For the United States and the government of President Joe Biden, the reduction in oil production decided on Wednesday by the OPEC + countries is not only a cause for economic concern, but also a political and diplomatic defeat. Despite international pressure, in fact, OPEC + (the organization that brings together oil exporting countries and which also includes Russia) had approved a cut of two million barrels a day with the aim of increasing the price of crude oil. In circulation.
Among the countries most opposed to this measure are the United States, which had exerted a lot of pressure on the Saudi regime led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, an ally of the Americans and one of the most important countries within OPEC +. The main US newspapers reported that the Biden government reacted with “anger” to the reduction in crude oil production, and some experts spoke of failure in the diplomatic relations initiated by Biden towards Saudi Arabia: “Biden’s influence on its allies in the Gulf is far less than what the president hoped to have, ”wrote for example New York Times.
In general, we are talking about the failure of “fist-bump diplomacy”, the “diplomacy of greeting with the fist”, referring to Biden’s controversial visit to Saudi Arabia in July.
With that visit, Biden had broken the international isolation of Saudi Arabia and bin Salman promised by the president himself in retaliation for the killing of the journalist of the Washington Post and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, commissioned by the crown prince himself, according to a CIA report and other reconstructions. During the election campaign, Biden had been resolute in indicating a desire not to entertain relations with Saudi Arabia, but then in July he had taken back his word in an attempt to stop the rise in gasoline prices. His visit to the Saudi city of Jeddah had been described by many as embarrassing or “a humiliation”. The president had tried to keep up appearances at least by avoiding the handshake: thus the “greeting with the fist” to Mohammed bin Salman was born.
The American administration, however, had defined the results of that meeting as important, which was not appreciated by a large part of the Democratic electorate. The United States had achieved an increase in oil production of 750,000 barrels per day from Saudi Arabia, but the increase was temporary (for the months of July and August) and production had not maintained those levels in the face of a drop in crude oil prices per barrel considered worrying by the Saudi government.
For the same reason, and with a view to a possible global recession and a drop in demand, the OPEC + countries decided on Wednesday a substantial decrease in crude oil production. For the American administration, in addition to signaling a reduced ability to influence (pressure from Washington had been intense in recent days), the decision could cause two kinds of problems.
The first is economic: the cut in production and the consequent increase in the cost of crude oil per barrel could have an impact on gasoline prices at service stations estimated at between 15 and 30 cents per gallon (3.78 liters). The American electorate is very sensitive to increases in fuel spending and mid-term elections are expected in a month, already complicated for the Democratic party.
The second problem is of international politics and concerns the war in Ukraine: Russia was also present at the OPEC + meeting, with Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak, moreover on the list of Putin’s closest collaborators under American sanction for having contributed to the aggression of Ukraine. The decision to reduce production to raise prices can help the Russian economy and make the economic embargo measures and the oil price ceiling imposed by the European Union with the eighth set of sanctions less effective.
In a more general context, the distancing of Saudi Arabia from its historical American ally has also been interpreted by some observers as an approach to Russia, within a policy of seeking new international relations that could also involve China.
On the Saudi side, the decision tends to be defined as purely economic and not political, aimed only at preserving the stability of the country’s accounts, which are completely dependent on fluctuations in the price of oil. The only official comment was that of Abdulaziz bin Salman, Minister of Oil: “We prefer to be provident rather than sorry”.
In a statement signed by Jack Sullivan, national security adviser, and Brian Deese, president of the National Economic Council, the US government said that the president “is disappointed with the short-sighted decision of OPEC +” and that “he will consult Congress for define new means and authorities to reduce OPEC + control over the price of energy ”. More direct was the president’s spokesperson, Karin Jean-Pierre: “It is clear that OPEC + has aligned itself with Russia after this announcement.”
More generally, as the New York Times, Saudi Arabia’s manifest independence seems to show that the days are over when American presidents could ask for favors from Gulf allies, expecting them to be granted solely by virtue of maintaining good relations. Saudi Arabia and oil producers in general seem to make their choices increasingly dependent on economic reasons.
Some Democratic senators, such as Tom Malinovski and Sean Casten, have called Saudi Arabia’s decision a “hostile act” and have suggested that the administration should rethink its military engagement in the country. There are currently five US military bases in Saudi Arabia, with around 3,000 men employed.