Energy policy is questioned
Although the average American voter is not traditionally influenced by American foreign policy, record gasoline prices have raised questions about why this is so, and whether they could continue in the long term. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is naturally one of the main reasons, but Republicans accuse Biden of driving a “clean energy” policy, put forward by mostly progressive Democrats, to the detriment of the energy independence of the United States.
Biden had campaigned heavily to “end fossil fuels,” and last week the White House said there was “no need” to drill for more oil in the United States. But seeing rising gas prices continue, the Administration dispatched top officials to the Gulf, including to Saudi Arabia, to get oil-producing nations (OPEC+) to break their deal with Russia and increase their oil production. This request has been rebuffed more than once, and observers blame Biden’s aggressive approach to the Gulf as the main reason for this failure.
A Saudi policy questioned
The Biden Administration’s initial decisions could only have offended its traditional regional clients and allies: the removal of Iran-backed Houthis from the terrorism blacklist, freezing of arms sales to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, and the refusal to dialogue with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), described as a “pariah” and singled out by the publication of the CIA report on his responsibility of MbS in the assassination of Mr. Khashoggi.
This approach has proven to be, from the very beginning of the Biden Administration, highly counterproductive with the Gulf monarchies: the latter have taken advantage of it either to rely on more reliable partners (France and China, in particular), or new allies (Turkey, South Korea).
Mr. Biden’s trip should be accompanied by the relaunch of numerous armament projects, particularly in the field of air defence.
Reset of the Iran policy
The warming of relations between Arab countries and Israel has also had an impact on how the United States shapes its policy towards Iran. Besides sky-high oil prices in the United States, Mr. Biden’s insistence on striking a nuclear deal with Tehran in return for sanctions relief appears to be all but over.
The easing of US pressure on Iran dates back to the days of former US President Barack Obama, who called on Saudi Arabia to “find an effective way to share neighbourhood” with Iran. Secret talks between Washington and Tehran led to the 2015 nuclear deal, which did not include countries neighbouring Iran and those most affected by Iran’s support of terrorist groups.
After Biden stripped the Houthis of ‘terrorist’ designation, the group grew bolder and stepped up its ballistic missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The UAE was thus deeply shocked to see the slow response of US officials after Houthi attacks struck deep in the heart of the country twice this year.
Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, used a significant amount of Patriot anti-missile interceptors in response to hundreds of Houthi attacks without being assured that they would be replenished by much-needed US sales.
In the new State Department perspective, Iran has done nothing to positively contribute to the years-long war in Yemen, while Saudi Arabia has announced an extended truce for another 60 days.
Stronger support for the warming policy between the Gulf and Israel
The Biden administration was initially hesitant to use the term “Abraham agreement” to refer to the peace accords between the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Israel brokered by the Trump administration.
U.S officials have since reversed that policy, which initially seemed to be a strong political directive, publicly declaring their ambition to increase the number of countries that have signed peace agreements with Israel.
One of the most important breakthroughs would be a Saudi-Israeli normalization agreement. But Saudi Arabia has made it clear that it will not agree to such a deal until there is an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But economic ties seem to be taking some leeway, and Saudi Arabia has granted some Israeli flights the right to use Saudi airspace.
Israel has served as a spur to this recalibration: Israeli Defence Minister, General Gantz, recently announced a new alliance between the United States, Israel and (anonymous) Arab countries to communicate and share intelligence to counteract drone and missile attacks, which US military officials have been demanding for a very long time.
Israel has also shown its determination not to let Iran pursue its nuclear objective: manoeuvres to simulate attacks on nuclear installations and continuation of the policy of targeted assassinations of Iranian engineers by the Mossad.
The trip by the American President looks like a trip to Canossa, and the extent of its practical consequences remains to be seen.