The OPEC+ decision to approve production quotas has spurred significant outrage from American political leaders. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Saudi Arabia has never been a reliable ally, and American officials are years late to reacting.
On October 5th, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries Plus (OPEC+) members, led by Saudi Arabia, approved cuts to production quotas by 2 million barrels per day in an attempt to artificially slow the decline in oil prices. They cited fears of reduced oil demand and the possibility of a global recession as a reason for the cuts, which is a fear echoed even by the US Department of Energy. American leaders and others are more skeptical, and several officials have implied that Saudi Arabia timed the decision in an effort to aid Russia. The Russian oil industry has struggled due to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the resulting Western sanctions, but they now stand to benefit the most from production cuts. Lower production requirements put less pressure on the country to meet quotas during the war, and higher oil prices could offset the discounts Russia has given to sell its oil.
As a result, prices at the pump are expected to rise throughout the fall and winter, further straining the pockets of Americans already feeling the effects of the cost of living crisis. The decision to cut production is also being felt by Democrats, many of whom have sharply condemned Saudi Arabia. The Biden administration had been pressing Saudi Arabia against this decision for weeks to avoid a bump in gas prices just ahead of the midterm elections. In response to the cuts, Biden has condemned the Saudi government and threatened “consequences,” but also did not elaborate on what those consequences might be: “I’m not going to get into what I’d consider and what I have in mind. But there will be — there will be consequences." Democratic legislators have been clearer in their responses, with many urging for punitive action against Saudi Arabia. Congressman Ro Khanna and Senator Richard Blumenthal announced legislation that would cease arms sales for one year to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital, while Chairman Menendez of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee proposed stopping “all aspects of our cooperation with Saudi Arabia, including any arms sales and security cooperation beyond what is absolutely necessary to defend US personnel and interests.” On the House side, Representative Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) proposed legislation to remove all US Armed Forces from Saudi Arabia.
The legislation announced by these senators is a far cry from their stances on Saudi Arabian arms deals last December when Senators Menendez (D-NJ) and Blumenthal (D-CT) both supported a $650 million munitions sale to the kingdom. This was signed into law by President Biden, despite the fact that he had campaigned on the promise to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah'' in the global community. Yet in July 2022, Biden visited the kingdom and met with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. Politicians have turned a blind eye to the human rights violations perpetrated by the kingdom for years. CIA intelligence reports affirmed that the Crown Prince approved the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but the US placed sanctions and visa restrictions on only a select number of Saudi citizens, not including the Crown Prince. The US also continued arms sales despite the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, the result of a years-long civil war between the Saudi-backed government and Iranian-backed Houthi insurgents. American-made weapons have been used in several civilian bombings since the war began in 2014, including a 2018 school bus bombing using a Lockheed-made weapon sold to Riyadh with the approval of the Trump Administration. Although Congress and multiple presidents have occasionally threatened to halt the sale of arms in response to the numerous attacks on civilians carried out by the Saudi government, no response has been lasting or damaging to the kingdom due to American pursuit of lucrative oil and arms deals.
Now that Saudi Arabia’s OPEC+ maneuvering has put a strain on American oil prices, we are finally seeing more substantial movement from Congress and the Biden administration against the kingdom, although they are unlikely to stick. Either way, oil has been the greatest motivator in American diplomatic relations with the country, overriding humanitarian concerns every time. Saudi Arabia has proven to be a poor ally, and it is well past time to reevaluate US relations with the country.
Ella Lane is a second-year Political Science major in the School of Public Affairs. She is a Staff Writer for the Agora.