Many things have already been said about the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency. In this piece, I want to focus on the reactions of Middle Eastern leaders to the outcome of the US election.
Although it would not be completely surprising if Trump’s positions on the Middle East will change from the campaign trail to the presidency, they are still worth considering. As summarized by Paul Salem, these positions are:
- he favors cooperation with Russia and the Assad regime in Syria against ISIS and has little regard for the Syrian opposition;
- he has promised either to tear up the nuclear agreement with Iran or to monitor it very aggressively; either way the tone of détente will be replaced by hostility;
- he has spoken fondly of authoritarianism and authoritarian leaders, and argued that human rights and democracy should not be US foreign policy priorities;
- he has said he will ratchet up the war on ISIS without revealing how that would happen;
- he has vilified Muslims and called for a ban on their entry to the United States;
- he has questioned America’s alliances and commitments, and argued instead that US protection should be in exchange for payment.
Egypt President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi called Mr. Trump and expressed hope his election will “inject a new spirit into the trajectory of Egyptian-American relations.”
Iraq Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi praised the president-elect for continuing to prioritize the war against the extremists: “We are looking forward to seeing the world and the United States of America standing by Iraq in facing terrorism.”
Saudi King Salman expressed hope that Trump would bring stability to the Middle East. “We wish your excellency success in your mission to achieve security and stability in the Middle East and worldwide,” he said, praising US-Saudi relations, which are “historic and tight between the two friendly countries, that all parties aspire to develop and reinforce”.
A spokesman for the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbassaid: “We will deal with any president elected by the American people on the principle of achieving permanent peace in the Middle East based on the two state solution on June 4 1967 lines with east Jerusalem as its capital.”
Given the current level of tensions among the governments of Saudi Arabia and Iran, any talk about cooperation between the two countries seems unlikely and even naive. However, the possibility for cooperation between these two major actors in the Persian Gulf should be seriously explored. Here is an excerpt from an article on Markaz that does so:
“To head off outright confrontation, Saudi Arabia and Iran need to identify potential areas of shared interest. Both states’ economies are dependent on oil, and both are working to reduce that reliance. To some extent, each country’s economy depends on the other’s success. Both are targeted by the same terror groups, including al-Qaida and the Islamic State. And the countries face similar environmental threats, including oil spills, challenges related to accelerated industrialization, and water shortages. In all of these areas, Iran and Saudi Arabia can work together. It won’t be easy, but there are helpful historical examples. Seventy years ago, no one could have imagined France, Germany, and Britain overcoming their regional rivalries to become close political and economic partners.”
The full article can be read here
Saudi Arabia ranks third in the list of the most powerful militaries in the Middle East. Here are some data.
$56.7 billion defense budget
233,500 active frontline personnel
The territorially largest country in the Middle East also has the fourth-highest military spending of any country in the world. The country’s arms buildup has largely been driven by sales from the US and other Western countries.
As a result, Saudi Arabia has the most updated arsenal in the region, with the exception of Israel. Its air force has air-to-air refueling capabilities and advanced fighter jets.
“Saudi Arabia has a lot of air capabilities that a lot of the countries in the region don’t have,” Megahan said, adding that it was plausible the Saudis could soon have a more advanced air force than even Israel.
Saudi Arabia is in a tough neighborhood — the country borders Iraq and Yemen, two of the most chronically unstable countries in the region. But with 36% of the population under the age of 24, a sclerotic monarchy, and sectarian tensions, Saudi Arabia might be building its military strength with future internal turmoil in mind.
Indeed, Harmer says that Saudi Arabia’s national guard — which is responsible for internal security, and not organized with external defense in mind — is one of the most capable security forces in the entire region.
Key allies: The relationship with the US has been flagging in recent years, but the two are still close partners and Saudi Arabia is still a major purchaser of US arms. Saudi Arabia is the most powerful of the tightly allied Gulf monarchies, a group that includes Kuwait, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, and Riyadh has provided substantial assistance to the post-coup government in Egypt. It is also speculated that Saudi Arabia has secretly funded Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program.
Source: Business Insider UK 2014
This post was originally published on Strife
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Eight percent: that is how much the price of oil fell after OPEC’s decision last Thursday to maintain its oil output unaltered. This sharp drop was only the latest development in a trend that has seen oil prices on the world market tumble by nearly 40 percent since mid-June. At one point, the international crude benchmark even traded below $70 a barrel, the lowest since May 2010.
The current situation is the result of a combination of factors. On the one hand, a slowdown in the Chinese and European economies has led to a decrease in demand for oil. On the other hand, the so-called “fracking revolution” in the United States, added to an ahead-of-target OPEC production, has generated an increase in oil supply.
Despite a clear situation of overproduction, and repeated calls for a cut, OPEC, and especially Saudi Arabia, decided to keep its production ceiling unchanged. Given the undeniable strategic importance of oil for modern economies, such a decision is likely to have far-reaching implications. Here, we limit our discussion to the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States: a time-honored relationship that has come under pressure recently due to openly divergent opinions over events like the Arab Awakening and US-Iranian nuclear negotiations.
Experts have given several interpretations of Saudi Arabia’s decision to convince OPEC to adopt a policy that contributes to the ongoing fall in oil prices. Two of these are particularly worth noting.
The first interpretation depicts Saudi Arabia’s decision as being in line with US interests in the region. According to this view, Saudi policy to keep the price of oil low is part of a wider strategy to help the United States put meaningful economic pressure on Russia. In fact, according to the Financial Times, Russia needs to sell oil at a price of at least $110 a barrel to guarantee stability to its economy and financial system. An oil price at $70 a barrel therefore has the potential to further slow Russia’s embattled economy, since around half of the country’s annual budget revenue comes from oil and gas exports.
The current decline in oil prices has also affected the value of the Russian currency – the ruble. Since the beginning of the year, the ruble has weakened by 34% against the US dollar. A weak ruble makes it harder for Russian companies – including the energy giant Rosneft – to pay the interest on their foreign debts. In other words, by keeping oil prices low Saudi Arabia is actively contributing to the Obama administration’s effort to rein in a recalcitrant Russia.
A second interpretation takes the opposite view and describes Saudi Arabia’s decision as a foreign policy tool to test US shale production. According to this interpretation, a policy of cheap oil is primarily aimed at challenging US shale operators and driving out the highest-cost producers. In fact, the break-even price required for shale oil developments in the United States ranges between $40 and $115 a barrel. A Saudi strategy for a long period of low prices may therefore push many US producers out of the market and slow down the development of these new energy sources. In other words, Saudi Arabia may be assertively resisting the US’ steady rise to being the world’s top oil producer.
Certainly, the above interpretations are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the Saudis could be cooperating with the Obama administration against Putin while, at the same time, they could be challenging the United States for supremacy in the global oil market. However, a Saudi policy mainly based on a rationale of “cooperation” instead of one of “competition” could be a revealing sign of where the US-Saudi relationship is heading.