July 1, 2008

Saudis Question Oil-for-Security Formula

The following editorial appeared in the Dallas Morning News on Monday, June 30:


Last week's oil conference in Saudi Arabia marked a turning point in U.S.-Saudi relations, raising doubts about whether the oil-for-security formula still guides this longtime alliance.

With skyrocketing oil prices endangering U.S. economic stability, Saudi Arabia refused to increase production beyond a token amount. Saudi and U.S. officials bickered about whether the current price spike is because of market speculation or producers' greed.

The brusque departure of U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman from the conference underscored the growing frustrations on both sides.

If oil pricing and production were the only considerations, this squabbling wouldn't be so troublesome. But it culminates years of roller-coaster relations strained by the 9/11 attacks and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which the kingdom opposed. Ongoing talk about a U.S. attack on Iranian nuclear facilities has prompted the kingdom to distance itself further from Washington.

The United States has failed to deliver what the Saudis value most: security and stability. Iran's power and influence is growing, and the Saudis increasingly see Washington as part of the problem, not the solution.

Former Ambassador James Oberwetter says the Saudis don't like being cast as spoilers or saviors of the U.S. economy. "They must be puzzled why they're being asked to produce more and more oil while we have taken steps to actually reduce our own exploration," he says.

Anticipating today's crunch, the Saudis have invested nearly $100 billion to increase production capacity. Soon, they'll be able to pump 1.5 million additional barrels per day. But with China and India demanding more oil, there's no guarantee the United States will be the beneficiary.

The kingdom's sympathies could well be guided by the tenor in Washington. Its rulers hear the anti-Saudi rhetoric in Congress when they request multibillion-dollar arms purchases. They'll be watching how this and the next administration publicly push for Saudi political and social reform.

They know that no nation has been a stauncher supporter of Saudi security than the United States. But we've too often expected cheap oil in return. Finding more tactful ways to address Saudi interests will become crucial if we want the kingdom to continue satisfying ours.


(c) 2008, The Dallas Morning News.

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