Last night, the New York Times broke the news that President Biden plans to travel this Summer to Saudi Arabia, effectively signaling the administration’s intent to end its paltry efforts to correct the Kingdom’s destabilizing behavior in return for limited promises on oil production.
Traveling to Riyadh now, hat in hand, is akin to slapping a bargain bandaid on the gaping wound that the U.S.-Saudi relationship has become.
Clearly, America should be working to build a healthier relationship with Saudi Arabia, but that simply isn’t possible unless and until the United States confronts the deep dysfunction at the core of that relationship — a dysfunction defined by the blind eye the U.S. has turned to Saudi’s support for Jihadi terrorism, the spread of Wahhabism, and other reckless and inexcusable actions, like the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamaal Khashoggi.
Biden’s decision to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) without first having secured an end to this destabilizing behavior significantly weakens the United States’ hand.
Applauding MBS’ “courage” for supporting a ceasefire in a war the Saudi Crown Prince himself started — and to use that as a pretext for the presidential meeting — speaks to Biden’s desperation to lower gas prices, as well as to our need to end this dependency on Saudi Arabia.
Let’s also be clear about one thing: This is not the victory of realism over values. Such an assertion erroneously presumes that realpolitik necessitates Biden prostrating himself in front of MBS to push down oil prices. It does not. If oil prices are really the driving force behind this, then Biden should have just gone back into the Iran nuclear deal through an executive order, instead of — for all practical purposes — continuing Trump’s maximum pressure strategy.
The combination of Iranian oil coming back onto the market as well as the immediate influx of more than 50 million barrels of oil that Tehran has in storage but hasn’t been able to sell because of U.S. sanctions, would cause both a better short-term and long-term reduction of oil prices. All Biden needed to do is to go back to the deal his former boss Barack Obama already negotiated.
Instead, Biden has chosen to play a self-defeating game with Iran which in turn has made him desperate enough to cave into MBS. (This would also have put Europe in a much better position as it is desperately trying to reduce its dependence on Russian gas and oil).
Rather than rebuilding relations with Riyadh, Biden’s approach will likely exacerbate the long-standing problems in US-Saudi relations. It will increase our dependence on the kingdom, which has long given its rulers carte blanche to act against American interests in the Middle East and beyond.
MBS is playing hardball with the United States—and Biden just let him win.