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Saudis Crow Over Biden Coming Hat-In-Hand to Riyadh
The man who promised to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” now begs them for oil.
By Hugh Fitzgerald
What was once planned as a quick visit to Israel-and-the-Palestinians by President Biden has become a three-way affair, with Saudi Arabia not only added to the itinerary, but has become the main event, the meeting in Riyadh with the Saudi Crown Prince will overshadow his lightning visits to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. In Israel, Biden will attend the Maccabiah Games and no doubt discuss with Prime Minister Bennett ways for Israel to tamp down “tension” in the area – even though all such tension is provoked by the Palestinians – and he will repeat, in his conversations with both Israel and the Palestinians, the latest mantra of the Bidenites, that he “looks forward to reaffirming his lifelong commitment to a two-state solution and to discuss the ways in which we might rekindle a new political horizon that can ensure equal measures of freedom, security, prosperity, and dignity to Israelis and Palestinians alike.“
I’m not sure Israel and the Palestinians can have “equal measures of freedom, security, prosperity, and dignity,” given the failure of the Palestinians to create a free and democratic society – a failure that we see in all 22 states of the Arab League, where either despots or monarchs rule, but nowhere is there a true democracy, of citizens rather than subjects. Nor can the Palestinians, with Islam stunting their mental growth, ever hope to rival the advanced state of Israel, with the astonishing inventiveness of its people. In Israel innovation is welcome; Muslim Arabs regard innovation, or bida, with deep suspicion. As for “equal measures of…..dignity,” both Hamas and the PA have shown how little they care for the “dignity” of those they rule over, people who are not permitted to choose their rulers by elections, and who are arrested or even executed for daring to criticize those rulers. Why would the people in a “Palestinian state” fare any better than they do now under Hamas in Gaza, or under the PA in the West Bank? It will be amusing, however, to hear Biden repeat that mantra to Mahmoud Abbas – all that guff about “equal measures of freedom, security, prosperity and dignity” – that is, to the very man who is now in the 17th year of his four-year term, who had his harshest critic, Nizar Banat, beaten to death, and who has amassed a fortune of $400 million consisting mostly of aid money he stole.
But then, with Israel-cum-Palestinians given their quick due, for Biden it’s on to the real object of this trip, which is to make up, in properly obsequious fashion, with Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, so that the Saudis will turn on the oil tap wide enough to bring down the price of gas for consumers, and thereby, the Bidenites calculate, give Biden a shot at being be reelected.
The Saudis are delighted to see President Biden having to eat crow. They don’t like him. They resented his refusal to respond forcefully to Houthi attacks on their country. They have been mightily displeased with his attempt to appease the Iranians in Vienna. But most infuriating, to MbS, has been Biden’s anger over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. During the campaign for president, Biden promised to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah.” Now Biden is going to have to go, hat in hand, to the man he knows ordered Khashoggi’s murder and continues to deny it, and to behave as if he believed him.
A report on how the Saudi commentators are gloating over US President Joe Biden’s planned visit next month, claiming that the US leader’s about-turn on his vow to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” reflected the kingdom’s importance in global affairs, is here: “Biden to meet with Saudi crown prince despite ‘pariah’ pledge,” Reuters, June 14, 2022:
After the White House confirmed on Tuesday that Biden would meet de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on a trip to the region, the Saudi commentators took to social media to praise the prince for his handling of the crisis in US-Saudi ties.
“We said it before and we did not exaggerate, they [Western leaders] will all come successively to Riyadh,” tweeted Faisal AlShammeri, a reporter at Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV.
“Realpolitik changed the administration’s convictions,” he added.
Rights groups, in contrast, said the visit risks “fostering repression” inside the kingdom, the world’s largest oil exporter.
Everyone understands that Biden’s visit has nothing to do with morality, and everything to do with the Saudis increasing their oil production, to make up for Russian oil that been taken off the market. I doubt that Biden’s appearance – his smile and handshake with a man he considers to be a murderer — will have any effect on increasing “repression” in the Kingdom. The Saudis are largely impervious to outside pressure to improve their record on human rights, and MbS will not be any more repressive because of Biden’s visit. Besides, the Bidenites must be thinking, better repression in Saudi Arabia than a recession in the United States.
