Citing anonymous sources, The Wall Street Journal reported that “the US is removing Patriot antimissile systems from Saudi Arabia and is considering reductions to other military capabilities—marking the end, for now, of a large-scale military buildup to counter Iran.”
Evaluating the news, the Qatari government TV channel, Al Jazeera, commented that “the traditionally warm relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia has been strained in recent weeks, as the price of oil crashed because of a Saudi oil price war with Russia and cratering demand due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many US oil firms are facing bankruptcy, and US politicians from President Donald Trump on down are under pressure to help curtail imports from the kingdom. According to a report from Reuters last week, Trump told Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in early April that unless the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries started cutting oil production, he would be powerless to stop lawmakers from passing legislation to withdraw US troops from the kingdom.”
While at the military level, the latest US move is not particularly significant, as Washington still has large military presence in the region. Nevertheless, the move carries major political implications.
The Saudi regime is tangled in myriads of internal and external conflicts.
Internally, the regime is facing economic, tribal and intra-clan tensions. Externally, it has lost the war in Syria and Yemen and is about to collapse in Libya.
The US withdrawal from the kingdom will primarily embolden internal opponents of Muhammad bin Salman (MbS), as many other royals view his erratic policies as endangering the regime itself.
Whether intentional or not, US withdrawal is a political message that the Trump regime will abandon the Bani Saud for Washington’s business interests and US’ internal political imperatives.
Reduction of anti-missile protective systems around Saudi facilities previously targeted by Yemen, is perhaps a crude move by the Trump regime to force the Saudis to cut oil production.
This is meant to prop-up the US oil industry and help Trump’s business friends.
Trump is not a statesman but a merchant. He lacks sophistication and is completely ignorant of how global politics work.
Thus, the latest move might simply be Trump’s business negotiating tactic.
Moscow could see it as an opportunity to make Riyadh pay for their arrogant behavior in attempting to strongarm Russia on oil production quotas.
While it is not yet clear how Bani Saud’s opponents will use the latest political opening, it’s a perception fiasco for the Saudis.
They may no longer be viewed as strategically significant for Washington.