While begging the Saudis for oil recently, Bush must have felt his clout slipping away as the topic of discussion turned always back to who would become his replacement.
The Saudis may give Bush little comfort: Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said in Riyadh that more crude would be pumped only “when the market justifies it.” The minister noted that economies were still growing with oil higher than $90 a barrel, and said that his country wanted to avoid “cycles of volatility.”
Saudi Arabia supplies the United States with about 1.4 million barrels of crude oil a day, one-seventh of U.S. imports and second only to the 1.9 million barrels from Canada. Saudi clout in production shapes the world oil market, and its policies will weigh on the Feb. 1 meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
As Bush’s trip unfolded, U.S. dependence on Saudi Arabia was further illustrated when Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, Citigroup’s biggest individual investor, disclosed that he had put more money into the New York-based banking company. The increase was announced the same day Citigroup posted a $9.83 billion fourth-quarter net loss, the biggest in its 196-year history, tied to the mortgage meltdown.
Once the number one supplier of oil to the US they now rank 7th behind Canada and having duly purchased an arrogance to thwart Bush’s former swagger are disinterested in reclaiming the top spot.
Bush’s policies “have been catastrophic” for the Saudis, Chas Freeman (former US ambassador to the kingdom) says. He cites neglect of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, along with the Iraq invasion that has empowered Iran, thereby threatening the dominance of Sunni leaders in the region.
In answer to the Iranian threat, Bush offered to sell Saudi Arabia kits for satellite-guided smart bombs valued at about $123 million. The administration formally notified Congress of the deal during his visit.
Because of U.S. dependence, there is little Bush could do to prod the Saudis toward more democracy, a cornerstone of the president’s rhetorical policy toward the Middle East since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when oil prices were around $28 a barrel.