It is hard for me to write this blog, having learned that Biden has agreed to a trip to Saudi Arabia later this month to ‘reset’ the relationship with the kingdom.
Reset implying we ignore what has happened before and start anew.
MBS, Mohammed Bin Salman, has been less than princely, having ordered the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the regime, a Saudi national and a distinguished Washington Post contributor. The murder took place in 2018 as concluded by our intelligence services.
Biden was rightly outraged by such behavior at the time and spoke openly about it during his campaign for president, but now he’s changed his position.
The advocates of realpolitik are delighted. I am disappointed.
Do resets help at all?
Obama called for a reset after Russia invaded Georgia in 2008. It did nothing, for Putin invaded Crimea in 2014 and has been ravaging the Ukrainian nation for the past three months plus.
One can argue that the relationship with the Saudis is different. It is. But so should be the standards we hold them to.
With this planned reset, however, the prince gets away with the assassination of Khashoggi.
Authorizing such act took planning on the part of the prince. It took thinking of the consequences. It was not a rash act. And the prince concluded he could get away with it. His nation has oil and the world needs it. Thus, the world will come to him. The world will give him a pass. He was right.
Biden was outraged enough by such behavior that at one point he called the Saudi nation a pariah nation.
Then the war in Ukraine happened, prices at the pump rose sharply, Americans complained and are now expected to punish democrats at the polls this November.
In making the choice of doing a reset, little thought was given to the idea of speaking directly to all of us and saying, ‘the war in Ukraine is requiring major sacrifices from us, and one is the high prices at the pump. But we are working on it. As your president, I will keep doing all I can to lower such prices. But we should not negotiate with those who have shown a profound disregard for human rights.’
At no point has the Saudi prince gone before the world and said, ‘I take responsibility for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi for it happened while I was the de facto ruler of this kingdom.’
Don’t expect it, either.
Somehow, the leaders of our world believe it is simply too much to ask from one of their own. Impunity comes with the high positions.
I am disappointed that Mr Biden, having done an exemplary job at leading the western nations against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, did not trust that most Americans would appreciate his effort.
It is not that Mr Biden lacks persuasive abilities, but somehow he didn’t trust himself on this one.
Saudi Arabia has been an ally. They can play a role in defusing tensions in the Middle East, but the behavior of the prince is and remains unacceptable. It should not be whitewashed. Giving him a pass can be seen as real politik but it ends up being bad politik for it devalues us.
Our stance in Ukraine has been most decorous. The morality of the cause of the defense of freedom in Ukraine has been invoked to marshal greater and greater efforts from other nations and it has been paying off.
Allowing the Saudi prince to get away with murder does not square with that stance.
I read also that the Saudis are miffed that America is placing much emphasis on the development of renewable energy. While good for the environment it does not fit with the Saudi business model.
When Biden goes to Saudi Arabia he will shake hands with the prince but something will be lost. And what is lost may even have repercussions in our stance on the war with Ukraine and it could weaken it.
Is staying in power, at any cost, worth the effort? I say no.
The Saudi prince felt threatened by Jamal Khashoggi. Democrats feel threatened by oil scarcity and higher prices.
The vaunted reset is akin to saying, when scared we compromise, and we don’t mind coming down a peg or two in our moral standing.
Finally, here’s my personal request to Mr Biden as he gets ready to meet with the prince and the Saudi Royal family. Make it clear that there will be no exchange of gifts between the two.
And please, though they see themselves as kingly, do not bow to them.
Oscar Valdes oscarvaldes.net, medium.com, anchor.fm, buzzsprout, apple and google podcasts.