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Saturday, February 29, 2020

Trump vs Sanders? Populism vs Populism

By James M. Dorsey

A podcast version of this story is available on Soundcloud, Itunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, Spreaker, Pocket Casts, Tumblr, Podbean, Audecibel, Patreon and Castbox.
Civilisationalism’s train may well have left the station. That may also be true for a fundamental re-definition of US foreign policy.

To what degree, civilisationalism continues its march and how US foreign policy will be re-defined is likely to be determined by who wins this year’s US presidential election.

With Donald J. Trump the undisputed Republican candidate and Bernie Sanders the Democratic frontrunner, the fight for the highest office in the land could be one between two very different but no less radical visions of America’s role in the world.

For civilizationalist illiberals, authoritarians and autocrats in the Middle East and North Africa and beyond, the stakes could not be higher.

In The Economist’s words, a race  between Messrs. Trump and Sanders would be between, "a corrupt, divisive right-wing populist" with an empathy for autocrats, like his favourite, Egyptian general-turned-president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and "a sanctimonious left-wing  populist, " who, despite emphasizing human rights, democracy, diplomacy and re-committing the United States to the trans-Atlantic alliance, “has a dangerous tendency to put ends before means” and “displays the intolerance of a Righteous Man.”

The obvious differences notwithstanding, Messrs. Trump and Sanders share scepticism about America wielding power overseas and a reluctance to use military force.

On the surface of it, Mr. Sanders would likely agree that Mr. Trump wasn’t wrong when he took aim at a post-Cold War US foreign policy that had primarily produced disastrous failures since the demise of Communism by declaring “our foreign policy is a complete and total disaster.”

Mr. Trump was referring to what political scientist Stephen M. Walt described as an era in which the United States as the world’s only superpower could rule supreme but had no need to do so.

“Instead of building an ever-expanding zone of peace united by a shared commitment to liberal ideas, America’s pursuit of liberal hegemony poisoned relations with Russia, led to costly quagmires in Afghanistan, Iraq and several other countries, squandered trillions of dollars and thousands of lives, and encouraged both states and non-state actors to resist American efforts or to exploit them for their own benefit,” Mr. Walt argued.

From a civilisationalist’s point of view, Mr. Trump was the right person at the right time.

He promised a radical departure from the United States’ internationalist agenda and dumped the concept of American exceptionalism that positioned the United States as the linchpin of a liberal world order, the indispensable policeman that would keep the world from falling apart. Foreign policy would no longer be informed by a longer-term overarching worldview.

Instead it would be driven by short-term transactions that served immediate goals, struck advantageous deals and shifted burdens to others.

Ironically, Mr. Trump’s chaotic and impulsive policymaking and management style, narcissism, and ineptitude allowed civilisationalists with whom he instinctively empathized take center stage while the United States continued to fight wars in distant lands and shoulder much of the burden of policing global security.

Rather than “bringing America’s commitments and capabilities into better balance, Trump has undermined the latter without decreasing the former,” Mr. Walt concluded.

Mr. Trump’s approach bolstered Russian president Vladimir Putin’s declaration three years into the real-estate mogul-turned president’s administration that liberalism had “outlived its purpose.”

Writing in The New York Times, Max Frankel, the paper’s former executive editor, argued last year that civilizationalist leaders didn’t need to formalize a tacit meeting of the minds on the principles of governance that should underwrite a new world order.

Against the backdrop of unproven allegations of illicit cooperation between Russia and the 2016 Trump electoral campaign, Mr. Frankel suggested that “there was no need for detailed electoral collusion between the Trump campaign and Vladimir Putin's oligarchy because they had an overarching deal: the quid of help in the campaign against Hillary Clinton for the quo of a new pro-Russian foreign policy.”

Igor Yurgens, president of the Institute of Contemporary Development, and a former advisor to erstwhile Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, expressed a similar sentiment.

Mr. Trump is “our wrecking ball.  He shares our ideology and has shown as much sympathy to Russia as was humanly possible,” Mr. Yurgens said.

