Early in the summer, I warned that the United States was considering a serious breach of its relations with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Four months later, the Biden administration is embroiled in a very chaotic dispute with these two powerful erstwhile allies of America. If this trend is not reversed, it could worsen the situation of an already destabilized region and world.
Run by Saudi Arabia decision OPEC-Plus to cut oil production by 2 million barrels a day and a meeting between UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed and Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg shortly after are the latest signs of a long-term divergence between the US and Saudi Arabia / UAE strategic interests. Despite their protests to the contrary, these Arab leaders concluded that a close partnership with America as ruled by the Democratic Party was not in their interest.
Strains between Biden and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman took a tabloid flavor – from the American president calling Saudi Arabia a “pariah” to the carefree heir to the throne of Saudi Arabia stating“I don’t care,” when asked if Biden was misunderstanding him. More fundamentally, however, whether deliberate or not, the appeals of the MBS administration to keep the oil line have given a coup de grace to what remains of a small amount of goodwill to the future Saudi monarch in Washington.
It comes on top financially suspect Billions of Saudi public money donations to investment funds run by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and former Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund has directed millions more to Trump-owned golf clubs to host an escape Golf trip LIV. Rejecting US officials’ requests to postpone the OPEC + meeting until the US midterm elections, Saudi officials have opened up to fees to evoke an “October surprise” on the Democrats.
The United Arab Emirates are also not doing any blows. While to insist that his visit was aimed at promoting a peaceful solution to the conflict in Ukraine, the meeting of the UAE president with Putin in St. Petersburg less than a week after the OPEC gift to Russia undermines international efforts to isolate the war criminal. Moreover, it underlines the strong partnership between Abu Dhabi and Moscow. UAE gets more investment from Russia than any other Arab country and is the largest Arab investor in Russia. These ventures include a partnership with Gazprom to develop Russian oil fields in Siberia, and joint efforts to develop fifth-generation fighters. The UAE’s abstention in the UN Security Council vote condemning the Russian invasion triggered alarm bells in Washington, which further negotiations will do little to silence.
Emirates continue to do their utmost to present themselves as a valued US partner while taking steps to shape political events in their favor. Recent French report reveals stunning details of the UAE’s ongoing campaign to co-opt European media and politicians. Former Trump Consigliere’s trial Tomasz Barack he lifted the veil on the Arab cash-trading attempts for political favors in the United States. 2018 investigation by New York Times exposed Emirati support for Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are counting themselves in their efforts to use Russia and China to try to shape US behavior. It is likely to backfire: a break with the United States that would leave it isolated and vulnerable. The fall of Putin’s Russia is inevitable. Lack of investment and the loss of markets will paralyze him energy industry and lose the long-term profitability of OPEC + design. Neither Russia nor China have either the military means or the geopolitical will to protect the Gulf states from the Iranian threat. Their advances to Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping to build a more favorable multipolar order could deprive them of access to Western capital and technology.
Recent attempts at reconciliation have failed, and given current trends, future efforts may also prove fruitless. Biden spent valuable political and personal capital when he agreed meet the Saudi Crown Prince last July in Jeddah, but considered it necessary to ensure the stability of the oil supply. He will not make the same mistake twice.
Washington’s strategic interests and UAE politics appear to be on a collision course. Dubai has become harbor for sanctioned Russian oligarchs. According administration officials. And the UAE’s continued support for Haqqani Network in Afghanistan, it hits the very heart of US anti-terror*st policy. Moreover, the recent Emirati statement Support for the cut in OPEC production leaves no doubt that it is in line with the Saudis. When President Mohamed bin Zayed Visit Washington, later this year, diplomatic slogans will not be enough to mask the fundamental deficit of confidence between the two nations.
The pace and extent of America’s break with these two regional powers remains uncertain, but the trajectory is clear. In the absence of a radical shift in their policy of accepting America’s opponents, the areas in which we cooperate will become more and more limited, and the points of friction will continue to multiply – no matter which party controls the White House or Congress. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi must work through their differences with Washington before the current disagreements in the Middle East lead to more turmoil.
Dr. Kamran Bokhari is director of analytical development at the New Lines Institute for Strategy & Policy in Washington. Bokhari is also a National Security and Foreign Policy Specialist at the Institute of Professional Development at the University of Ottawa. He was the coordinator of Central Asian Studies at the Institute of Foreign Service of the US Department of State. Follow him on Twitter at @KamranBokhari.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author.
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