John Rapley is a political economist at the University of Cambridge and a senior fellow of the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study.
Heading into an intense midterm election year, with soaring oil prices resulting from the Ukraine war, U.S. President Joe Biden felt no choice in July but to fly to Saudi Arabia, tail between his legs, and beg the country he’d called a “pariah” to open the oil taps.
A lot of good it did him. In return for the fist bump seen (and scorned) around the world, Saudi Arabia, in a move co-ordinated with Russia, spearheaded an OPEC+ output cut to raise prices.
From both an economic and ideological standpoint, it’s easy to see Saudi Arabia’s position – it is an oil-heavy economy that, regardless of its official position, seems to be siding against the West in the Ukraine war. Last week, Saudi Arabia reportedly expressed interest in joining the BRICS economic alliance dominated by Russia and China.
Nevertheless, history shows that oil shocks always backfire on OPEC, and regional geopolitical developments are reducing how much the United States needs Saudi Arabia as an ally. Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman may have just overplayed his hand.
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