Mr. Yurgens assertion is seemingly mirrored in Mr. Trump’s empathy for Mr. Putin and autocrats like Mr. Al-Sisi and Emirati and Saudi crown princes, Mohammed bin Zayed and Mohammed bin Salman as well as his anti-immigration policies that favour Europeans and discriminate against Africans, Asians and Latin Americans and his repeated refusal to convincingly condemn racist and neo-Nazi groups.

Mr. Trump’s ambiguity towards far-right thinking neatly aligns itself with Russian support for racist and neo-Nazi groups in the United States and across Europe that is designed to fuel civilizationalist attitudes, bolster opposition to European Union sanctions imposed after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, and drive a wedge in the trans-Atlantic alliance that Mr. Trump has repeatedly questioned.

By contrast, Mr. Sanders, a self-styled democratic socialist, would likely bring a different, more civil tone to the presidency, but no less of a redirection of US foreign policy.

If Mr. Trump attempted to reduce foreign policy to business-like transactions, Mr. Sanders would transform policy into what scholars Ben Judah and David Adler have termed ‘foreign politics.’

“He is targeting the global architecture of kleptocracy in which many U.S. firms and passport holders are complicit and building ties with social movements around the world that can serve as allies in the fight against state corruption,” Messrs. Judah and Adler argued in The Guardian.

In doing so, Messrs. Judah and Adler suggest, Mr. Sanders as president would, unlike his predecessors, target three pillars of Mr. Putin’s disruptive polices: oil and gas revenues, a kleptocratic power base, and information warfare.

Mr. Sander’s tools shy away from the centrality of military power. Instead they include the promotion of renewable energy that would reduce European reliance on Russian fossil fuels, the dismantling of offshore tax havens and corporate shells that facilitate Putin’s kleptocracy, and US reengagement in the battle of ideas by promoting human rights and other democratic values.

From a foreign policy perspective, the problem with Mr. Sanders is not the loftiness of his goals and principled positions or the practicality of his domestic policy proposals. It is that, given deep polarisation in the United States, he could prove to be as divisive as his nemesis, Mr. Trump.

Ironically, that is not how many Europeans, including conservatives, see Mr. Sanders. Said a senior member of Germany’s ruling centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU): “He may seem radically left-wing in America, but if he were German, he would fit right into the CDU, and probably even the more conservative side of it.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, an adjunct senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Not a pretty picture: The contours of a new world order are on your tv screen

By James M. Dorsey

A podcast version of this story is available on Soundcloud, Itunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, Spreaker, Pocket Casts, Tumblr, Podbean, Audecibel, Patreon and Castbox.

Television news summarizes daily what a new world order shaped by civilisationalists entails.

Writer William Gibson’s assertion that “the future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed” is graphically illustrated in pictures of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of desperate Syrians fleeing indiscriminate bombing in Idlib, Syria’s last rebel stronghold, with nowhere to go.

It’s also evident in video clips from the streets of Indian cities where police stand aside as Hindu nationalists target Muslims and Prime Minister Narendra Modi turns Muslims into second-class citizens; refugee camps in Bangladesh where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who fled ethnic cleansing in Myanmar linger with no prospect of a better life; a devastating civil war in Libya fuelled by foreign powers propagating a worldview that has much in common with civilisationalism; a take-it-or-leave it US plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that belittles and disregards Palestinian aspirations; the Trump administration’s adoption of rules that favour immigrants from Europe rather than Africa, Asia and Latin America; and China’s brutal effort to erase the identity and culture of its Turkic Muslim minority.

The constant tv diet of the horrors of civilizationalist-inspired violence, war, human suffering, discrimination, and prejudice coupled with fears of existential threats posed by the other, migration and globalization, no longer spark outrage.

“The horrors in Idlib are one face of the emerging ‘new world disorder,’" said Wall Street Journal columnist Walter Russell Mead.

Underlying civilizationalist discrimination and repression that risks dislocating ever larger minority segments of populations, political violence and mass migration on unmanageable scales is the mainstreaming of racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and the demonization of liberal values that propagate basic, human and minority rights and ideologies that seek to synthesize democratic and conservative values steeped in tradition and religion, particularly Islam.

Civilisationalists and right-wing populists, including Messrs. Trump and Modi, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Chinese President Xi Jingping, feed from similar philosophical troughs.

