Donald Trump’s arraignment may have been the most eye-catching item of US news lately, but another development just as decisive for America’s future happened on the other side of the world. On 2 April a group of oil-producing states led by Saudi Arabia announced cuts in output of more than one million barrels a day, lasting from May to the end of the year. This is an affront to Joe Biden’s administration, battling cost-of-living price rises ahead of next year’s presidential election, and a rupture with the long-standing Saudi business model of reliably supplying the oil-thirsty US economy.
The production cut is just the latest example of Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, staking out greater independence from Washington. In recent weeks Riyadh has edged closer to joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a Chinese-led security bloc; it has initiated a rapprochement with the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Asad; and most notably it has accepted a limited, Chinese-brokered détente with its great regional rival, Iran. The Washington Post reports that MBS has explicitly told confidants that he is abandoning the old assumption that whatever the US wants, it gets: “I broke that because I want things in return.”