Prof. ST Hsieh
Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum
October 13, 2022
The following commentary is from the Washington Post. It may sound very critical to Biden’s administration. But it is a review of Biden’s foreign policy approach and inconsistency or even contradictory between Biden’s words and action. Some trends are clear:
- Often, Biden has been “stung” by many foreseeable defeats. He does not have any preemptive plan.
- Then, Biden and his team would pronounce a “review.” Often, like this case, his review has no leader, no timetable.
- Without any specifics, Biden’s pronouncements on foreign policy are for domestic consumptions only. Foreign powers, after a while, pay no attention to Biden’s words (no actions).
- It is pointed out by this commentator; Biden’s problem is that he has not bitten his tongs but carelessly speaks out often. Then Biden does not have the guts to apologize or re-tract his off the cuff statements.
- So Biden and his administration are eternally trapped by their own words without being able to make any major decision timely.
The big idea
Biden’s Saudi relations ‘review’ has no leader, no timetable
Stung by Saudi Arabia’s massive cut in oil production weeks before the midterm elections, the White House has announced a “review” of relations with Saudi Arabia. But the process has no leader or timetable, and lacks the swift retaliation demanded by furious Democrats in Congress.
President Biden is promising unspecified “consequences” for the kingdom after the Saudi-led OPEC Plus cartel said it would take 2 million barrels per day off the market, shoring up prices. Administration officials say that amounts to choosing sides with Russia, which relies on oil and gas exports to fund its war in Ukraine and hurt America’s energy-hungry European allies.
The decision also has obvious domestic political dimensions, in that Republicans hope to harness Americans’ frustration with soaring inflation (including gas prices that are higher than when Biden took office) to recapture the House and Senate.
“When the House and Senate gets back, there’s gonna be some consequences for what they [the Saudis] have done with Russia,” the president told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an interview broadcast Tuesday night.
A PLAN TO HAVE A PLAN
Congressional Democrats have pushed Biden to retaliate by freezing arms sales to the kingdom, sign on to a bill designed to open OPEC to antitrust and price-fixing lawsuits in the United States, and even consider ending the American alliance “with these royal backstabbers.”
“I’m not going to get into what I’d consider and what I have in mind, but there will be consequences,” Biden told Jake.
Earlier, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre sidestepped questions about the review.
- When will it wrap up? “Don’t have a timeline.” (But it’ll unfold over “weeks and months.”)
- Who’s leading it? “I don’t have a person in particular to speak to … who is going to be leading the review.”
- What steps is Biden considering? “You will hear from us when we lay out what actions we are going to take.”
Senior National Security Council communicator John Kirby told reporters Biden would study whether the relationship “is serving our national security interests” and would hold talks with members of Congress. But he declined to support any specific existing proposals.
“We’re not announcing a formal policy review here with a special team or anything like that,” Kirby said. “This is something the president’s been thinking about, certainly in light of OPEC’s decision last week.”
If that vagueness is frustrating, consider that Biden is trapped by the same conundrum that confounded predecessors who tried to take on Riyadh: Beyond being absolutely central to the stability of global energy markets, it shares a number of other strategic interests with Washington.
No. 1: Containing the threat from Iran.
- So Kirby found himself on Tuesday arguing against a proposal from some Democratic House members to remove U.S. troops and missile defense systems from Saudi Arabia, noting some 70,000 Americans live there and U.S. troops are posted throughout the region.
“It’s not only in our interests that missile defense in the region become more integrated and cooperative, it’s in the interest of our allies and partners in that part of the world,” Kirby said. “Nothing has changed about our belief.”
At the State Department, spokesman Ned Price sang from the same hymnal.
“We are not going to cast aside any of the important tools that we need to wield to ensure that Iran does not pose a threat to American people, to American interests, and to our broader interests in the region,” he told reporters. “We won’t take our eye off the threat that Iran poses.”
Arguably the closest the administration has come to committing to a specific course of action came in a statement last week from Biden national security adviser Jake Sullivan and national economic council director Brian Deese, who said the executive branch would work with Congress “on additional tools and authorities to reduce OPEC’s control over energy prices.”
It’s not clear whether the White House will have the stomach for potentially further disrupting global energy markets.
A PROMISE NOT KEPT
There’s going to be a lot of talk as the review unfolds about Biden’s campaign promise to treat Saudi Arabia as a “pariah.” But even before he reset the relationship by sharing a fist-bump hello with the crown prince in July, the administration had steadily eroded that promise.
Just one example: Biden released U.S. intelligence findings that “MBS,” as he is known, was behind the 2018 murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a regime critic who wrote a column for The Washington Post. (The Saudi government rejects the charge.)
But he didn’t impose any sanctions on the crown prince.
As The Daily 202 chronicled, Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia wasn’t the outlier. His “pariah” comment was. It’s possible this time will be different. But don’t bet the wind farm on it.