Political scientist Shawn W. Rosenberg argues that the political structures of states that are governed by populists and/or defined by a civilization rather than the Westphalian concept of a nation are built on the notion that people are characterized not by their ties to one another, but by being part of a nation.

Civilisationalists and populists ignore individual differences and emphasize an individual’s relationship to the nation. In their world, individuals are at the bottom of the heap in a civilizationalist state that is anchored in concepts of loyalty to the nation and obedience to the state and its leaders who embody the will of the people.

Mr. Rosenberg warns that civilisationalists see an independent judiciary, Western concepts of rule of law, and a free press as institutions that not only obstruct accomplishment of their mission but also undermine their definition of the role and place of the individual.

To protect a nation’s integrity, civilisationalists and populists seek to shield ‘the people’ from foreign influences, migration and the nation’s competitors, other nations. They see their nation’s power as derived from being stronger than others and doing better than others at the other’s expense.

Foreign policy is geared towards that goal rather than towards a global community that upholds principles of equality, equity and cooperation, Mr. Rosenberg asserts. Civilisationalists and populist seek economic and/or military diminution, if not domination of others, which by implication requires a rejection or hollowing out of international institutions.

The civilizationalist approach is making itself felt not only in lands governed by civilisationalists. Mainstream political leaders like French President Emmanuel Macron, widely viewed as a centrist who is attempting to counter civilisationalism and populism, are not immune to aspects of civilisationalism.

Nor is the Dutch parliamentary commission that earlier this month held controversial hearings about “unwanted influencing by unfree countries” that focussed on Gulf support for Dutch Muslim communities and an unnuanced view of political Islam. The commission contemplated following in the footsteps of Austria that has banned foreign funding for Muslim organizations. France is considering a similar ban.

Kuwait and Qatar are funding the construction of an Islamic religious and cultural centre in Mulhouse.

Qatar has backed the Brotherhood in the past and is home to Yusuf al-Qaradawi, widely viewed as a one of the foremost influencers of the Brotherhood, a catch-all for a multitude of aligned Islamist groups that bicker among themselves.

“In the Republic we cannot accept that we refuse to shake hands with a woman because she is a woman. In the Republic, we cannot accept that someone refuses to be treated or educated by someone because she is a woman. In the Republic, one cannot accept school dropouts for religious or belief reasons. In the Republic, one cannot require certificates of virginity to marry,” Mr. Macron said.

Mr. Macron’s sweeping opposition to political Islam persuaded him to support Libyan rebel leader Khalifa Haftar, who stands accused of human rights violations and has aligned himself with a Saudi-backed strand of Salafism that preaches absolute obedience to the ruler.

Mr. Haftar, who also enjoys support of the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, two countries opposed to democracy and any expression of Islam that rejects submission to an autocrat, is seeking to wrench control of the Libyan capital of Tripoli from the United Nations-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA). The GNA is backed by Turkey and includes elements associated with the Brotherhood.

To be sure, France has had its share of jihadist violence in recent years with deadly attacks on a French satirical newspaper, restaurants, music halls and soccer stadiums and the ramming of a truck into a crowd on the streets of Nice.

Creeping civilisationalism does not, however, by definition characterise the efforts by Europeans like Mr. Macron and others to ensure that minority communities, including Muslims, are full-fledged participants in a society that should afford them equal opportunity and rights and requires them to accommodate dominant mores.

Civilizationalist approaches, nonetheless, contribute to the failure to be agnostic in countering all forms of supremacism and racial, ethnic or religious prejudice and the lumping together of ideologies that reject democratic values with ones that seek accommodation.

It’s a failure that creates the environment in which someone like white supremacist Tobias Rathjen was emboldened to earlier this month kill nine people with an immigrant background in the German city of Hanau.

German politicians accused the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party of contributing to that environment. They demanded that the party be placed under surveillance.

Countering civilisationalism is one side of the coin. Avoiding unhelpful generalisations and oversimplifications is another.

In an examination of the concept of popular sovereignty in Islamic thought, political scientist Andrew F. March argues that this decade’s popular Arab revolts marked an “intellectual revolution” and “a comprehensive reformulation of Islamic political philosophy” involving not only “reducing rulers to their proper status as agents of the people but also implicitly raising the people to the ultimate arbiters of God’s law.”