US relations with Saudi Arabia have been under strain since the 2018 murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by a team of Saudi operatives in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.
Biden had refused to deal directly with Prince Mohammed following a US intelligence report implicating him in the killing. The Saudi government denied any involvement by the prince, saying the murder was a heinous crime by a rogue group.
The Saudi denial is nonsense, of course. MbS ordered the killing of Khashoggi, and now he has his severest American critic coming to Riyadh, prepared to ignore the Khashoggi affair. Upon Biden’s return to Washington, he will no doubt give a press conference on his trip, and when he is asked “did you discuss with the Crown Prince the killing of Jamal Khashoggi?” will blandly answer that “I promised to keep my conversation with the Crown Prince about the helpful role Saudi Arabia can play in calming the world’s oil markets and that’s exactly what I did.”
But Washington’s desire to improve ties with Gulf monarchies has become more urgent following Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, which highlighted the relevance of Gulf oil producers as Europe looks to cut its energy dependence on Russia.
Biden’s July 15-16 visit to the kingdom, where he is also due to attend a summit of Arab leaders, ends his campaign pledge to make the kingdom a pariah as he struggles to combat high US gasoline prices and build a united international front to isolate Russia.
Former Saudi intelligence chief and senior royal Prince Turki al-Faisal blasted critical remarks, carried in US media, about the prince and the kingdom’s human rights record and suggested Biden was trying to save his presidency.
“It is the tanking popularity of the president that brings him to us. It is his legitimacy that he hopes to bolster by meeting with our crown prince,” Prince Turki wrote in an op-ed published in the Saudi newspaper Arab News on Saturday.
Yes and no, Prince Turki. Yes, of course Biden is coming to Saudi Arabia to “save his presidency.” But no, it’s not his “legitimacy that he hopes to bolster” by meeting with the Crown Prince. In fact, the photograph of a smiling Joe Biden shaking hands with MbS will likely lead only to ridicule at home. What he wants is not “legitimacy,” but lower prices at the pump; it’s the economy, stupid. Biden figures that if gasoline is still above $5 a gallon this November, his party could lose both houses of Congress, ending his hopes to pass his agenda and making much less likely his reelection in 2024. If the Saudis do as he wishes, and increase their production sufficiently to bring down that price to below $4 a gallon and keep it there, Biden thinks he has a fighting chance to be reelected.
Prince Turki and other commentators highlighted Saudi Arabia’s importance, whether for regional and energy security or global politic
Saudi political scientist Hesham Alghannam tweeted that the visit was taking place with “our conditions and interests.”
Rights advocates said Biden’s visit risks “encouraging new abuses and further entrenching impunity” in the kingdom where the prince, widely known by the initials MbS, has cracked down on dissidents and opponents during his swift rise to power.
The Crown Prince doesn’t need Biden’s appearance to give him the go-ahead to crush his domestic opponents. He is the man, remember, who in November 2017 imprisoned more than 400 of Saudi Arabia’s most powerful people, among them Saudi royals, tycoons, and generals, and held them hostage in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton until they promised to disgorge some of what the Crown Prince claimed were their ill-gotten gains. With this display of his power, the Crown Prince managed to claw back more than $106 billion for the Saudi Treasury.
Thirteen human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and London-based Saudi group ALQST, last week issued a joint letter urging Biden to secure the release of detained dissidents and remove travel bans on others, including US citizens, before he visits Saudi Arabia.
Biden is not going to raise the issue of human rights. That would fatally vitiate his mission, by angering the Crown Prince. Bringing up human rights will simply remind the Crown Prince of all the unfavorable things Biden has said about him in the past, in connection with the murder of Khashoggi. Biden, though his mind wanders, will have practiced enough with his advisers to stick to the script in Riyadh. Increased production of oil by the Saudis, will be his most important order of business. He will also repeat to MbS his previous pledge to the world that “Iran will NEVER get a nuclear weapon on my watch.” Some may snicker that Biden can promise, but in the end it will not be America but Israel that will make sure that pledge is kept.
From Biden’s point of view, his contrite appearance in Riyadh, and his assurance that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon should be enough to win over the Crown Prince. Another million or two barrels of Saudi crude daily could do wonders for Biden’s presidential prospects. Isn’t that, for Joe Biden and the Bidenites, all that really matters?
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons