Joe Biden’s mounting geopolitical tests

Just one month before the U.S. midterm elections, President Biden is facing a number of escalating geopolitical crises that are imperiling his party politically at home and threatening the vital security interests of the United States and our allies abroad.

Last week, OPEC+ decided to sharply cut oil production, dealing a blow to the West and a setback to the Biden Administration’s foreign policy. Concurrently, Vladimir Putin intensified Russia’s missile attacks against Ukraine and doubled down on threats of using nuclear warfare.

Domestically, OPEC+’s move to decrease their oil exports by 2 million barrels per day is expected to accelerate energy inflation – and in turn, increase gas prices – which Democrats fear could ultimately swing the midterms in Republicans’ favor.

In an election year where the economy and rising prices are already top of mind issues for voters nationally – and as Democrats defend razor-thin congressional majorities – a mid-to-late October gas price hike could very-well be enough for Republicans to win the House comfortably, and possibly even regain control of the Senate.

Even more significantly, with respect to the international implications, the White House’s inability to prevent OPEC+’s cuts is ultimately indicative of America’s declining influence in the region. Further, the dangerous budding oil alliance between Saudi Arabia and Russia suggests that the war in Ukraine will be a long-haul that could stretch on for years.

To be sure, OPEC+’s announcement was embarrassing for the Biden administration. When Biden traveled to Saudi Arabia this summer, he faced criticism for his cordial “fist bump” with Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who the president himself once vowed to make a “pariah” after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in 2018.

Biden’s defenders argued that the meeting was warranted in order to bring down then-record high gas prices and strengthen the alliance against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But just three months later, the Saudi-dominated OPEC+ group, which includes Russia, has done exactly what the Biden administration fought against for months by cutting oil production.

In the wake of OPEC+’s decision, many representatives in Congress are calling for a reevaluation of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, which involves Saudis having military protection against Iran and access to American weapons.

Thus far, the president has only made vague threats that the Saudis will face “consequences for what they’ve done.” While U.S. officials have emphasized that U.S.-Saudi defense cooperation will endure in the region – as combatting Iran is central to both country’s national security interests – the Biden Administration can still use the Saudis’ dependence on U.S. weapons to send a message, or as leverage to pressure OPEC+ to reverse these cuts.

It is also essential that an effort is made to shore up domestic oil production in the short-term – as part of a long-term all-of-the-above energy strategy – in order to increase America’s energy independence and decrease our reliance on foreign oil.

While this approach won’t lower prices at the gas pump before the midterms, an announcement by Biden that he intends to pursue such a strategy would help reassure voters that Democrats are committed to lowering prices, a perception the party has struggled to shape.

Most troublingly, OPEC+’s decision has emboldened Vladimir Putin, as this cut helps Russia just as much as it hurts the U.S. Higher oil revenues ensure that Putin will continue being able to wage war against Ukraine – and against the U.S. and NATO by proxy.

For his part, Putin wasted no time in reminding the world of the depths of his depravity this week, unleashing a massive bombardment of Ukrainian cities just days after once again threatening the world with nuclear war.

On Monday and Tuesday, Russia launched more than 100 missiles into Ukrainian cities with the aim of killing as many civilians as possible, and claimed that they were retaliating against an attack perpetrated by Ukraine in Russian-occupied Crimea.

Putin’s deliberate targeting of civilians and attempts at blackmailing the international community with threats of nuclear war cannot be met with passivity from the U.S. and NATO – only with increased Western support for Ukraine, for only a clear Ukrainian victory will bring peace and stability to Europe.

Just as importantly, continued Western support for Ukraine will also send a clear signal to other autocrats – particularly in Beijing and Tehran – that attempts to brutally subjugate other nations will not go unopposed, and that America will defend global democracy and the just, rules-based world order wherever it is threatened.

The Ukrainians have already proven to be extremely capable and courageous fighters, and the U.S. and Europe must continue providing their military with additional aid and weaponry, such as tanks, air defenses, and longer-range missiles.

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This is not to say that Putin’s nuclear threats should be dismissed or taken lightly. He staked his regime on conquering Ukraine, only to see his military revealed as a paper tiger, and his latest aggressions are telling of his determination to topple Ukraine and continue his quest to restore Russia to Soviet-era global dominance.

The world is closer to nuclear war than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis, and America’s energy security is being threatened like never before.

Thus, the Biden Administration must make it clear to Moscow that crossing the nuclear line would be catastrophic for Russia – but still walking the fine line of avoiding escalatory rhetoric ourselves – while also sending a clear message to the Saudis via reducing the shipment of American weapons.

Just as importantly, shoring up domestic oil production as part of an all-of-the-above energy strategy is necessary in order for the U.S. to reengage as a true global power that is unbeholden to foreign actors.

Douglas Schoen is a longtime Democratic political consultant.

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