Is it time for the U.S. to end its alliance with Saudi Arabia?

The sharpest opinions on the debate from around the web

Biden and MBS.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Getty Images)

The Biden administration is considering urging American companies not to expand projects with Saudi Arabia in retaliation for the Saudi-led push by major oil producers to cut production, NBC News reported Tuesday, citing three current and former U.S. officials familiar with the matter. The United States also won't send an official representative to Saudi Arabia's annual Future Investment Initiative conference next week, although that decision was made before the Saudi-led Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and other major producers led by Russia agreed on Oct. 5 to slash production by two million barrels a day to cut prices.

President Biden has warned that Saudi Arabia will face "consequences" for siding with Russia, after Moscow's invasion of Ukraine contributed to a spike in fuel prices in the spring that contributed to crushing inflation worldwide. Biden reportedly plans to release another 10 to 15 million barrels of oil from the U.S. strategic reserve as oil prices threaten to rise again following the output cut by the so-called OPEC+ alliance. Biden says he is taking a fresh look at the close relationship between Washington and Riyadh, and considering other ways to respond. Is it time for the United States to step back from its unofficial alliance with Saudi Arabia?

It's time to end close ties with Saudi Arabia

President Biden campaigned promising to "make Saudi Arabia a 'pariah' for its human rights abuses and its seven-year war with Yemen," says Mohamad Bazzi in The Guardian. Then Biden "shared a fist bump" with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — who allegedly approved the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi — as the coronavirus pandemic and Russia's Ukraine invasion forced Biden to set aside his concerns "in favor of realpolitik." That "cringe-inducing" photo op "has backfired in spectacular fashion," yielding "nothing but a 2 percent reduction of the world's oil supply" as inflation is already strangling U.S. households less than a month before the midterm elections that will determine whether Democrats or Republicans control Congress.

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Prince Mohammed might think he "outmaneuvered Biden and demonstrated his influence over the global oil market," but he might soon regret his "power play." Even "so-called foreign policy 'realists'" who have defended the U.S.-Saudi partnership are starting to ask what Washington is getting "in return for its decades of unwavering support for the House of Saud." A reliable oil supply is the main purpose of the relationship, which the Saudis have used to get military training and advanced weapons. "If Biden doesn't respond forcefully, he may embolden the crown prince to take more risks." It's time to acknowledge that the "supposed realist approach toward Saudi Arabia has failed – and tear up the oil-for-security deal."

Biden can take a less drastic stand

So far, it's hard to know whether Biden means it when he says there will be "consequences" for the production cut, says National Review's Jim Geraghty in The Washington Post. "Even as Biden says he wants to punish the Saudis, the Pentagon is going full speed ahead with plans to build a major testing facility in Saudi Arabia," the Red Sands Integrated Experimentation Center. Red Sands, which would test new missile defense systems and technologies to combat the rising threat from unmanned drones, "remains untouched," as do the billions in annual U.S. arms sales to MBS's regime.

"Canceling the Red Sands project — or at least putting it on ice for now — seems like a no-brainer." It will show Riyadh that Biden means business, and it could be restarted quickly "if MBS looks at the fight between Russia and the West, realizes he has backed the wrong horse, and changes course." But as long as the crown prince is "so blatantly thumbing his nose at Biden," it's fair to question whether it's worth feeling "so invested, financially and geopolitically, in helping make the Saudi kingdom more secure."

Punishing Saudi Arabia will only backfire

Abandoning ties with Saudi Arabia "mainly involves hurting the U.S. economy and pushing our erstwhile allies in the Middle East further into the arms of Russia and China," says The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. One idea floating around, for example, is a bill that would let the Justice Department file antitrust suits against state-owned OPEC oil companies. "This wouldn't have much effect on oil prices, but it almost surely would invite retaliation against U.S. companies." Another "dazzling brainstorm" is to halt arms sales to the Saudis for a year, but that would only make them "more vulnerable to Iran."

Fortunately, there's a better solution. The White House takes great pains to "discourage U.S. oil production in the name of climate change," while begging dictators who lead Iran and Venezuela so they can sell more oil and have more money to stir anti-American trouble." And now it's alienating a longstanding ally, Saudi Arabia, for saying it's going to pump less. "Wouldn't it be easier, and better for U.S. interests, to unleash U.S. oil production?"

Boosting all U.S. energy sources is the answer

Let's take a "deep breath," says The Washington Post in an editorial. Saudi Arabia and Russia are the world's No. 2 and No. 3 crude oil producers, so they "have leverage — in the short run." But the U.S. can protect its long-term interests by "taking advantage of our domestic supplies of fossil fuels and green energy, as the climate provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act will ensure."

Lawmakers also can "facilitate the build out of transmission lines and other critical energy infrastructure," while doing more to encourage energy conservation with higher fuel taxes and other measures. Yes, fuel taxes raise pump prices, but at least the added money funds highways at home instead of going to Moscow and Riyadh. "Ultimately, the 1973 oil embargo backfired on its authors because it shocked the United States and other industrialized countries to use energy much more efficiently. A smart response can turn the OPEC+ production cut to the United States' ultimate advantage as well."

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