Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word. Biden Aims to Bite the Bullet and Fix Relations With the Saudis
Biden needs to now show the Saudis that he was wrong and is sorry as he needs Riyadh more than ever before.
The so-called strategy of Biden to put the Kingdom in line and to alienate MbS has been a disaster and massively backfired. Biden needs to now show the Saudis that he was wrong and is sorry as he needs Riyadh more than ever before.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has always grown accustomed to the game of the seesaw when U.S. presidents take office, as one great friend and supporter is replaced by a ‘frenemy’ who gives Riyadh the cold shoulder. But few could have predicted that this seesaw would swing back within the four-year span of a U.S. presidency, which is what we are witnessing now with the somewhat preposterous stance that Joe Biden is now forced to take with the Saudis.
When Biden came into office he made a song and a dance about not “giving blank cheques” to regional players like the Saudis and it was obvious that he had Saudi’s mercurial Crown Prince ‘MbS’ in his sights, after a catalogue of appalling human rights calamities such as the Yemen war and the ghastly murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
He imposed a weapons ban on the kingdom, restricted the movement of a number of top officials and made MbS persona non grata all as part of a churlish campaign to bring KSA into line with so-called U.S. “democratic values”.
It didn’t take long though for Biden to cave into some stark realities which have turned the tables on him and his feeble gesturing. The moral tutelage quickly evaporated and reduced the American president to a more servile role in the aftermath of the Ukraine conflict – which Biden is largely responsible for starting when he was vice president in 2014 and he was part of a ruse to overthrow the Russian-friendly leader at the time. Biden quickly realised that while the U.S. can adapt to a new oil crisis, Europe would find it much harder. The U.S. imposed maximum oil sanctions against Russia, but the EU could not follow through as a number of countries in Europe have no way of surviving without gas from Russia.
And so Biden now views Saudi Arabia through a new prism. Biden wised up and made the call to MbS shortly after the conflict started in mid-February but the Crown Prince refused to pick up – a churlish gesture followed by the UAE and which has resonated across the Atlantic and given Biden a harsh lesson, which at his age and with his experience in the White House he really shouldn’t need. Be kind to your friends when you climb as you may need them on the way down.
The Ukraine crisis was massively misjudged by Biden. It’s as though the U.S. president didn’t even care to do some peripheral research into the realities of going to war with Russia. The division between EU countries and also within the EU itself in Brussels guaranties that Europe will continue to fund Russia’s military campaign through energy sales.
But Biden didn’t just misjudge how the war would play out in Ukraine and how the EU would be forced to play both a role in financing it on Russia’s side but also facing crippling inflation at home at the gas pumps and the supermarkets.
Biden also misjudged how the price of gasoline in the U.S. would determine how well he has performed as U.S. president as midterm elections loom. The quick fix for him would be to get KSA on board with higher production which, he hopes, would bring down prices at the pump back home. A hard call from people he once called ‘murderers’, some might argue, and for that matter those who are feeling the pinch of Biden’s decision to remove Patriot missiles from Saudi’s borders which were there to strike Houthi air assaults.
Biden has been stupid when it comes to Saudi Arabia, in particular for talking tough when he took office and not following through when the time was right. He has also given his tacit consent to the new cordial relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel – crafted by his predecessor, Donald Trump – which can only bode badly for the region.
And so his visit believed to be in July will of course now be a one which resembles an old man begging for mercy from those he berated and ridiculed via a media campaign which used the Khashoggi murder as fodder to humiliate MbS – which many have noticed was not replicated when the Israelis murdered Shireen Abu Akleh and Biden remained silent. Even recently, Anthony Blinken could not bring himself to even call her death a murder when harangued at a press conference and merely uttered “her loss”. Shameful hypocrisy from the Biden administration which has championed ignominy as a main strategy when dealing with MbS who he once said he wouldn’t even talk to, preferring the King himself. All of these bold stands have been reduced to tatters now as the Ukraine war is creating a global crisis which Biden has not the first clue to tackle on his own. And given that the so-called Iran Deal is practically dead in the water after months of excruciating negotiations climaxed in April with former EU foreign ministers penning a joint letter to Biden begging him to see sense and take the Iranian elite guard off the U.S. ‘terror list’, there is little hope for Biden’s foreign policy roadshow to remain autonomous. He needs partners to rescue him and with Iran reported to be close to actually manufacturing its first nuclear bomb since Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign pulled the U.S. out of the JCPOA in 2018, many would argue that he needs to stop being a numpty and to wise up. Having said that, now is the time to press the young Saudi Prince to get out of Yemen altogether, after a UN-brokered ceasefire appears, for the moment, to be holding. Biden needs Saudi Arabia more than ever and the visit to the Kingdom is much more about oil production as no one is taking his claim that the trip is about Israel’s security. There is no fool like an old fool.