I feel like the broader arc of Trump’s Iran policy has been ignored recently. The incredibly flashy and violent gyrations of escalation have gotten a lot of coverage, but there isn’t enough emphasis on why we’re here. Sure, I suppose it’s fun to get bogged down on the question of whether or not assassinating the general of a country we are not at war with is a good idea, but we’re kind of missing the forest for the trees. No matter what you think of the Soleimani killing, we should be more focused on how we got here. And that’s what I try to do today with this video. I attempt to evaluate Trump’s “Maximum Pressure” policy against Iran, and I find it wanting.
I dislike reacting to events quickly, the way that this video does. But this channel obviously couldn’t let the attack on the Abqaiq refinery go uncommented on. Saudi Arabia is sort of my bread and butter, and this could very well be the biggest thing that has happened to Saudi Arabia since it’s idiotic decision to invade Yemen back in 2015. Two weeks later, I’m pretty pleased with my coverage. In the video I referred to my surprise that the oil price spike had been so small. My surprise has only grown.
As of today, the price of Brent Crude oil fell back below the 60 dollars a barrel mark. Two weeks after an attack disrupting half of Saudi Arabia’s production, oil prices are back where they were before the attack, but the oil market has changed irrevocably. In the comments, and unfortunately in the video itself, there is a lot of emphasis on how quickly or slowly Saudi production resumes. That’s important, but it’s not that important. Two weeks later, it’s still not entirely clear what the on the ground impact is. The important thing is that the market no longer seems to really care that much. Reading articles on outlets like www.oilprice.com has gotten seriously depressing. It’s become clear that high prices, not really seen since 2014, are not returning any time soon. I said it in the video, and I’ll say it again now, with two weeks of reinforcement: This is HUGE. Ten years ago, even if Saudi Arabia restored full production the within hours, prices would have spiked, and wouldn’t have come down for months. The attack itself would have sent a message of risk and worry that would jack up prices for weeks.
Now that the worst has happened, and prices haven’t gone up at all, a different message is being sent, loud and clear: Saudi Arabia just doesn’t matter that much anymore.
Man, this video just gets more and more right with time. When I uploaded this one just over two months ago, it presented three reasons why Saudi Arabia should get the heck out of Yemen as soon as possible. Today I would add at least two more. First, the war is putting the safety and security of Saudi Arabia itself in more and more jeopardy by the day. Just a few weeks ago, the Yemenis pulled off history’s most devastating attack on Saudi oil infrastructure. This attack, and the indifference of world oil markets to it, both gravely undermine the Saudis. Over this past weekend, confused reports emerged that the Saudis may be losing large battles on or distressingly close to their own territory. Whether those reports are true or not, the fact that they can be believed should be terrifying to the Saudis.
There is an out from all of this. The Houthis are aware that their complete dominance of the battle space is actually a problem for them. If they push their advantage, and make real inroads in to Saudi territory, they could prompt a US response. They have proved their independence, and remain more interested in peace than the Saudis are. The Houthis have offered to cease attacks on Saudi territory, if the Saudis will agree to do the same. This is a real opportunity. So far, the Saudis have reacted by murdering a bunch of Yemeni families from the air. They should really start pursuing peace before it’s too late.
Saudi Arabia is in a terrible trap. Even the things that it thinks will help threaten its demise. As I pointed out in this video’s companion video, they want a US war with Iran because it would lead to a spike in oil prices, and more damage to competitors in Kuwait and Iraq than to themselves. But even this strategy comes with risks, whether they are caught up in the war or not.
I don’t have a ton of sympathy for the Saudi royal family, obviously, but it’s a situation worth appreciating. It’s Kafkaesque. They’ve constructed a paradise that no longer works. Every ploy they employ gets them closer to the edge. This video lays out the problem of the war with Iran, and this series lays out the broader problem.