Former Vice President Joe Biden has been very critical of the Saudis and their de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
It seemed like the Trump administration had ended its policy of appeasement toward the Saudis. However, many of his supporters were dismayed by the Biden administration’s lack of action following the release of a report linking the crown prince to the murder of dissident and writer Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
Biden should Think Long and Hard
The first of two parts looking at the new information on the Biden administration is here today. Let’s start with a review of its policy toward Saudi Arabia.
When it comes to lowering the cost of gasoline for Americans, no other country comes close to Saudi Arabia’s two million barrels per day of reserve oil production capacity. Also, the monarchy is increasing output by a million barrels per day, which is equivalent to blocking a third of Russia’s present supplies to Western Europe.
To convince the crown prince to quit his “pariah policy,” Biden should think long and hard about what MBS, as he is known, might be willing or capable of offering in exchange.
Since he took office 15 months ago, he hasn’t done anything as simple as pick up the phone and talk to the crown prince or nominate a new American ambassador to the kingdom.
Goal of Supporting Democracy and Human Rights
He should think about how accepting the crown prince would affect his reputation and the success of his policies. To do so would be inconsistent with his stated goal of supporting democracy and human rights around the world and would give the impression that he is accepting MBS’ increasingly autocratic reign.
It might also further involve his administration in the Saudi-Iranian contest for regional primacy.
Maybe it’s better to pay these prices. The best case scenario is if MBS agrees to dramatically increased oil production, a withdrawal from the war in Yemen, recognition of Israel, and accommodation with Iran.
The most pressing issue facing the world today is whether or not MBS can or will alter his existing policy.
There will be no direct repercussions for MBS for the murder of Khashoggi, as Biden has made plain. Aljabri told the that MBS would see the visit as a green light from Biden to kill more Khashoggis, comparing it to a presidential pardon for murder.
While Aljabri acknowledged that higher oil prices and the geopolitical impact from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may have pressed Biden’s hand, he argued that the president’s visit should not re-establish a “outdated transactional relationship” that puts human rights concerns on the back burner.