Search
Saturday, December 10, 2022

Biden once wanted to make Saudi Arabia a ‘pariah’, so why is he playing nice with the kingdom’s repressive rulers now?

Even before setting foot in the Middle East for his first visit to the region as president, Joe Biden felt compelled to defend a part of the trip. “I know there are many who disagree with my decision to travel to Saudi Arabia,” Biden acknowledged in an op-ed for The Washington Post. He went on to reaffirm his commitment to human rights, an issue that Saudi rulers have long been accused of abusing.

The president will fly to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia directly from Israel on July 15, 2022. The trip comes a year after the Biden administration released a scathing intelligence report on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi that concluded the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, approved the operation “to capture or kill” the Saudi journalist.

In his Washington Post article, Biden touted the sanctions and visa bans introduced by the United States in response to the assassination.

But the tone was certainly softer than the criticism of Saudi Arabia that Biden leveled during the 2020 presidential campaign. Back then, he said his administration would turn this repressive kingdom, a longtime US partner of convenience, into a global pariah.

The visit represents a change in rhetoric and policy for Biden, especially as the agenda includes a meeting with the crown prince indicted for Khashoggi’s murder.

The Khashoggi affair highlights a persistent oddity in American foreign policy, one I observed for many years while working at the State Department and the Defense Department: selective morality in dealing with repressive regimes. Like his predecessors, Biden is grappling with the geopolitical reality that Saudi Arabia is necessary to achieve certain US goals in the Middle East. Recent world events – the war in Ukraine, fluctuating oil prices, and continuing inflation – underscore that reality. As Biden noted in his op-ed, to counter “Russian aggression” and put the United States in a position to “outperform China,” the United States has to “directly engage with countries that can affect those outcomes.” . And that means playing nice with the Saudis.

A panoply of dictators

Biden is not the only US president to avoid taking a tough stance on the Saudis.

The Trump administration has been reluctant to confront Saudi Arabia over the killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who lived in Virginia. Beyond revoking the visas of some Saudi officials implicated in Khashoggi’s death, Trump did nothing to punish the kingdom for Khashoggi’s torture, murder and dismemberment.

Trump and other White House officials reminded critics that Saudi Arabia buys billions of dollars worth of weapons from the US and is a crucial partner in the US pressure campaign on Iran. Biden took a harder line, approving the release of the intelligence report blaming Crown Prince Mohammed for Khashoggi’s murder and sanctioning 76 lower-level Saudi officials. The crown prince, however, was not on the sanctioned list.

Saudi Arabia is not the only nation that got a free pass from the US for its misdeeds. For decades, the United States has maintained close ties to some of the world’s worst human rights violators. Ever since the United States emerged from the Cold War as the world’s dominant military and economic power, American presidents have seen financial and geopolitical benefits by overlooking the evil deeds of brutal regimes.

Before the Islamic revolution of 1979, Iran was a close ally of the United States. Shah Reza Pahlavi ruled harshly, using his secret police to torture and murder political dissidents.

But the shah was also a secular and anti-communist leader in a Muslim-dominated region. President Richard Nixon hoped that Iran would be the “Western policeman in the Persian Gulf.”

Us President Richard Nixon Stands Next To Iranian Shah Reza Pavlavi As A Soldier Holds Up His Sword In Salute.
President Richard Nixon received Iranian Shah Reza Pavlavi at the White House in 1969.
Associated Press Photo

After the shah’s ouster, the Reagan administration in the 1980s befriended Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The United States supported him with intelligence during the Iraq war with Iran and looked the other way for his use of chemical weapons.

And before Syria’s intense and bloody civil war, which killed an estimated 400,000 people and featured horrific government chemical weapons attacks, its authoritarian regime enjoyed relatively friendly relations with the US.

Syria has been on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1979. But Presidents Nixon, Jimmy Carter, George HW Bush and Bill Clinton met with the father of President Bashar al-Assad, who ruled from 1971 until his death in 2000.

Why does Saudi Arabia matter?

Before Khashoggi’s assassination by Saudi agents, the 36-year-old crown prince earned a reputation as a moderate reformer.

He has made newsworthy changes in the conservative Arab kingdom, allowing women to drive, cracking down on corruption and restricting some powers of the religious police.

Still, Saudi Arabia remains one of the most authoritarian regimes in the world.

Although women can now obtain a passport without the permission of a male guardian, they still need a guardian’s approval to marry, get out of prison, or obtain certain medical procedures. And they must have the consent of a male guardian to enroll in college or look for a job.

The Saudi government also routinely arrests people without judicial review, according to Human Rights Watch. Citizens can be killed for non-violent crimes, often in public. From January to mid-November 2019, 81 people were executed for drug-related offences.

Saudi Arabia ranks only a few places above North Korea on political rights, civil liberties and other measures of liberty, according to democracy watchdog Freedom House. The same report ranks Iran and China ahead of the Saudis on these measures.

But their wealth, strategic location in the Middle East and oil exports keep the Saudis a vital ally of the United States. President Barack Obama has visited Saudi Arabia more than any other American president, four times in eight years, to discuss everything from Iran to oil production.

american realpolitik

This type of foreign policy, based on practical and self-serving principles rather than moral or ideological concerns, is called “realpolitik”.

Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s Secretary of State, was a master of realpolitik, leading that administration to normalize its relationship with China. Diplomatic relations between the two countries ended in 1949 when Chinese communist revolutionaries seized power.

Then as now, China was incredibly repressive. Only 16 countries, including Saudi Arabia, are less free than China, according to Freedom House. Iran, a country the United States wants the Saudis to help keep in check, ranks ahead of China.

But China is also the world’s most populous nation and a nuclear power. Nixon, a fervent anticommunist, sought to exploit a growing rift between China and the Soviet Union.

Today, Washington retains the important, if occasionally shaky, relationship Kissinger forged with China, despite Beijing’s continued persecution of Muslim minority groups.

American realpolitik also applies to Latin America. After the 1959 Cuban Revolution, the US regularly backed military dictators in Central and South America who tortured and killed citizens to “defend” the Americas from communism.

America is not ‘so innocent’

US presidents tend to downplay their relationships with repressive regimes and instead praise lofty “American values.”

That’s the language Obama used in 2018 to criticize Donald Trump’s support for Russia’s authoritarian President Vladimir Putin, citing America’s “commitment to certain values ​​and principles such as the rule of law, human rights and democracy.” .

But Trump defended his relationship with Russia, tacitly invoking American realpolitik. “Do you think our country is so innocent?” he asked on Fox News.

As Trump alluded to, the United States has for decades maintained close ties with numerous regimes whose values ​​and policies conflict with America’s constitutional guarantees of democracy, free speech, separation of church and state, the right to due process, and much others.

It still does.

This story is an updated version of an article originally published on October 22, 2018.

Nation World News is the fastest emerging news website covering all the latest news, world’s top stories, science news entertainment sports cricket’s latest discoveries, new technology gadgets, politics news, and more.

Latest News

Related Stories