by Raymond J. Keating –

There can be real and debatable foreign policy reasons for President Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia later this week. However, the president has failed to offer anything concrete in terms of a vision for U.S. Middle East policymaking, never mind the conflicted message he offers on Saudi Arabia specifically.

Is Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state or part of “a strategic partnership,” as Biden has referred to the Saudis at different times? For good measure, Biden obviously approves of the Obama nuclear deal with Iran, dropped by Trump, which caused a U.S. rift with Saudi Arabia, given that Saudi Arabia and Iran are foes. And I believe Iran is still a foe of the U.S. But given U.S. absence from serious engagement under the past three administrations, both Iran and Saudi Arabia have moved closer to Russia, as has much of OPEC.

Dubious Energy Diplomacy

Amidst the haze of Biden Middle East policymaking and his visit, there is the obvious factor of Saudi Arabia and other OPEC nations being major oil producers during a period of high energy costs. According to a Reuters report:

“U.S. President Joe Biden will make the case for greater oil production from OPEC nations to bring down gasoline prices when he meets Gulf leaders in Saudi Arabia this week, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Monday.”

In reality, there’s little, if anything, that President Biden is able to do to influence Saudi and OPEC oil production.

However, the Biden administration and Congress could do a great deal in aiding increased investment and production from the world’s largest oil and natural gas producer, that is, the United States. Perhaps after visiting with the Saudis and others in OPEC, President Biden might show support for U.S. energy producers, rather than attacking U.S. fossil fuel producers via political rhetoric and actual policymaking.

Imagine President Biden touring energy-producing parts of the United States – visiting with the small businesses and their employees that overwhelmingly populate energy sectors (see SBE Council’s recent “Energy is Small Business” analysis) – and promising to do all he can to encourage U.S. investment, innovation and production.

Energy Policy Solutions

Where could Biden and Congress start regarding policy? Well, they look at SBE Council’s “Small Business Affordable Energy Project” to get some clear answers. Specifically:

● First, open federal lands and waters to leasing, including approving leases in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic.

● Second, Congress and the administration must stop targeting the U.S. energy sector with increased taxes, such as a so-called “windfall profits tax,” which only discourage energy investment.

● Third, support infrastructure investments, such as pipelines, needed to meet U.S. energy needs by, for example, speeding up the federal review process and cutting red tape related to such projects.

● Fourth, fast track investments related to America’s vast supplies of natural gas, such as by capping the review and permitting process to one year for natural gas projects.

● Fifth, the president should be working with and encouraging U.S. energy producers. Why not ally with U.S. energy producers, rather than playing political games with unsavory regimes?

Please, Mr. President, invest your time and political capital wisely with U.S. entrepreneurs, businesses and workers in the energy sector. American energy consumers – including small businesses – would certainly appreciate such engagement and action, as they overwhelmingly support U.S. energy independence and leadership, according to a recent Morning Consult Poll for API90 percentof voters support the U.S. developing its own domestic sources of energy rather than relying on other regions of the world.

Raymond J. Keating is chief economist for the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council. His latest book is The Weekly Economist: 52 Quick Reads to Help You Think Like an Economist.