The US is like an old woman whose wrinkled face no longer appeals to suitors but insists it is still attractive. Suiters have long moved to court other damsels. To provide an even more graphic description, perhaps the following might help. The US is like a woman whose face resembles something of a cross between Henry Kissinger and Hillary Clinton! Not a very appealing proposition.
The US is facing rejection worldwide, especially in West Asia where it held sway for decades. Its opportunistic conduct has put off most of its long-time allies (read that as puppets) who no longer feel the need for Washington’s protection. They seem to have realized that the US is extremely selfish and is incapable of fulfilling its pledges much less offering protection when needed.
Thus, countries in West Asia no longer accept US diktats. This was most starkly demonstrated when US President Joe Biden visited Saudi Arabia a year ago (July 16, 2022). Prior to landing in Jeddah where Biden was given a very low-key reception, American officials had issued guardedly optimistic statements. They talked about a boost in oil output but quickly qualified it by saying it would not occur immediately.
Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan had told reporters en-route to Jeddah from Israel on July 15, 2022 that the president will discuss energy security with leaders of oil producing countries and hopes to see more action by OPEC+ to boost output. Sullivan added a cautionary note. “We believe any further action taken to ensure that there is sufficient energy to protect the health of the global economy, it will be done in the context of OPEC+.” He went on: “We are hopeful that we will see additional actions by OPEC+ in coming weeks.”
Far from boosting production, the Saudis announced a 2% reduction in oil output a few months later. When Biden threatened the Saudis of "consequences" if Opec+ were to cut oil production, Riyadh ignored such warnings.
There has been more bad news for the US, and Biden in particular, since then. At their meeting in Vienna last month (June 4, 2023), OPEC+ announced another cut in oil production. This came about amid wild stories peddled by the western media that serious disagreements had emerged
between Saudi Arabia and Russia over oil output (Russia is part of OPEC+).
Such wild speculation was immediately put to rest by Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak as soon as the seven-hour-OPEC+ ministerial meeting ended in Vienna. He made clear that Russia and Saudi Arabia were in lockstep on the OPEC+ deals.
Novak told Russian TV on June 4 that OPEC+ members had taken “an important decision to extend the voluntary cuts announced by the countries from 1 May, 2023 in order to balance the market. This is 1.66 million barrels a day on top of what was announced last October … So, in aggregate terms, it is 3.66 million barrels undertaken by the OPEC+ countries to ensure stable market operation.”
Other equally significant developments have occurred following the oil output reduction. On June 8, 2023, when US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Saudi Arabia, to push for Saudi-Israeli normalization that he had pledged to an AIPAC meeting a few days earlier, Riyadh stared down the proposal.
During his June 8 press conference in Riyadh with Blinken, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan was quite explicit. “We believe that normalisation is in the interest of the region, that it would bring significant benefits to all, following a meeting of the global coalition fighting the Islamic State group. But without finding a pathway to peace for the Palestinian people, without addressing that challenge, any normalisation will have limited benefits.”
Bin Farhan went further. He told Blinken that the kingdom had other options. This was a clear reference to the kingdom’s fast-growing relations with China. The Saudi foreign minister, however, rejected the notion that Saudi relations with the US and China amounted to a “zero-sum game.” He insisted that “we are all capable of having multiple partnerships and multiple engagements, and the US does the same in many instances.”
In other words, the US was not the only game in town. The Saudis had already driven home this point with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) welcoming Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to the kingdom a day earlier. And MbS reinforced this further by phoning Russian President Vladimir Putin hours after meeting America’s top diplomat.
The developments that followed merely added to the Americans’ grief. On June 11 and 12, Saudi Arabia hosted the China-Arab business conference in Riyadh. It brought together more than 3,500 government and business officials from China and Arab countries.
On the first day of the conference, the Saudis “signed $10 billion in investment agreements” with China. The vast majority of these are for projects in Saudi Arabia or by Saudi firms and government entities, according to the Saudi investment ministry. This figure includes a $5.6 billion memorandum of understanding with Human Horizons, a Chinese maker of electric and self-driving cars.
“China is the Arab world’s largest trade partner where the total volume of trade exchange between both sides reached $430 billion in 2022,” the Saudi foreign minister said at the opening ceremony of the conference. He pointed out that this was an increase of 31 percent over 2021.
Bin Farhan also noted that the theme of the conference “collaborating for prosperity” highlighted the great significance, potential, and common sense that underlies the bilateral investment and trade relations between China and the Arab world. This was another dig at the Americans who have treated Saudi Arabia as little more than a cash-cow.
Beijing dropped its first bomb-shell when it brokered a rapprochement agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia on March 10. The Americans were left completely in the dark and only learned about this landmark agreement after news broke out in the media.
Ali Bakir, a non-resident Senior Fellow with the Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative at the Atlantic Council’s Middle East program, said “Saudi Arabia is taking bold positions relative to the United States.” Other Atlanticists were equally alarmed, especially with China entering an arena that for decades was the exclusive preserve of the US.
Observers are waiting for the Saudis to use "the nuclear option", that is, start trading oil in a currency other than the dollar. The Chinese are encouraging this and have set up the Petro-yuan at the Shanghai Stock Exchange. The day the Saudis and other oil producing countries exercise that option, it will spell the end of US hegemony.