The Kingdom Always Wins
Biden's upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia is the most natural diplomatic decision he's made.
The limits of the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia have yet to be established. It seems unlikely to me that they ever will. Two decades ago hijackers who have been plausibly linked — by FBI documents declassified by the Biden administration, among other evidence — to extremely high levels of the Kingdom’s government crashed two jet planes into the Twin Towers, triggering an overwhelming U.S. response that culminated in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and military interventions in over a dozen countries across the Middle East and North Africa in the name of rooting out the actors and sponsors of global terror. It is not particularly hyperbolic at this point to say that Saudi Arabia did 9/11, and the United States sat there and took it. And then we paid them for it.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the Biden administration is pursuing a “reset” of the American relationship with Saudi Arabia, the details of which will assumedly be hashed out when ]Biden visits Saudi Arabia for a gathering of regional leaders in July. The trip, announced on Tuesday, represents a significant departure from Biden’s 2020 campaign rhetoric, in which he promised to “make them, in fact, the pariah that they are."
Public outcry against the Saudi regime — which is and has been guilty of basically every human rights abuse you can think of, both inside and outside its own borders — reached a fever pitch after a team of Saudi assassins murdered Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The Trump administration, of course, largely shrugged off this provocation, which perhaps led to Biden’s opportunistic bombast on the campaign trail. Early into the Biden administration, Politico reports, it looked as if the new president would keep the Saudis at arm’s length, whatever that means — sending an envoy to tell Crown Prince and de facto head of state Mohammed bin Salman that he was very peeved at him and would need him to do some apologizing and a bit more wallpapering over the aforementioned human rights abuses. And that’s pretty much it. The Kingdom always wins.
Nothing the Biden administration did in its time in power really materially affected the ways that Saudi Arabia is allowed to shape the Middle East, or the world. The U.S. continued to support Saudi Arabia’s brutal war in Yemen, taking the Kingdom’s side with milquetoast rhetoric and continuing most of its preexisting policies with only semantic shifts. In January of this year, a U.S.-made bomb dropped by the Saudis killed 80 people and injured over 200. What is the point? The Kingdom wins. Nothing has changed.
Politico reports that MBS’s initial demands to Biden included asking for “no surprises” when it came to the delicate negotiations with Iran over a re-entry to the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal. Congress has already pushed back against some of Biden’s negotiating points; it seems to me as if the lives of millions of Iranians suffering under punishing U.S. sanctions are likely to be casually tossed around the table between the administration and Saudi leadership during their meetings in July. These are the games that Biden is playing. They are the same ones that every president before him since 1945 has played. No matter what he says about the Saudi regime now, it’s clear whose interests will always come out on top. At least the Biden administration is finally abandoning the pretense that things will be any different. This is a time of crisis and we need the Saudi oil. The only question is what we will pay for it.