polling and his presidency by repeating the request in person. What will the upshot be?
He may well succeed, but not because the Arabs want to help Mr. Biden. Saudi Arabia has numerous reasons to raise output and reduce prices, including not wanting to risk substantial demand destruction or accelerate the transition to renewable energy.
Also, they do not want to encourage higher production from rival producers like America, where the rig count is climbing, or Venezuela.
In addition, the Saudis and UAE would like to see America back away from the nuclear agreement with Iran. That deal has already stalled; it would not be shocking to see the Biden administration abandon the negotiations altogether.
Finally, MBS, who had achieved some acclaim for modernizing his country, might seek to regain his footing on the world stage. Bringing down oil prices would help.
Published on The New York Sun