First, there is a surge in demand from countries such as China and India, fueled by development. Second, the existing level of production will dwindle as the existing oil fields start to deplete. Third, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states cannot afford price decreases like in the 1980s because of a growing population that is dependent solely on oil revenues.
The United States needs to balance its immediate interests with its long-term interests. Because Iran and Iraq will reshape the future of the Middle East and because Saudi Arabia's political and economic clout will decline, it will be a miscalculation to remain unconditionally supportive of an absolute monarchy, which produced al Qaeda and the Sept. 11 hijackers. Saudi Arabia is becoming a powder keg. The Wahhabi sect is still regulating the lives of local Saudis and is often forced upon the expatriate labor force. Women remain second-class citizens, and the rest of the population has no say over its life. Shi'ites are still discriminated against, and any other faith outside Wahhabism is considered heresy. It is time for the United States to rely on the founders' ideals to bring change in the Middle East and start building relationships with the future regional powers. Saudi Arabia is no longer a viable ally, and its clout is fading away.