Backtracking on its previous policy, the United States would have to establish an amicable relationship with Saudi Arabia and by extension the Middle East, in the wake of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.
Nonetheless, the US was to never fully exit the Middle East. The idea, perhaps, was to push the Gulf states to take more onus of their own security. And if the perceived waning of American hard power in the region was not enough, the Russia–Ukraine crisis has accelerated the development and protection of regional political constructs that are critical to how the Middle East sees its future geopolitical opportunities and challenges. Interestingly, a few years after a flurry of ‘end of oil’ think pieces and front pages brought an existential crisis upon the hydrocarbons sector, it is back to basics, as mitigating the overheating of global oil prices is expected to be one of the top agendas for Biden during his trip, rekindling an old bilateral relationship between Riyadh and Texas.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi’s small yet powerful neighbour, had recently refused to meet top US officials to protest the US’s ambivalence on Houthi terror attacks on Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia.
If the Biden trip materialises, as the President attempts to ward off pressures from his own party on meeting with MbS, a new geopolitical reality in the Middle East awaits him. From the Abraham Accords signed in 2020 and a fragile but expanding truce in Yemen to the recent security deal in the Strait of Tiran between Israel and the Saudis, a sense to de-conflict the region as much as possible is taking shape, and within this, the US continues to play a key role to see these outcomes through. However, at the end of the day, what the Saudis and Emiratis are looking for are outcomes that are far more substantial, such as unfettered access to high-end weapons, and perhaps even guarantees of direct American military involvement if an existential threat may come into play. And to achieve these, the Middle East powers have shown no remorse in hedging their bets against others such as China, with Beijing making steady progress both strategically and economically by placing itself as a viable long-term partner to the region. The recent defence deal between Abu Dhabi and Beijing for over a dozen L-15 trainer jets underscores a building consensus in the Gulf to diversify its options. Other than the arguably unexpected global tectonic shifts being pushed through by Russia’s war on Ukraine, from a more regional perspective, Iran and the second avatar of the nuclear deal (JCPOA) remain contested issues. The Saudis, at some stage, realised that dealing with Tehran directly may just be a better option, considering that Washington was steadfast in seeing the JCPOA 2.0 through to the finish line. However, as things stand, the deal once again looks marooned in shallow waters with little progress being made over the past few months as it continues to metamorphise from being an arms control agreement to something much wider and expansive.
The Russia–Ukraine war has sent global commodity prices and inflation into a tizzy, significantly worrying small- and medium-size economies about critical overheating.
Finally, Biden’s visit to Riyadh, even if dictated by certain situations that are being played out, may end up as a positive in the long term from a strategic and foreign policy point of view. What could worry Biden much more, is how this trip could be translated by his own supporters back home, as the US mid-term elections loom large, and the President’s both foreign and domestic policies record up until now remains underwhelming at best.
The Saudis, at some stage, realised that dealing with Tehran directly may just be a better option, considering that Washington was steadfast in seeing the JCPOA 2.0 through to the finish line.
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Kabir Taneja is a Fellow with Strategic Studies programme. His research focuses on Indias relations with West Asia specifically looking at the domestic political dynamics ...Read More +