Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the billionaire investor and member of Saudi Arabia’s royal family, said President Barack Obama lacks a “comprehensive and coherent foreign policy” toward the Arab world.
“Obviously, he’s not succeeding” as America's chief executive officer, Alwaleed said at “The Year Ahead: 2014,” a two-day conference in Chicago hosted by Bloomberg LP. When Obama reached out to the Arab world with a widely praised speech in Cairo in 2009, “he raised expectations in our region very high,” Alwaleed said today.
Four years later, Saudi Arabia and its Persian Gulf allies have become frustrated by what they see as Obama’s vacillating positions, according to the prince. He said Obama sent mixed signals on the ouster of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood from power and changed course after drawing a “red line” against the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
“Saudi Arabia was very frustrated with the failure of the United States to deliver for the Arab world,” Alwaleed said.
Alwaleed, a nephew of King Abdullah, is the 17th wealthiest person in the world, with an estimated net worth of $30.4 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The U.S. lacks a strong foreign policy in part because of economic turmoil fueled by the stalemate in Washington over budget policy, he said.
“Unless your house is in order here and unless the bickering stops between the Republican side and the president, you can’t have a strong foreign policy,” he said. Alwaleed described the U.S. economy as “somewhat down now, but it’s not out.”
As talks between Iran and major powers including the U.S. resume in Geneva, the prince expressed concern that Iran hasn’t made enough concessions to warrant a lessening of economic sanctions, a step now under discussion.
“It’s not time right now to loosen up the very economic sanctions” that enticed Iran to negotiate, Alwaleed said. “The U.S., Britain and France are so eager to have a deal.”
Asked if Iran has outmaneuvered the U.S., the prince said, “They’ve been doing this for the last decade or so.”
In one nod of approval on Obama’s policy, Alwaleed said he agreed with the U.S. approach of not pushing for the immediate ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as some in Saudi Arabia would like.
“If the regime falls right now, who’s going to take over there?” Alwaleed asked, citing the potential rise of jihadist extremists.
The U.S. will maintain an interest in the flow of oil abroad, primarily in the Middle East, even as it increases crude production from shale deposits, said the prince, whose country remains the world’s biggest crude exporter and the largest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Companies.
U.S. crude oil production may rise 31 percent to 8.5 million barrels a day in 2014 from 6.5 million in 2012, the Energy Information Administration estimated in its Dec. 10 Short-Term Energy Outlook.
Increased domestic output won’t lessen U.S. interest in protecting access to the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, a transit route for a fifth of the world’s oil, Alwaleed said.
Alwaleed, the self-described “Warren Buffett of Arabia,” is one of the most public members of the Saudi royal family. He is the largest individual investor in Citigroup Inc., the third-biggest U.S. bank by assets.
Like Buffett, Alwaleed, 58, built his fortune by investing in brand-name companies he considered undervalued, including Apple Inc. and News Corp. He controls the Riyadh-based Kingdom Holding Co. and has invested in luxury hotels.
Alwaleed, who grew up in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, moved to the U.S. in 1975 to study business at Menlo College in California. After returning to Saudi Arabia, he began investing in real estate with a $30,000 loan from his father. In his biography, “Alwaleed: Billionaire, Businessman, Prince,” he said he made his first $1 billion selling land and serving as a point man for multinational companies seeking local contracts.
The prince is a supporter of women’s rights in a country that doesn’t let women drive cars and remains largely segregated by gender.
Asked if he feels like a dissident in his own nation, Alwaleed said, “Not really.” He said many people in Saudi Arabia agree with his position privately, “although most of them don’t go public with it. The difference here is I go public.”