Payback time! Why Saudi Arabia and UAE refused to talk to Joe Biden while merrily chatting with Vladimir Putin

This isn’t about money, this isn’t just about honour either — it’s about fundamentally realigning the relationship where America is taken down a few notches, permanently

Russian salad is a staple at any buffet and tapas restaurant. Much like revenge, it is a dish best served cold. This is the important lesson that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates taught US president Joe Biden, when they refused point blank to even pick up his call (to discuss increasing oil production to bring down global energy prices), while merrily chatting with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Needless to say that while Putin almost certainly underestimated the scale and scope of Western sanctions, what is becoming increasingly clear is that Biden too seems to have severely miscalculated the level of support his sanctions were going to get. Not to mention the crucial bridges to key allies that he burnt down like a prepubescent pyromaniac. The net result combined with Putin’s just announced ban on all commodities’ export, means we are going to see massive inflation on a global scale, significant supply chain disruptions, not to mention the historical social upheavals that accompany such systemic shocks if history is anything to go by.

Obviously while this is a cataclysm for some, it’s a windfall for others. Two countries that benefit significantly are Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Given how steeply crude oil prices have risen since the beginning of the conflict, these two countries will be reaping huge gains, possibly big enough to offset the low revenues accruing to low oil prices that existed for the last few years.

But that still doesn’t explain the unprecedented defiance these two countries have shown to the United States. After all, in the past, for most part, both countries adjusted oil production, and hence prices, to suit US foreign policy. For example, in 1986, it was Saudi and Emirati oversaturation of the market that sent oil prices to historic lows and bankrupted the Soviet Union, ultimately leading to its collapse.

Profits alone don’t explain this sudden defiance at a time of great need. This is where the importance of personalities in international relations comes in, specifically Prince Mohammad bin Salman, Sheikh Mohammad Bin Zayed, Joe Biden and the omnipresent shadow of former President Donald Trump.

Trump’s presidency didn’t start off well for either the Saudis or Emiratis, having based his 2016 presidential run partly on calling out Saudi Arabia for supporting terrorism. What started off as mutual distrust soon flipped 180 degrees and turned into a torrid love affair. Between Mohammad bin Salman’s clout and Mohammad Bin Zayed’s finesse, not only did both countries place massive orders for American defence systems, essentially bribing their way out of trouble, but they also enthusiastically bought into rapprochement with Israel delinking their 70-year-old Israel policy from the Palestinian cause. While this partly had to do with the need to appease Trump, much also had to do with a genuine meeting of minds, specifically on the need to permanently denuclearise Iran, something that all parties agreed that Obama’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) did not do.

Effectively, Trump ended up achieving more peace deals between Israel and its Arab neighbours than all previous presidents combined over the 70-odd year course of this conflict. This was a bitter pill to digest for Washington — Republican and Democrat alike, journalist and policy wonk alike. A man that these “experts” had proclaimed a clueless and simplistic buffoon had pulled off more in his four years than the accumulated millions of man hours of “expertise” and “statesmanship” that these quacks had claimed to possess. Consequently, when Biden won in 2020, the retribution of DC insiders was swift and severe.

Within days, the UAE had its flagship deal — for the cutting edge stealth F-35 fighter — put “on hold” citing a “security review” (jargon for “we don’t trust you enough”). This was a critical piece of equipment that the UAE needed to bolster its deterrence against Iran. Worse still was the humiliation meted out to Mohammad bin Salman. He had been the target of a liberal boycott and name calling over the killing of Washington Post columnist and soft terrorism normaliser Jamal Khashoggi.

But once Biden was in power this turned to a formal boycott, never confirmed by official sources but enough “coincidence” to be real. This crossed a line in the Arab world where such impolite behaviour was a grave insult. Remember, this is a ruling family where even the mildest of curses would make kings Fahd and Abdulaziz faint. The consequences were not just a delegitimisation of the ruling family in the eyes of their subjects, but also an invitation to acts of civil disobedience and defiance which is a dangerous powder keg.

From my own friends and contacts within the Saudi and Emirati governments, I had known that it had been decided way back in early 2021 that some form of payback would be meted out. The question was the timing: It couldn’t be when both the monarchies were relatively weak in political terms compared to the Biden regime. It now seems that both countries have decided that this is that tactical window that they were waiting for. They are now willing to impose devastating economic and political costs on the US as payback for the Washington “policy community’s” lèse-majesté and in all likelihood wreck Biden’s already catastrophic presidency.

Given most opinion polls predict that the Democrats are in for a walloping in the mid-terms, the oil prices are probably going to turn a defeat into a massacre. For Biden, the cost of bringing the Saudis and Emiratis back on board will be astronomical. A basic back of the paper calculation shows that at current prices, the UAE will recoup the cost of the entire F-35 purchase in a few weeks. But then this isn’t about money, this isn’t just about honour either — it’s about fundamentally realigning the relationship where America is taken down a few notches, permanently.

The trillion-dollar question now is how much Biden, Washington and the Washington Post will have to grovel before the Gulf monarchies decide to forgive them

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