Tuesday, April 16, 2024

MBS vs West sleeping with enemy

Recent announcement to cut OPEC production by 2M barrels sent shock waves in western diplomatic circles. Given the scenario Europe and US knows well the situation they are into in the coming winter. Saudi’s decision as de facto leader of OPEC comes as little surprise for anyone who has been following Middle Eastern politics. Biden’s visit to the Kingdom showed pictures of frayed relationship that has been brewing before even Democrats coming to power. Unknown to the world Jamal Kishoggi the bloated journalist represented a dissident group in the House who are more subservient to the Washington that could prove critical in the Great Global Power Competition. Yet Muhammed Bin Salaman (MBS) has shown an unpredictable but courageous leadership against the western onslaught that has not been seen by Saudi hierarchy since its famous oil embargo in 70s.

Saudi Arabia’s creation what we know today has western imprint written over its history. Ibn Saud a follower of Al-Wahab fought along with UK forces in WW1 against Ottoman empire in return for his place in the map and yearning for custodianship of Mecca. Since its creation Standard Oil (predecessor to Exxon ) received the first exploration concession of the new found commodity in 1930’s. Ever since House of Saud has been steady but reluctant ally of the west.

United States foreign policy towards Middle East started taking shape with discovery of oil and creation of Israel. One an industrial innovation the other ‘biblical prophecy’. West knew well that one day economic wealth would transform into political power. Deep seated mistrust between the European Caucasian Judeo Christian civilisation and Islamic Middle East prompted to keep them under its wings. For thousand years Holy land was controlled by Arabian conquest which ended with fall of last Muslim empire the Ottomans. Forming of OPEC in 1960 sent warning signals which became reality in 1970’s. Opposing Washington’s unwavering support for Israel cartel imposed an all-out embargo, a decision that brought the policy advocates back to drawing board to prevent a repetition. From there on west took a more prominent and active role in the region evangelising pacifism. Many of the direct interventions such as Iraq and Syria were allies of their adversary. Emergence of western power in last century taught Saudi to tolerate the humiliation in the interest of power.

Soon as the Covid pandemic broke Saudis walked out of production cuts complemented by Russia that sent the Oil price into negative territory. Critics pointed target was American and Canadian Oil industry which relies on a higher breakeven price ($40-$50). Then there were plenty of reports of blossoming relationship between China and the Kingdom. It became major supplier to second largest economy while investing heavily in India. Speculation in the air of quoting oil in Yuan. It has sided with Kremlin alongside Iran on UN resolution in Ukraine crisis. Inadvertent side effect of these manoeuvres is the balance of power. without Saudi backing Russia would have lost the tactical advantage of higher energy prices. Weaker Russia means a more hubris United States seen in 90s.

MBS’s assertiveness reflects more of this oppression received to the Arab world at the hands of West, the destruction caused and de stability created, the shattered dream of a prosperous Arab world.

Leaving them a side curious when will the next Arab spring be ?

D Rajaratnam

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