Oil drags Biden back to Middle East

US President Joe Biden has tried to portray his forthcoming trip to the Middle East, which will take him to Saudi Arabia, Israel and the West Bank, as a new chapter for "America's engagement" with the region. But were it not for the urgent need to check the soaring price of gasoline at home, the US leader would not have headed to the region, which hitherto has not been a priority for his administration.

The Joe Biden administration will not have ignored the results of recent surveys. Its approval rating has plummeted to a historical low of below 30 percent as of Saturday as a result of the soaring inflation in the United States. And as some observers pointed out, only Saudi Arabia has sufficient oil production capacity and reserves to stabilize the world oil market and help bring down the price of gasoline in the US in a short time. So sealing a deal with the country could be a life-saving straw for his party that Biden is desperately trying to grab.

Yet even if the world knows that his visit to Saudi Arabia on Friday is aimed at persuading Riyadh to release more oil to help the US bring down the price of oil that is fueling inflation in the country to a decades' high, Biden still claimed in an op-ed published in The Washington Post on Saturday that the trip is to "outcompete China". It was predictable that Biden will try and cast his visit in the noble light of "values".

That it takes Biden himself to pen an op-ed before the visit explains how much he wants to take the sting out of the remarks he made about Riyadh when campaigning for the White House. Then, he vowed that he would treat the Saudi royal family as "the pariah that they are" after the death of a reporter, saying there is "very little social redeeming value in the present government in Saudi Arabia".

That he has gone so far as to try and justify the necessity of the trip from the perspective of his administration's "global engagement", intentionally playing down his quest for oil, is a face-saving move should he be unable to persuade Riyadh to increase oil output.

In May, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud stated that the kingdom is already pumping close to maximum capacity, and it had "done what it could" for the oil market. The industry needs to increase refining capacity instead of simply pumping more barrels of crude, he argued. That indicates how much homework Biden has to do for the trip if he does not want to return home empty-handed.

History shows that the only reason the US appears in the Middle East is oil, and what happens when it does. The US' renewed interest in the region threatens to break the region's hard-won equilibrium and positive development momentum, which came after the US' strategic withdrawal, and make the world more volatile.