No doubt, it’s a revolution that is rejected by ultra-conservative Muslims, elements of the Brotherhood and various strands of Salafism. Nonetheless, it was a revolution articulated in February 2011, days after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, by none other than Mr. Al-Qaradawi, one of the most prominent Islamist thinkers.

Quoting Martin Luther King Jr’s prediction that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” Mr. Mead the columnist, concluded that it “is hard to see from Idlib.”

He could have just as well been speaking about the dislocation and suffering in a civilizationalist-dominated world that plays out on television screens across the globe in which rights, equitable rule of law and international law are relegated to the dust bin.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, an adjunct senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture

Sunday, February 23, 2020

It is the geopolitics rather than the economics of energy that will drive US interest, particularly as it regards efforts to change Iranian policies, if not the Iranian regime, as well as the longer-term power balance in the Middle East.

Posted on: Thu, 02/20/2020 - 13:33

Trump at the White House (Reuters)
Oil may not be the only factor driving a reduced US commitment to guaranteeing security in the Middle East, but it certainly is one that weighs heavily in US President Donald Trump’s mind. “Because we have done so well with Energy over the last few years (thank you, Mr. President!), we are a net Energy Exporter, & now the Number One Energy Producer in the World. We don’t need Middle Eastern Oil & Gas, & in fact have very few tankers there…,” Mr. Trump said in a self-congratulatory tweet. (1)
The timing of Mr. Trump’s assertion that a decade-old, technology-driven drilling boom had propelled the United States to become the world’s top fossil fuel producer gave his tweet real meaning even if his claim that the US was no longer dependent on Gulf imports or vulnerable to oil price fluctuations was questionable. He was tweeting two days after drones and missiles allegedly launched by either Iran or Houthi rebels in Yemen seriously damaged two key Saudi oil facilities. (2)
Coming on the back of Mr. Trump’s failure to respond to the earlier downing by Iran of a US drone, the sabotaging of tankers in the Arabian Sea off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, and multiple attacks on US facilities in Iraq by Iranian-backed militias, the tweet reinforced nagging questions among Gulf leaders about the reliability of the United States’ longstanding regional defense umbrella intended to protect against such incidents.(3)
All Roads Lead to Rome
Oil was a factor in an ongoing rethink of US interests in the Middle East that started already at the time of the Obama administration even if Mr. Trump’s approach to some form of disengagement differs starkly with that of his predecessor, Barak Obama.
In contrast to Mr. Trump’s transactional approach and maximum pressure campaign designed to force Iran to unconditionally renegotiate the fledgling 2015 international agreement that curbed the Islamic republic’s nuclear program, discontinue its development of ballistic missiles and halt support for regional proxies, Mr. Obama negotiated the agreement and sought to gradually return Iran to the international fold.
Transactionalism was at the core of Mr. Trump’s assertion in the wake of the oil facility attacks that they were ”an attack on Saudi Arabia, and that wasn’t an attack on us.  If we decide to do something, they’ll be very much involved, and that includes payment. And they understand that fully.” (4)
Both approaches set off alarm bells in the Gulf. Saudi and UAE leaders favoured Mr. Trump’s  campaign against Iran but worried about his transactionalism.
Nonetheless, both approaches were informed by the re-emergence of the United Sates as a powerful player in international energy markets even if statistics failed to bear out Mr. Trump’s assertions of energy independence.

Despite having become the world’s largest oil producer, US production of some 18 million barrels a day falls just short of the country’s daily consumption of 20 million. The United States’ requirement for imported oil also stems from a mismatch between what some US refiners want and what the United States produces.
Some refiners, including Motiva Enterprises LLC in Port Arthur, Texas, the US’  biggest facility are part owned by Saudi Aramco, the kingdom’s national oil company, and set up to accommodate medium and heavy Saudi grades.
Others, primarily in California that depends on Saudi Arabia for 37 percent of its total foreign oil imports, because it lacks pipelines that would connect it with oil-rich states such as Texas. (5)
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Much of the US shortfall is covered by imports from Canada. The United States, nonetheless, acquires an average of 48 million barrels per month of crude oil and petroleum products from the Gulf region. That is a third less than what the United States imported a decade ago and roughly equivalent to what it purchased in the mid-1990s. (6)
Said Jason Bordoff, a former senior director of Obama’s national security council and founding director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University: “US consumers (and Trump) may yet discover that while the shale revolution has strengthened the United States’ position economically and geopolitically, the nation is far from energy-independent: The Middle East remains critical to oil markets, and disruptions there can still cause pain for consumers here.” (7)
Source: U.S. Energy Information Agency

