July 15, 2022

Biden Visits Saudi Arabia

President Joe Biden will discuss energy supply, human rights, and security cooperation in Saudi Arabia on Friday on a trip designed to reset the U.S. relationship with a country he once pledged to make a ‘pariah’ on the world stage.” Reuters

Both sides are critical of Biden’s trip:

“More Saudi crude production would help cool a global oil market struggling to keep up with demand. But there are questions about the extent of the kingdom’s spare capacity and whether the Saudis will even want to assist Washington on this issue. While Biden intends to make the case to Saudi Arabia and the rest of the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] that pumping more oil is in their own self-interest, it’s difficult to see the Gulf Arab states taking this argument seriously. Indeed, the higher oil prices are, the more revenue these petro-states rake in…

“[Meanwhile] Major human rights concessions from the Saudis are about as likely as the New York Jets winning the Super Bowl next year… The Biden administration will attempt to make the most out of the trip. And the administration’s spokespeople will do what spokespeople normally do: dress it up as a win regardless of the outcomes and set expectations low if the outcomes are unimpressive — as they will most likely be.”
Daniel DePetris, Spectator World

“It has become a truism to assert that realpolitik necessitates a rapprochement with Saudi Arabia, despite the moral outrage that many people expressed over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi… But this accepted presumption of ‘shared interests’ is worth testing… A Saudi-led regional consensus on escalating confrontation with Iran has now led to an outcome in which Iran has acquired enough of a stockpile for a nuclear weapon… Support for the Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar weakened a government backed by the United States and the United Nations…

“Then there is Yemen. Since the Saudi-led invasion of that country, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, including thousands in the kind of indiscriminate air strikes that draw swift Western condemnation when they occur in Ukraine… We don’t get to pick who runs other countries, and when we try to, it usually doesn’t turn out well. But we do get to choose the level, terms, and venues for that engagement—which, in this case, clearly reflect MBS’s [Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's] preferences.”
Ben Rhodes, The Atlantic

“There is one way for Biden to salvage something positive from this debacle and deliver real relief to American citizens suffering at the hand of the Saudi regime: He can bring some of them home on his plane Saturday. ‘Air Force One is large enough for all of them,’ reads a letter sent to Biden on Tuesday by Ali Al-Ahmed, president of the Committee for American Hostages in Saudi Arabia, a group that works with families of American citizens and residents who are unjustly imprisoned in Saudi Arabia or barred from leaving the kingdom…

“U.S. officials say Biden must engage with Saudi Arabia because of the continuing war in Yemen and the threat from Iran. Sure. But that doesn’t mean Biden has to give the regime a pass on human rights or its mistreatment of our people… if Biden and his team decide to use his visit to secure the release of U.S. citizens who are imprisoned or banned from leaving, the political benefits to him will be enormous. This is the bare minimum that Biden would need to claim that his trip is not a failure.”
Josh Rogin, Washington Post

“Biden’s pledge to put human rights at the center of foreign policy was always in tension with his other slogan of a ‘foreign policy for the middle class.’ Can a president remain committed to defending human rights abroad if doing so raises consumer costs for the average American voter? What if defending human rights in Ukraine means ignoring them in Saudi Arabia, and what if the middle class doesn’t care about any of this because gas is $5 a gallon? Perhaps it was a blunder to make this idealistic commitment in the first place. Grounding policy in values matters, but sooner or later, as president, one has to do business with governments that contradict those values…

“Generations of American and European leaders failed to heed repeated warnings that remaining heavily reliant on fossil fuels would have catastrophic consequences — environmental, economic, social, political, and so on — down the line. Biden is just the latest president to pay the piper.”
Jonah Shepp, New York Magazine

“Mr. Biden wouldn’t need to beg MBS if he shed his climate obsessions and unleashed American oil production. As it did with the Saudis, Team Biden came to office in 2021 wanting to turn the U.S. oil and gas industry into a pariah…

“That was a catastrophic misjudgment—economically for energy prices, strategically for Europe’s vulnerability to Vladimir Putin, and politically for Democrats as they face angry voters in November. If Mr. Biden can meet face to face with MBS, why not do the same with U.S. oil and gas executives and promise them new leases on and offshore, faster permits, and an end to the regulatory war on pipelines and the supply of capital?”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“If Democrats in 2022 cannot bear the current price of gasoline — if their leading figure is willing to throw over his former moralistic commitment to isolating the Saudi regime — then it is entirely unrealistic to expect Democrats to be willing to bear the real-world costs of meeting the demands of ‘Green New Deal’ ideologues…

“There are real environmental costs to any kind of energy production, whether you are drilling for gas or building dams for hydroelectric power. You wouldn’t believe how much poison — and how much petroleum — it takes to manufacture solar panels. There are always tradeoffs and calculations to be made…

The benefits of taking a more intelligent approach to U.S. energy production would be environmental, economic, and — crucially — geopolitical. One of them would be enjoying the option of treating the Saudi regime as what it is: not a necessary evil, but an unqualified evil, or at least not the kind of evil to which the president of the United States of America must go begging, hat in hand, every time the prices posted at 7-Eleven inconvenience him politically.”
Kevin D. Williamson, National Review

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A libertarian's take

“Riyadh and its well‐​renumerated Greek Chorus in Washington promote the KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] as a vital ally. However, the reality is quite different. The energy market has diversified. Biden is desperate to expand Saudi oil production because the US is now waging economic war against multiple oil producers. Instead of empowering the Saudis, Biden should abandon the Trump administration’s failed strategies of starving already suffering Venezuelans and wrecking Iran’s economy. The US also should be offering Ukraine at least as much encouragement to make peace as war…

“The Kingdom’s factotums also present the Saudi royals as a heroic barrier to aggressive Iranian Islamic revolutionaries. Yet the KSA has been even more disruptive and interventionist than Tehran. Riyadh financed the brutal al‐​Sisi coup and dictatorship in Egypt, sent troops to preserve the oppressive minority Sunni monarchy in Bahrain, blockaded and threatened to invade neighboring Qatar, underwrote Islamist fighters in Libya and Syria, kidnapped Lebanon’s prime minister, and invaded Yemen, the poorest country in the region. Quite a record!… Every president seems to fall for the myth that the Kingdom is a vital partner for America. It is the Saudi royals who need the US. Washington policy should reflect this geopolitical reality.”
Doug Bandow, Cato Institute

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