With President Biden setting off for the MENA region, where does Qatar stand as the US scrambles for a lifeline in Saudi Arabia?
A year and a half since his election, US President Joe Biden finds himself in an unenviable position.
Both domestic and foriegn elements contribute to the bleak position, including his party growing weary of the upcoming elections and tough political battlefield; the economic turmoil within the US; soaring world energy prices; a brazen and apathetic Russia defying western powers and economic sanctions; in addition to what the US perceives as a growing China threat and increased Chinese influence in the pacific.
Trouble in paradise
At home, the Republican Party has been shoring up support and looking to regain a congressional majority, not a far-fetched scenario when looking at the US market alongside election results in the past.
Historically, economic conditions have been pivotal in elections, with current scenarios not favouring the incumbent.
This US administration will be thinking outside the box and forced to make concessions in the interest of self preservation and scoring political points, in addition to its national duty to stabilise markets and improve conditions for Americans.
Abroad, the US administration is looking at Europe with great concern. Russia is estimated to be making over one billion euros a day at today’s market prices, as indicated in a recent article by The New York Times.
Western sanctions, though intended to inflict difficulty on Russian businesses and oligarchs in their international transactions and force traders to work with the Russian government – has consequently empowered the administration and Russian President Vladimir Putin in particular.
Additionally, sanctions have forced Russia to rely less on the outside world and diversify assets, invest in their infrastructure and self sustainability, which in turn improves the Russian government’s approval ratings among Russian citizens.
With Russia showing complete disregard to western pressure, and the apparent failure of sanctions, the causation in what is yet to come may prove to be catastrophic.
Smaller, less powerful countries will now hesitate when it comes to succumbing completely to US interests and accepting American assurances of protection.
Countries such as China will not think of repercussions when expanding regional influence, and more countries will turn to other methods for defence assurances and self preservation.
This is where Biden’s visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will be crucial.
Reinforcing US dominance
Biden outlined a broad agenda in his recent op-ed, summarising the intent of the visit to convince Saudi Arabia to increase oil production or persuade the GCC to warm ties with Israel.
While these topics may be on the agenda, the main reason for this visit comes down to preserving US global hegemony, and ensuring that the US remains a global superpower.
Prior to this visit we look at two important events, the first being Biden fiercely campaigning on shutting out Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and not engaging with him officially. The second being the meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and high level government representatives from GCC delegations, where they praised the cooperation between Russia and OPEC+.
As indicated in a recent article by Reuters, French President Emmanuel Macron also supports the notion that energy production will not be a cornerstone of Biden’s visit.
The US president’s visit to the kingdom appears to be an obvious concession, with his administration looking for a lifeline.
This comes in the form of convincing Saudi Arabia to increase oil production; lobbying for a structure where the GCC, US and Israel can have a shared alliance or defence framework to deter Iran; but more importantly, reinforcing US dominance in order to prevent countries in the region of drifting away from their US alliances towards Russia, and inevitably China.
Knowing the points that will be asked by the US administration, we look to what they can offer.
Saudi Arabia will likely seek additional military support in Yemen, modern defence and weapon agreements, and assurances against Iran obtaining nuclear weapons or posing as a viable threat to them.
What’s Qatar’s stake in this?
Qatar will find itself in a difficult situation, having masterfully cultivated strong ties with countries around the globe, which oftentimes include opposing sides in global conflicts.
The Gulf state has maintained a neutral stance against Russia, opting to not join in sanctions and keeping neutral diplomatic ties, referring to the Russian war as a “crisis”, “situation” and calling for peace and political dialogue.
Doha has also maintained warm ties with Iran, as it was supported by Tehran during the GCC blockade, and has been cooperating with Iran in various fields – strongly backing the nuclear talks between the Iranians and global powers.
Most recently, Doha hosted its first round of talks to help kickstart negotiations between the conflicting parties after months of stalemate in Vienna.
Qatar has further maintained a consistent position pertaining to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, calling on the international community to support the rights of the Palestinian people, halt illegal Israeli settlements, in addition to running numerous humanitarian programmes in occupied Palestine.
While these may be causes for concern, Qatar has cemented its position as a diplomatic powerhouse and will not be forced to make concessions, particularly with the US administration’s current position.
However, ties between Qatar and the US go beyond these matters, with Doha preparing for positions after the World Cup as an international sports tourism destination, in addition to a powerhouse of international diplomacy and soft diplomatic power, of which support from the US will be imperative.
Qatar could also potentially be seeking US assurances for both internal security and to bolster defence capabilities, in light of recent events in the region.
The Gulf state will be looking to secure peace of mind so that it can focus on policies such as LNG production, boosting tourism and attracting additional foreign investments and technology partnerships post 2022.
The state has already cemented deals with various US entities to provide logistics and support during the World Cup.
However, only time will tell how much influence the US, and Biden’s administration in particular, still has in the region and just how far the GCC is willing to go out on a limb for them.
Zaid Al-Hamdan is the Chairman of Armasite, a political consultancy firm and member of Doha-Based Armasite Group.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Doha News, its editorial board or staff.