Washington Needs to Mend Ties with Riyadh

In his last and successful presidential campaign candidate Biden promised to treat Saudi Arabia like a “pariah”. It is unclear whether there was a geopolitical calculus of unrealistically realigning with Iran or if there was simply no geopolitical calculus at all behind the “pariah” statement. The latter seems likely since Saudi Arabia has certainly not been treated like a “pariah” by the Biden administration. Yet, President Biden long and quite unwisely observed a personal boycott against Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. The entire world is now paying the price for this personal feud in exorbitant oil prices.

The Biden administration was long convinced that the Vienna talks were a done deal but no longer so as US officials state that a deal is neither certain nor imminent. Candidate Biden for some reason appeared to assume that Riyadh was dispensable when it is clear that Saudi Arabia is absolutely pivotal in the Middle East. If Iran gains control over Saudi Arabia then Iran will have attained regional hegemony in the Middle East and become a superpower. If on the other hand Saudi Arabia normalizes relations with Israel, then Israel will have attained regional hegemony and will thus have strongly reinforced US global hegemony. Most governments in Islamdom strongly prefer Israeli hegemony over Iranian hegemony. 

The US neglecting KSA and leaving Riyadh to realign with Beijing is certainly not a wise policy to put things mildly, something which undermines US interests and strengthens the distinctly inimical interests of China, Russia and Iran. The US needs to look carefully at the overall balance of power between itself and China around the world as this will inevitably change in Beijing’s favor unless Washington moves strategically and determinedly to build regional NATO-style security architectures around the world led by its democratic allies. While it is true that KSA is surely not a democracy, non-democratic US allies cannot be abandoned to realign with Beijing, Moscow and Tehran, and are vital elements in new regional security architectures. KSA is absolutely strategic for Israeli regional hegemony and thus also important for US global hegemony as Israel defends US interests in the Middle East and Islamdom. 

If the US were to abandon Saudi Arabia; Riyadh would realign with Beijing, KSA would become a Chinese outpost in the Middle East and the American defense industry would lose its largest customer. This would be disastrous for American interests in the Middle East and would significantly contribute to the undermining of US hegemony worldwide. 

Candidate Biden made a mistake in assuming that KSA was dispensable as it turns out that KSA is quite indispensable for American interests in the Middle East. Biden was courageous in breaking his boycott of MBS although the offended MBS understandably refused to take his call. Insulting the future king of Saudi Arabia who is able to determine the worldwide price of oil was never a wise policy. Now apparently MBS expects Biden to walk to Canossa and the least Biden can do is to apologize to MBS for insulting and bullying him. We can certainly expect MBS to play hard to get in the coming months. Biden has not only offended MBS but the very honor of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, put a question mark over seven decades of American-Saudi alliance and so the continued service of Rob Malley as US Iran envoy casts a long shadow over US-Saudi relations considering his stated ambition to realign Washington with Tehran. Riyadh is however unlikely to mend ties with Washington before the Vienna process has been fully discredited and Plan B put into motion. Washington will need to pay the full price for reconciliation with Riyadh which is not exorbitant at all but simply strategic US weapons deliveries and security guarantees in return for Saudi normalization with Israel. Biden will need to climb down the tree in acknowledging that he has severely mismanaged US relations with Saudi Arabia.

There was long the perception in Washington that the US relationship with Saudi Arabia was all about Saudi exports of oil to the United States and now when the United States is marginally reliant on oil imports did some draw the conclusion that Washington no longer needed Riyadh. This perception was always false since Saudi Arabia has for many decades been able to control the global price of oil and KSA has since 1979 been a front state against Khomeinist Iran. 

If Saudi Arabia realigns with China then we will see a Middle East controlled by Russia, Iran and China, surely this is not Biden’s cup of tea. It is either this or US-Israeli hegemony. The answer should be obvious, namely to prioritize American interests.

Published by Daniella Bartfeld

Daniella Bartfeld is the founding director of the Aliyah Organization.

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