The Saudis Appear to Be Betting on Trump

Move to cut oil supply could be taken as a 'humiliation' for Biden ahead of midterms
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 13, 2022 5:00 PM CDT
Updated Oct 13, 2022 5:25 PM CDT
The Saudis Appear to Be Betting on Trump
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, greets President Joe Biden with a fist bump after his arrival at Al-Salam palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, July 15, 2022.   (Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via AP, File)

Saudi Arabia claims the decision by the Saudi-led alliance of oil-exporting countries to slash oil production, which means driving up prices and boosting Russia's coffers amid its war in Ukraine, is a purely economic move. But onlookers say there's an ulterior motive—specifically, a plan to get former President Trump elected again. More:

  • A 'humiliation' for Biden: The move can be viewed as a "humiliation" for President Biden, coming less than three months after he bucked his plan to isolate the kingdom in favor of a visit used to lobby against reducing oil production, writes Archie Bland at the Guardian.
  • Potentially punitive: With the midterm elections weeks away, it certainly "feels punitive," Middle East expert Jonathan Panikoff tells NPR, which notes gas prices could be a key election issue.
  • About more than oil: Saudi Arabia and partners have a shared interest in high oil prices. But they also "see the US and its allies' pressure for democratic reforms as an insult" and "see themselves as representing a hedge against US thinking around the world," according to Guardian world affairs editor Julian Borger.

  • Election meddling: But they're also "putting their thumb on the scale of the US election," says Borger. "More than a bet on Russia, this is a bet on the Republicans, and especially Trump," whose leadership would likely benefit the Saudis.
  • Favoring Trump: Brookings Institution senior fellow Bruce Riedel agrees "the Saudis are working to get Trump re-elected," per the Intercept. The outlet recalls Trump repeatedly defended Mohammed bin Salman even after his own CIA found the Saudi crown prince had ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
  • No delay: Interestingly, Riyadh claims the White House suggested that the announcement be delayed by a month—until after the midterm elections, per the Guardian. This could be taken as a sign that the Biden administration is worried or that Saudi Arabia wants the US public to see a lack of transparency.

  • Riyadh responds: Saudi Arabia's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday the decision was purely economic and not "politically motivated against the United States," per NPR. It also denied taking a side in Russia's war in Ukraine. Notably, Saudi Arabia joined with the UN on Wednesday in condemning Russia's annexation of Ukrainian regions.
  • Consequences: Biden has only vowed "consequences" of some kind, while Democrats are threatening to freeze arms sales for a year and withdraw US troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a fellow OPEC member, per the Guardian and Intercept.
  • Consider China: While Republicans may be on board, Panikoff tells NPR that freezing arms sales might allow China to fill the void left by the US, further strengthening its relationship with Saudi Arabia. China accounts for more than 25% of Saudi Arabia's oil exports, per the outlet.
(More Saudi Arabia stories.)

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