Even if the US would import no oil from the Middle East, it would retain an interest in ensuring that supply from the region is not disrupted given the impact that would have on the United States itself as well as its trading partners.
As a result, a reduced US commitment to Middle East security could backfire, particularly given that some degree of dependence on oil from the region is likely to continue in the foreseeable future. That is all the more true given that domestic US prices will be vulnerable to disruptions in the Gulf with its significant price-setting influence that impacts not only oil derivatives, but also other commodities such as corn and soybeans whose prices respond to movements in oil markets.
Because Gulf producers are state-owned entities rather than private corporations as in the United States, US leaders have no control of production levels that influence prices. As a result, energy independent or not, Trump needs his Gulf and other allies in OPEC to intervene when oil prices rise too high for US consumers.
Similarly, greater US energy self-sufficiency has in some respects changed the nature of rather than reduced US dependency on the Gulf.  In effect, the dependency is less economic and more geopolitical.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Agency

The United States’ use of energy as a weapon in its sanctions-driven efforts to change policies, if not regimes in Iran and Venezuela relies on Gulf states to compensate for market shortfalls resulting from US policies. US sanctions have removed at least 2.5 million Iranian barrels of crude per day and aim to reduce Iranian exports to zero. The sanctions, without Gulf intervention, would have sent oil prices soaring.
“A stout U.S. military deterrent to those who might threaten oil and gas flows from the Gulf does not guarantee stable prices, but it helps reduce the risk of both damaging spikes and the geopolitical risk premium that markets generally price-in during periods of instability in the region,” said energy scholar Gabriel Collins. (8)
Continued dependence does not mean that the United States has not and economically, strategically and geopolitical from the impact of shale oil. Increased domestic production has boosted GDP by not spending dollars overseas and has reduced America’s trade deficit by some US$250 billion. (9)
Higher oil prices have furthermore benefitted US producers and helped offset price hikes for consumers. Increased US production has also bolstered global inventories, reduced the impact of supply shocks, forced the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to cut production, and given the United States the kind of flexibility to manage production levels that traditional producers do not have.
The Future is Complex
Moving forward, energy-driven US interests in regional security not only in the Middle East but also in the Eastern Mediterranean are likely to be less shaped by the degree to which the United States may rely on imports and more by developments in the region itself, including the emergence of the eastern Mediterranean as a potential gas supplier to Europe, Asia and China; Saudi plans to establish a natural gas network with the UAE and Oman that eventually would extend to Kuwait, Bahrain Iraq, Jordan, Egypt and possibly Palestine; and the kingdom’s intention to massively invest in development of its own gas resources. (10)
The Eastern Mediterranean lurks on the back ground in the war in Libya with Turkish backing of the United Nations-recognized Government of National Accord in Tripoli designed to protect a Turkish-Libyan maritime agreement creating an Exclusive Economic Zone against rebel forces of Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar, who is supported by Turkey’s regional rivals, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. (11)
Russia has joined the fray, hoping that a victory by Khalifa, who has been attempting to capture Tripoli since last April, will thwart a Greek-Cypriot-Israeli agreement to build a pipeline that would supply gas to Europe, reducing European dependence on Russian gas in the process. (12) Critics charge that the maritime agreement that would limit Greek-Cypriot Israeli access to hydrocarbons in the Eastern Mediterranean, violates the Law of the Sea. (13)
Throwing the Eastern Mediterranean into the mix raises US interest not only for reasons of energy security. Israel’s stake in Eastern Mediterranean gas reinforces the United States’ commitment to the security of the Jewish state that requires some regional American presence.
Even so, if Mr. Trump believes his own energy independence rhetoric, he may be blinded to the kind of US influence that will be needed to defend Israeli interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. Serious strains in US-Turkish relations coupled with Mr. Trump’s inclination to by and large abandon Syria and his disinterest in Libya despite having taken a phone call from Mr. Haftar in April 2019 would suggest that the president has not connect ed the dots.
Tension in the Eastern Mediterranean mounted with two Turkish exploration vessels, Fatih and Yavuz, exploring in territorial waters belonging to European Union-member Cyprus, a country Ankara refuses to recognize. Turkey invaded the Turkish Cypriot north of the island in 1974 and is the only country to recognize the region’s unilateral declaration of independence. Turkey is unlikely to be deterred by the sanctioning of two of its officials for involvement in the exploration in Cypriot waters in violation of international law. (14)
The Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) cautioned in a report that “the United States needs a holistic and integrated approach towards the Eastern Mediterranean that will stabilize Europe and shift the regional balance in the Middle East back towards the United States. Resolving the Syrian conflict is essential for Eastern Mediterranean stabilization and developing an appropriate policy approach toward an increasingly antagonistic and anti-democratic Turkey is the key to solving the Syria puzzle and re-anchoring the region toward the Euro-Atlantic community.” (15)
Describing the Eastern Mediterranean as a theatre of big power competition that threatens US and trans-Atlantic interests, the report, maps out a detailed strategy for US re-engagement.
The United States, “must make hard choices and embrace realistic goals, however unattractive, to reinvigorate US diplomatic, economic and security engagement in the region. This will involve addressing and reconciling seemingly incompatible US policies towards Syria and Turkey that can only be bridged through active created and sustained diplomacy backed by ongoing military engagement,” the report said.

