The Biden Admin has been trying to get back on Saudi Arabia’s good side for months. Will this latest move finally bring down oil prices?
U.S. President Joe Biden made his first blunder when he asked the Saudis to increase OPEC oil production back in July. It was a mistake Biden has been paying for ever since.
It was understandable at the time: U.S. gas prices during the summer of 2022 were red-hot and Biden’s Democratic Party was facing a very tough midterm.
But, as French President Emmanuel Macron warned Biden in June — a moment caught on a hot mic— the Saudis were already at max capacity and wouldn’t be able to increase output for at least another six months.
Had Biden not asked the Saudis to increase production, their subsequent cut in production wouldn’t have been a big deal. As things were, it made Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia, not to mention his infamous fist bump with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, look like a colossal failure.
To save face, the Biden Administration subsequently announced it would be “reevaluating” the special relationship between the two nations.
But with U.S. strategic oil reserves depleted, Russia’s war in Ukraine dragging on, and diesel prices in the U.S. showing no signs of dropping, the Biden Administration soon changed tack completely.
President Biden has been trying to mend relations ever since.
First, the Biden Administration scrapped the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, more commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal. Almost everyone who isn’t a high-ranking member of the Iranian government knows how terrible the original JCOPA was for the Middle East.
With the “pallets of cash” it received from the largesse of the Obama Administration, the tyrannical rulers of Iran did exactly what U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel warned they would do.
Iran sponsored so much terror in the region against nations like Saudi Arabia after the JCPOA was inked in 2015, it pushed Middle Eastern nations closer to Israel.
In addition to scraping the Iran nuclear deal, the Biden Administration has now come down hard on the side of Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman in a legal case concerning the 2017 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“US determines Saudi Crown Prince is immune in case brought by Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancée,” reported CNN on November 18. “The Biden Administration has determined that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, should be granted immunity in a case brought against him by the fiancée of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whom the administration has said was murdered at the prince’s direction.”
“Mohammed bin Salman, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is the sitting head of government and, accordingly, is immune from this suit,” read the Justice Department’s filing in the case.
“Biden himself betrayed his word, betrayed Jamal,” Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, said in a statement to CNN. “History will not forget this wrong decision.”
“Jamal died again today,” she tweeted later.
President Biden has since faced plenty of backlash over the move, which drew sharp criticism, even from quarters normally friendly to the Biden Administration, including the press.
“It’s beyond ironic that President Biden has single-handedly assured MBS can escape accountability when it was President Biden who promised the American people he would do everything to hold him accountable,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of DAWN. “Not even the Trump administration did this.”
Biden’s fist bump was the first major signal of changing attitudes about the Saudi Prince; no one should be surprised by this latest development.
Any back-channel negotiations with the Saudi Royal family would have almost certainly included some sort of legal intervention by the Biden Justice Department on behalf of the Crown Prince as a condition of increased oil production.
The fist bump was an excellent photo op for MBS, whose reputation suffered greatly in the Khashoggi killing. This Justice Department filing will help him even more.
The assassination of James Khashoggi, whoever was ultimately responsible, came at a very inopportune time for the Saudi Prince.
Just as he was unveiling an ambitious project to grow his regional powerhouse into a reigning superpower, details of the gristly murder of a dissident Saudi journalist — and in a foreign embassy, no less, with the entire episode somehow recorded and released — sent foreign investors running from the Prince’s projects.
International companies aren’t eager to open offices in a nation where their executives might end up dismembered.
In this legal filing, the Saudi Prince has something in writing from President Biden, which is good for the Prince. Two years ago on the campaign trail, and even more recently, Joe Biden was promising to turn MBS into a pariah. Two months ago he was fist-bumping the Saudi Crown Prince. Last week, it was diplomatic immunity in a legal case.
Two months from now, Biden could be singing a different tune entirely.
“Saudis may boost oil output as Biden backs MBS immunity from Khashoggi suits,” wrote the New York Post on November 21, citing a report first published by the Wall Street Journal.
Whether or not OPEC actually ups oil production enough to bring down the price of gas in the U.S. — diesel fuel in particular — the Saudis have already played the situation perfectly.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)