Everyone should have seen this coming, and those who didn’t don’t deserve to be described as “experts”.
Palpable panic has spread across the Western expert community as previously presumed gurus scramble to explain why Saudi Arabia agreed to cut oil production alongside Russia during Wednesday’s OPEC+ Summit in Vienna. The conventional wisdom up until this point was that the Wahhabi Kingdom was a stalwart American ally despite some disagreements over sensitive issues over the years like the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and the Yemeni War. None of these experts expected it to so blatantly defy the US.
That’s precisely what just happened, though, which caught the biggest names in the business off guard. They’re now discredited after failing to foresee what any objective observer could have easily predicted. The fact is that Saudi Arabia has been practicing a multipolar foreign policy since late 2017, which began with King Salman’s historic visit to Moscow. Since then, Crown Prince and newly designated Prime Minister Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) has become very close with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
While The Guardian just attempted to discredit their relations as supposedly being driven by the future Saudi leader’s naïve fawning over fellow “autocrat” Putin, it’s actually their countries’ converging grand strategies in the global systemic transition to multipolarity that’s brought them together. Both are firm believers in multipolarity and each have their fair share of grievances with the declining unipolar hegemon, even in spite of America being a traditional ally like in Saudi Arabia’s case.
Moscow’s are self-explanatory while Riyadh’s relate to the US’: accusations that MBS was personally responsible for Khashoggi’s killing; attempts to renegotiate the nuclear deal with the Kingdom’s hated Iranian rival; criticism of the Yemeni War; fracking revolution that turned it into an energy superpower capable of partially competing with Saudi Arabia; and speculative meddling in Saudi palace intrigue. These factors combined to create unprecedented distrust between these two historical allies.
The writing was on the wall this summer that Saudi Arabia was focused on flexing its strategic autonomy even in instances where it might offend America after the Kingdom’s Foreign Minister told CNBC that Riyadh’s relations with China and the US aren’t mutually exclusive. Quite clearly, it wasn’t willing to unilaterally concede on its objective national interests simply to appease its long-term partner. The same policy was indisputably in play earlier this week during the OPEC+ Summit.
Instead of capitulating to American pressure to sacrifice its own financial and strategic interests by keeping production at its present level, Saudi Arabia decided to coordination production cuts with Russia. That prompted the White House to accuse the Kingdom of “aligning” with Moscow, thus leading to a CNBC journalist asking its Energy Minister whether Riyadh is “using energy as a weapon”, which he angrily denied.
This development was especially embarrassing for the Biden Administration since an unnamed official bragged to the press over the summer after the president’s regional tour that West Asia’s supposed “drift” towards Russia and China “has been arrested and, in many instances, very specific instances – not all which I can talk about – reversed.” That’s obviously not the case if one of the US’ oldest allies anywhere in the world is so openly defying its hegemonic demands on an issue as strategic as oil.
Not only that, but Saudi Arabia also just killed America’s oil price cap plans, which Washington wanted to impose in order to deprive Russia of energy-related revenue. This was fully dependent on Riyadh bending to its will, which any objective observer could have predicted wasn’t going to happen, but was still nevertheless believed by the West’s so-called “experts”. That just goes to show how strongly they were influenced by wishful thinking, which further discredits their professional credentials.
Saudi Arabia’s increasingly confident flexing of its strategic autonomy is now undeniable, thus making it a factor that must to be incorporated into all relevant calculations. In full alignment with multipolar trends, it’s rightly prioritizing its objective national interests over others’, which makes it a perfect example of the type of sovereign state that President Putin praised earlier this summer. Everyone should have seen this coming, and those who didn’t don’t deserve to be described as “experts”.