US Oil Growth Projection (EIA)

It Is Geopolitics, Stupid!
Similar to the Eastern Mediterranean, it is the geopolitics rather than the economics of energy that will drive US interest, particularly as it regards efforts to change Iranian policies, if not the Iranian regime, as well as the longer term power balance in the Middle East and Central Asia.
And it’s as much about gas as its about oil. A Saudi push to become a major natural gas player seeks to take advantage of the US sanctions against Iran in a bid to turn the kingdom into a gas powerhouse that rivals the Islamic republic. (16) The push came after Saudi Arabia discovered  major reserves in the Red Sea. (17)
Aramco chief executive Amin Nasser said he expected US$150 billion to be invested in the Saudi gas sector over the next ten years. Mr. Nasser envisioned gas production increasing from 14 billion standard cubic feet to 23 billion by 2030.
“We are looking to shift from only satisfying our utility industry in the kingdom, which will happen especially with the increase in renewable and nuclear to be an exporter of gas and gas products,” Mr. Nasser said.
“Aramco’s international gas team has been given an open platform to look at gas acquisitions along the whole supply chain. They have been given significant financial firepower – in the billions of dollars,” he added. (18)
Saudi Arabia has targeted acquisitions in the United States in an effort to both boost its position in the gas market as well as US interest in the kingdom’s stability and also in the Artic.
Aramco agreed in May 2019 to a buy a 25 percent stake in Sempra Energy’s Texas liquefied natural gas terminal in one of the biggest gas deals ever. The deal involves a 20-year agreement under which Saudi Arabia would buy 5 million tons of gas annually from Sempra’s Port Arthur plant, due to begin operations in 2023. (19)
While the Trump administration looks favourably at Saudi investment, some analysts are raising red flags. “We simply cannot hand the quickly globalizing (via LNG) gas market to more risky exporters that often have political goals that are contrary to ours (to put it politely),” said Jude Clemente of JTC Energy Research Associates. (20)
The kingdom has also expressed an interest in acquiring a 30 percent stake in Russia’s Novatek Arctic LNG project. (21)Access to the project’s gas would allow Saudi Arabia to negotiate long-term deals and/or sell cargoes on the spot market or increase domestic supply.
A Saudi-Russian deal in the Artic would likely not only enhance the kingdom’s position but also bring Saudi Arabia, a member of OPEC, and Russia, which is not formally part of the cartel, closer together in their joint management of global oil supplies.
Beyond investments, Saudi Arabia is seeking to become a force in the marketing and trading of gas. The kingdom scored an initial success with the sale in April 2019 of its first Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) cargo in Singapore, the trading hub for Asia and the Pacific, the world’s largest LNG market. (22)
US President Donald J. Trump claims that his shale oil has made his country energy independent. It is a claim that goes down well with a significant segment of the American public even if the facts do not bear out Mr. Trump’s assertion in a year in which voters go to the polls to decide whether he will get a second term.
Increased self-sufficiency has fuelled perceptions that the United States is losing interest in the Middle East and is likely to reduce its commitment to the region’s security. Even if US economic interest may lessen, US strategic interest in regional stability continues to loom large.
The question is not whether the emergence of the United States as the world’s largest energy producer will lead to its departure from the Middle East but what consequences it will have coupled with uncertainty among Gulf leaders about the level of Mr. Trump’s commitment on the region’s future security architecture.

Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of “The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer” blog, a book with the same title and a co-authored volume, “Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa” as well as “Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa” and just published “China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom”. 
2.     BBC News, Saudi Arabia oil attacks: UN 'unable to confirm Iranian involvement', 11 December 2019,
3.     James M. Dorsey,  Soleimani’s death opens a door to alternative security arrangements in the Gulf, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, 7 January 2020,
4.     Chris Megerian and Nabih Bulos, Trump says ‘no rush’ to respond to attacks on Saudi oil facilities, Los Angeles Times, 16 September 2019,
5.     Devika Krishna Kumar, RPT-Saudi attacks threaten U.S. gasoline price hikes, particularly in California, Reuters, 16 September 2019,
6.     Timothy Gardner, Trump says U.S. does not need Middle East oil, but cargoes keep coming, Reuters, 17 September 2019,
7.     Jason Bordoff, No, President Trump, the U.S. isn’t energy-independent. Middle East oil still matters, The Washington Post, 10 January 2020,
8.     Gabriel Collins, Shale is Not Forever: Why America Should Continue Protecting Gulf Oil and Gas Flows, The National Interest, 8 July 2019,
9.     HIS Markit, Trading places: How the shale revolution has helped keep the US trade deficit in check, 2018,
10.  James M. Dorsey, Ending the Gulf crisis: Natural gas frames future Gulf relations, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, 8 December 2019,
11.  Al Jazeera, Will new gas deal fuel regional rivalry in east Mediterranean? 2 January 2020,
12.  Angeliki Koutantou, Greece, Israel, Cyprus sign EastMed gas pipeline deal, Reuters, 2 January 2020,
13.  Luke Baker, Tuvan Gumrukcu and Michele Kambas, Turkey-Libya maritime deal rattles East Mediterranean, Reuters, 25 December 2019,
14.  Callum Paton, Starting with Food: Culinary Approaches to Ottoman History, The National, 5 February 2020,
15.  Jon B. Alterman, Heather A. Conley, Donatienne Ruy and Haim Malka, Restoring the Eastern Mediterranean as a U.S. Strategic Anchor, Center for Strategic and International Studies, 22 May 2018,
16.  Miriam Malek, Saudi Arabia-GCC gas pipeline studies to commence within weeks: Falih, S&P Global Platts, 8 April 2019,
17.  Tsvetana Paraskova, Saudi Arabia Says Large Gas Reserves Found In Red Sea,, 7 March 2019,
18.  Simon Robinson, Dominic Evans, and Dmitry Zhdannikov, Saudi Aramco eyes multi-billion-dollar U.S. gas acquisitions: CEO, Reuters, 22 January 2019,
19.  Natasha Turak and Tom DiChristopher, Saudi oil giant Aramco strikes deal to buy US natural gas from Sempra Energy, CNBC, 22 May 2019,
20.  Jude Clementi, Saudi Arabia Ventures Into U.S. Natural Gas, Forbes, 22 January 2019,
21.  Reuters, Novatek close to deal with Saudi Aramco on Arctic LNG 2 project: CEO, 17 March 2019,
22.  Anthony Dipaola, Stephen Stapczynski, and Verity Ratcliffe, Saudi Aramco Sells First LNG as Oil Giant Expands Into Gas, Bloomberg News, 25 April 2019,