Not a single Arab Gulf leader can confidently describe President Joe Biden or his administration as a strong and long-standing ally whose support they can rely on. In a matter of months, Biden has managed to ruin a 70-year-old alliance between Washington and the oil-rich Gulf countries. He has replaced trust with doubt, alliance with isolation, protection with abandonment and strong alignment with withdrawal and a vacuum.
A Gulf source fully versed in American-Gulf relations told me, “We were wrong to think we represented anything more than a barrel of oil. We assumed our value was more than just being buyers of American weapons, technology and food items.”
The same source added, “We are like a rich man who has suddenly discovered that the woman he thought was his partner for life had been treating him like a bank account or a sugar daddy. Sugar daddy is English for an elderly man who provides a young and beautiful woman with financial support in exchange for her companionship. In this sugar daddy sense, we priced our oil and other strategic goods in U.S. dollars, made sure our oil production levels were aligned with consumer interests, prioritized U.S. weapons and even tolerated Israel’s undignified treatment of the Palestinian people and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
Then, one day, we woke up to find that the pretty woman was gone from the Middle East and had moved to the South China Sea and the Pacific. She took her weapons, alliance and promises and started dating another man from another region, which was now her new priority.
The Biden administration’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from Kabul was disorderly and disgraceful. The administration withdrew U.S. Patriot missiles from the Gulf region, removed the Houthis from its list of terrorist organizations and then made disparaging remarks about Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt over the issue of human rights. In light of all the above, it became impossible to maintain close ties with Washington, trust was lost and the relationship became rooted in mistrust.
Fear over Saudi Deposits
A Saudi financial expert close to decision-making circles said, “As I watched the West, led by Washington, impose arbitrary sanctions on Russian sovereign and private assets, I grew increasingly worried about the fate of Saudi-owned assets and bonds in the United States that are worth over $2.5 trillion.”
“It’s now entirely possible that we could wake up one day to find that the assets owned by institutions or individuals from countries such as China or the Arab Gulf states have been frozen under some political pretext or sanctions,” he added.
In brief, neither Biden nor the ruling Democratic Party can be trusted, and have no confidence in any of the promises or historic pledges that were made beginning with the meeting between King Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman Al Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia, and President Franklin Roosevelt aboard a cruiser in the Great Bitter Lake.*
We have no confidence that Washington won’t betray its Arab allies if it is forced to choose between its interests in Tehran, Ankara or Tel Aviv and its interests in the Arab Gulf countries. Washington would surely sell out its Arab allies and side with the others.
Moreover, we cannot trust any deal to purchase advanced weapons from the United States. A case in point is the Biden administration’s reluctance to follow through on a Trump administration commitment to sell F-35 fighter jets to the UAE. During a meeting with U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed responded strongly by telling Sullivan that Abu Dhabi has brushed off the F-35 deal and opted instead to buy the French Rafale fighter jets.
The worst thing that can happen to a relationship between a major power and a smaller power is when the smaller country loses its trust and respect for the larger power.
America and Oil
Just look at how the Biden administration reacted during the past few days to an OPEC+ decision to ramp up its daily oil production and make up for Russia’s shortfall, which has caused gas prices to soar at American gas stations.
The price of gas is a major issue in the American economy, as it has a direct effect on the daily expenses of American citizens. Moreover, the country is about to hold midterm elections for the Senate and House of Representatives in advance of the next presidential election.
Let’s review the chain of events:
• The visit that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made to Saudi Arabia last Wednesday was not something the Biden administration wanted to see.
• On Thursday, the White House promptly issued statements asserting that Biden’s remarks about making Saudi Arabia a pariah state and his position regarding Saudi Arabia’s human rights policy still stand.
• During a meeting that lasted just 11 minutes, OPEC+ decided to accelerate oil production.
• Consequently, the U.S. secretary of state praised Saudi Arabia’s role in the energy sector and reiterated the importance of the Saudis in the region.
• The U.S. Department of State also lauded Riyadh’s role in extending the truce in Yemen for two months.
• An announcement then followed about a possible Biden visit to Saudi Arabia and the region during the last week of June, followed by a statement praising King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The United States sharply and completely reversed its position within 72 hours. It went from threatening to punish Saudi Arabia, declare it a pariah state and subject it to political boycott to saluting Saudi Arabia as a powerful partner, historical ally and a pivotal country worth visiting, one whose king and crown prince were exemplary.
This shift in position has to do with Riyadh’s pledge to pump more oil. The Biden administration is vindictive by nature and doesn’t want Lavrov to visit anywhere. The U.S. wants to boost global oil and gas production so as to undermine the Russian economy and make up for the loss of Russian oil caused by the international sanctions targeting Vladimir Putin’s regime.
Don’t believe that Washington’s positions reflect even a shred of principle. Within 72 hours, Washington went from portraying Saudi Arabia as the devil, a pariah state and a politically dead regime to describing it in angelic terms as a pivotal state that was showing wise and courageous leadership.
We have learned a momentous lesson, which can be summed up by the following three points:
• The alliance launched by King Abdulaziz and President Roosevelt is now over;
• American promises are not to be believed; and
• America’s strategic interests have pivoted to the South China Sea and the Pacific region. American interests will never again lie in the Middle East.
Accordingly, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, UAE President bin Zayed, Saudi Crown Prince bin Salman and Jordan’s King Abdullah II have all come to view Washington as an unavoidable fact of life and a necessary evil, but also as an unreliable former ally.
With that old romance coming to an end, the sugar daddy relationship can no longer continue.
The Biden administration has difficulty grasping the reality that El-Sisi, bin Salman, bin Zayed, and King Abdullah II are allies, not underlings. Yet, Washington must get used to a new type of relationship, one premised on the fact that those Arab leaders will prioritize their national interests and protect their positions at the helm of power even if it means going up against Washington’s interests.
*Editor’s note: The Great Bitter Lake is a large saltwater lake in Egypt that is part of the Suez Canal.