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Thursday, May 23, 2024

The changing politics of the Middle East

Once the US becomes energy independent to some extent, the Middle Eastern states are seen as the free-rider in the context of security and strategic alliance by the US. In the later years of Obama’s presidency, Saudi Arabia has been criticized for human rights violations, authoritarianism and women's rights.

National interest, in foreign policy, is the measure of all things. With changing national interests of the US with decreasing oil imports and China’s increasing oil imports, the character of Middle Eastern politics is changing. The Industrial Revolution led to a spike in global energy demand. With the discovery of oil and gas, coal was replaced by oil because it had fewer expenses with higher energy production. However, it was not discovered in abundance till the 1920s. So, researchers and scholars believed that oil will end soon.

At the end of the second world war, the US industrial production increased at an unprecedented rate increases the demand for oil. The US had a 46% of the global GDP share as Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Japan and the Soviet Union were consumed heavily at the hands of war, their infrastructure demolished and industry at dead ends. It was only the US that was growing at a higher pace. The US needed an uninterrupted oil supply but US oil reserves discovered at that time were estimated to end in 1973. The US needed oil imports and it was discovered in the Middle Eastern countries in massive reserves.

Read more: China and the Middle East: Heading into Choppy Waters?

Understanding the matter better

Before returning to the US from the Yalta conference, the then-president Harry Truman visited Saudi Arabia and agreed to buy oil with privileged access from Saudi Arabia and provide security in return. But today, when the US has discovered massive oil and gas reserves which can be exploited by shale extraction, her oil demand is decreasing continuously. It was estimated that the US will become a net importer in the third decade of the twentieth century. Clean energy projects for net zero emission are also causing a decrease in oil demand. It is interesting to note what will be the future of the US-Saudi relations when economic interests are changed.

Since the 1970s, every US president including Trump has claimed to become oil independent. But data does not support the claim made by the president. Although America remained the largest oil producer, the US still hooked up on foreign Oil reserves for seven decades. The US is dependent on Oil for 37% of its energy needs. Even the US had to intervene in the Iraq-Iran war to ensure stability and an uninterrupted oil supply. The US also signed security agreements with gulf monarchies and imposed sanctions on rogue nations like Iraq.

The US dropped oil imports by 32% from 2007 to 2017

In 2001, as it became evident that 19 people were Saudis in the 9/11 attack, the US started to limit its dependency on Saudi Arabia. Because it was seen that the US might not be able to get oil supply continuously and it will not only hurt the US but also global markets including the oil market definitely. However, Shale oil production actually became the main cause of the fall in US oil dependency on Middle Eastern states including Saudi Arabia.

The Shale Revolution in the United States has a significant impact on global politics and the economy. From shale, scholars claim that the US will have “energy independence”. According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), the unproved shale gas resources are estimated at 482 trillion cubic feet. Its production has increased 12-fold in the past decade.

Read more: The blood borders map and the Middle East

Net imports for energy consumption have dropped to 27% of the total energy consumption. And further, former president Obama claimed that it is the beginning of the golden age of gas for the US as the country will become a net exporter of energy in the coming decade. As a result, US interests are decreasing in the oil-rich region and the US might not be providing financial support to the Middle Eastern countries for stability.

Reducing dependency can also make the US less active or even shift US foreign policy priorities. While it can also make regional politics more complicated and oil prices more volatile in the coming years. Shultz claimed that the US will have Energy security due to shale no matter what happens in the Middle East or elsewhere.

It is also observed that US behavior is also changing towards the country. The US has told Saudi Arabia that it is going to take out batteries of Patriot Missiles and also has decreased its presence in the Middle East.

Further, talking about the pivot Asia strategy, the then US President Obama declared that energy reserves of the Middle East were no longer as important to bolstering the U.S. global position as they had been in earlier decades.

Once the US becomes energy independent to some extent, the Middle Eastern states are seen as the free-rider in the context of security and strategic alliance by the US. In the later years of Obama’s presidency, Saudi Arabia has been criticized for human rights violations, authoritarianism and women’s rights. As Riyadh has been very sensitive to Tehran’s behavior, the US also agreed on JCPOA which scholars see as the first step to the rapprochement between US and Iran. Although Trump had withdrawn from the agreement, due to the pressure from the Jewish lobby and pro-Israel behavior, but it has been again part of the discussion after Joe Biden, has taken the presidency.

In March 2021, Saudi Arabia increased the production of oil due to disagreement with Russia on oil production cuts. The showdown came at an especially terrible time for the U.S. economy, given the enormous constriction related to the Covid pandemic and the developing obligations of the U.S. shale oil industry. It angered Trump, however, 13 critical representatives from oil-delivering states, including Ted Cruz, the Republican from Texas, who on March 18 wrote a letter asking Riyadh to determine the debate with Moscow and increment the cost of oil on. “To act like our adversary, we’ll deal with you like our foe,” said Cruz, generally a legislative partner of Saudi Arabia.

Read more: Oil prices fall after truce in Middle East conflict

The president’s danger to pull out all U.S. powers from Saudi Arabia seemed to get on Cruz’s subject, proposing that Washington would presently not feel bound in any capacity to ensure Saudi Arabia’s public safety and even its regional respectability. It was basically a danger to cut off the friendship.

Since the US demands are decreasing, and the Chinese energy demands are continuously increasing, Saudi Arabia might look towards the east because her economy depends on oil and losing a major oil importer like the US must be replaced as soon as possible to keep the country and economy running. The Middle Eastern region has been facing unprecedented tensions. But what altered the politics of the Middle East was US policy to change the regime in Iraq, the Arab spring and decreasing US oil dependency.

US energy dependency has decreased 27% on the outside and the US is on the way to becoming a net exporter due to the shale industry, despite the fact that the Oil Market Crash of March 2021 led by Saudi Arabia has caused the shale industry to suffer bankruptcy. It also led to tensions between the two allies. However, from Obama’s presidency to Trump and now President Joe Biden, the relations between the US and Saudi Arabia have not been going well.

Two friends have been at odds since

Adding the US interests in clean and renewable energy sources, the US is becoming more independent. The US will not be interested in the security of Saudi Arabia which costs hundreds of billions of dollars. While Saudi Arabia is building good relations with other countries especially China due to the biggest oil market. Saudi Arabia and the US will not have the cordial relations they had once.

Read more: Russia breathes down Middle Eastern necks over Ukraine

The expected visit of President Joe Biden is being seen as a strategy to rebalance and it can make a breakthrough in Saudi-Israel relations. Some people in Washington also believe that the US must not leave the Middle East for China completely. But any conclusion will be an immature prediction before the Biden visit and any policy shift.


The writer is a political analyst and opinion writer. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.