The US- Saudi Ties, Lubricated with Oil

The Trump administration has decided to remove its Patriot anti-air missiles and other related artillery systems from Saudi Arabia. The missiles and fighter jets were sent to the Kingdom last year sooner after the Saudi-Aramco oil facilities were attacked. Very recently, Trump says it is part of an effort to scale back on a military presence that he says does not benefit the US. Nevertheless, the US weaponry system in the Kingdom not only secure the Saudi oil facilities; but then, more importantly, they were also intended as a deterrent, as tension rose between Tehran and Washington.

The Trump administration believed that a reduction in the US military presence in the Kingdom is mainly based on the assessment that Iran is no longer poses a direct threat to US strategic interests. Perhaps when Iran lost the respected person Qassim Soleimani as a result of the US assassination. So, what exactly happened? Will such actions affect the bilateral ties between Washington and Riyadh? If yes, how will the Kingdom retort to such unliteral measures? Will the Kingdom be able to revise some of its policies towards Washington? Or Salman will try to bring Trump to the so-called bargaining table to take his words back?

However, the foremost motive behind the removal of the US weapons system from the Kingdom is to put more pressure on the realm to get more financial benefits, or it might be because of the oil policy followed by Muhammad Bin Salman, which has been very destructive to the US oil businesses. The ongoing oil-price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia has caused insolvency in many US oil-producing firms. Following such oil policy by Muhammad Bin Salman, it is a clear message from Washington that if you failed to follow our oil advice, we would leave you susceptible to Iran. The recent fluctuation in the oil market has created friction between the two staunch allies as the COIVD-19 pandemic has killed thousands of Americans and dragged the country’s economy.

The current pandemic has decelerated economic activities around the world; one of the impacts has seen a sudden drop in demand for oil to such level unnoticed for decades. Following a brief oil-war between Russia and Saudi Arabia, both countries have reached a deal in order to avoid market collapse, even though, after the deal, the US oil market continues to fluctuate. Thus, with massive oil production, the Kingdom has flooded the US market with oil, surpassing the storage capacity and has sent many more oil-tankers to the American shorelines. The US, on the other hand, has no option but to punish the Kingdom by way of pulling weapons system and military as well as other commitments unless Riyadh cuts the production of oil.

What follows, Trump administration believes that America is spending billions of dollars in order to shield the Saudi’s political and strategic interest, but our friend (the Kingdom) is going to treat us in the other way. The road ahead will not be straightforward, and if the US withdraws its troops and weapons system, it will indeed decrease the trust between Saudi Arabia and the US. However, more than Washington the Riyadh will try to find a solution to reach a deal even if the Kingdom has to pay a double price. In the same vein, the US, without allying with the Kingdom, will not be able to satisfy its strategic interest in the Middle East. Thus, the presence of US troops and missiles systems is indeed a win-win strategy for both Saudi Arabia and the US.

Iran seems to be the ultimate benefactor; the US actions will allow Iran to re-influence its action in the Middle Eastern region. The Saudi-Iran enmity is the only feature shaping the geopolitics in the Middle East, and the neighbor realms remained the frontlines of proxy wars carried out by Iran and Saudi Arabia, the two regional powerful realms. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia are involved in fierce competition over regional hegemony and territorial claims. The question is, will the Iranian be able to re-influence its policy and intercession in the region? Most of the experts suggested that it could mobilize Iran against its enemies in the Middle East. Other experts also claimed that Iran was on the move long before the US troops reduction in the Kingdom, but the COVID-19 alter the shape of the geopolitics.

Finally, Iran will be the final benefactor if the US succeeds in withdrawing its troops and missiles system from Saudi Arabia. In the same vein, the support provided by the US to the Kingdom was not sure-fire incessantly, which might be a lesson for the Kingdom to learn. Iran, on the other hand, since long-time believes that the US foreign policy in the Middle East is destructive, it helped the Saudi ruined Yemen; it allowed spreading radicalism across the region, whether in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere. Iran wants the US to brush up its policy towards the Middle East, as the region is no longer the same, it is reformed, the people are resisting against the US-led policies in the region. 

The concluding point is, Could the oil-price or the way Salman followed the oil policy be the last line of the US-Saudi relations? Indeed, it could be the last line between Washington and Riyadh diplomacy. However, in the current pandemic circumstances, it is hard to predict the future, but these small actions could break the ties up to a great extent. In the same vein, we should also keep in mind that the Trump administration had ostensibly supported the Crown Prince Salman sooner after the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi when he said:”it was not Muhammad Bin Salman.”Thus, based on such staunch alliance, there might be a way for negotiation if Washington desires, yet, Muhammad Bin Salman, on the other hand, might be eager to negotiate even if he has to pay double price.

Asad Ullah
Asad Ullah
Majoring International Relations at Shandong University, Shandong Qingdao China