Biden promised a harder line on Saudi Arabia. Why can't he deliver?

the latest tech news, global tech news daily, tech news today, startups, usa tech, asia tech, china tech, eu tech, global tech, in-depth electronics reviews, 24h tech news, 24h tech news, top mobile apps, tech news daily, gaming hardware, big tech news, useful technology tips, expert interviews, reporting on the business of technology, venture capital funding, programing language

Biden promised a harder line on Saudi Arabia. Why can’t he deliver?
© Fayez Nureldine/AFP via Getty Images A portrait of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the capital Riyadh one day ahead of the the Future Investment Initiative, October 22, 2018.

On the campaign trail, Joe Biden vowed that the United States would finally teach dictators a lesson by punishing Saudi Arabia. “We were going to, in fact, make them pay the price, and make them, in fact, the pariah that they are,” Biden said at a 2019 Democratic debate. He seemed to grasp the danger posed by the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, known by his initials as MBS.

the latest tech news, global tech news daily, tech news today, startups, usa tech, asia tech, china tech, eu tech, global tech, in-depth electronics reviews, 24h tech news, 24h tech news, top mobile apps, tech news daily, gaming hardware, big tech news, useful technology tips, expert interviews, reporting on the business of technology, venture capital funding, programing language

After an all-out charm offensive in 2017 to 2018, MBS had initially convinced American thought leaders that he would modernize the stiflingly conservative kingdom. But the crown prince had quickly become one of the world’s most brutal leaders. The assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 was the prime example that MBS represented rupture, not reform. Even before that, MBS’s transgressions piled high: the kidnapping of the Lebanese prime minister, the detention and blackmail of members of the Saudi elite, and a growing crackdown on human rights defenders. Arrests of critics have accelerated since then, especially women’s rights activists. MBS is also responsible for potential war crimes in the ongoing military campaign in Yemen.

At this rate, this 37-year-old prince could rule the oil-rich kingdom as a kind of unhinged Saddam Hussein for more than a half-century.

Global Tech News Daily

Since taking office, Biden has said that “human rights will be the center of our foreign policy.” The rhetoric marked a contrast to President Donald Trump and his son-in-law, chief Middle East adviser Jared Kushner, who emboldened MBS by maintaining a close relationship with him (including regularly WhatsApping). Trump explicitly said that the White House would prioritize arms sales to Saudi Arabia and, unlike previous administrations, scarcely uttered the words “human rights.”

A year on, Biden has avoided Trump’s outright encouragement of MBS but has done little to stop his brutality. “The relationship goes on as before,” said Nabeel Khoury, a former American diplomat and Middle East expert. “Biden came in with a promise to review the relationship with Saudi Arabia over the question of Yemen and human rights abuses, starting with the Khashoggi murder, but then that didn’t go anywhere.”

The middle-of-the-road approach

Global Tech News Daily

Since the FDR presidency, Saudi Arabia has been an important United States partner. It is a major energy producer and home to the two most significant sites in Islam, and for decades, America had provided security guarantees to the kingdom. In return, the US has depended on Saudi Arabia as a counterweight to Iran in the Middle East, an intelligence partner against terrorist groups, and a dominant investor with an enormous sovereign wealth fund. But MBS’s ruthless intransigence had put the relationship to the test.

Biden’s government-in-waiting recognized that MBS demanded a different approach. Daniel Benaim, who advised the campaign and is now a senior Middle East diplomat, searched for a way to elevate human rights. In summer 2020, he proposed a “progressive course correction” that spelled out consequences for future malign behavior.

Benaim suggested a six-month review of policy, but it’s not clear whether Biden’s State Department has conducted such a reassessment. (The State Department declined to comment on the record, as did the White House.)

Publicly, the Biden team has articulated the importance of Saudi Arabia to US interests. The administration is focused, White House Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk said, on “getting back to sound, predictable policies and sound statecraft.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken sees the partnership with Saudi Arabia as “an important one, a vital one, and in terms of dealing with some of the most significant challenges we face, one that we are very appreciative of.” A spokesperson said the State Department is advocating for human rights while bolstering security cooperation with the kingdom.

Overall, the Biden administration has responded to MBS with an approach that keeps human rights concerns behind closed doors because, advisers say, the relationship with Saudi Arabia is so integral to US policy. By balancing the concerns of human rights activists and the Washington national-security establishment, Biden’s team has found that it is disappointing both, as well as supporters of the crown prince.

A month into office, Biden broke with Trump by releasing the intelligence agencies’ report on Khashoggi. It showed unequivocally that MBS was responsible for the killing of the Virginia resident in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Blinken announced the new “Khashoggi Ban” that would prohibit government agents who target dissenters from entering the US.

It was a good step, but Biden didn’t follow through. The formal ban was implemented against 76 Saudis but not the prince himself. Critics say true accountability would have meant putting MBS on the banned list. MBS hasn’t visited the US since Trump, but that relates to an implicit policy of distancing him, not a formal declaration that he’s banned. (MBS’s brother, who was reportedly involved in the Khashoggi operation, quietly visited the White House in July.)

Biden promised a harder line on Saudi Arabia. Why can’t he deliver?
© US Department of State/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, and Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud meet in Washington on October 15, 2021.

Human rights advocates would also like to see the Biden administration take bolder action, like levying targeted sanctions against MBS and his inner circle and ending meetings with US officials. Activists have also suggested working with the international community to freeze assets and institute broad travel bans, and have urged US businesses to stop working with MBS’s Public Investment Fund.

On the campaign, Biden said he would stop supporting the war in Yemen. More than 375,000 Yemenis had died by the end of last year, and the devastating death toll led Obama alumni to take responsibility for supporting the 2014 Saudi invasion. The State Department says it is working with Saudi Arabia to end the war in Yemen.

Last February, Biden ended “offensive” support for the war. Yet last month the Senate, with White House encouragement, approved a $650 million arms sale to the kingdom for “defensive” weapons to Saudi Arabia, a distinction that many experts reject.

Abdullah Alaoudh, a Saudi researcher at the organization that Khashoggi established, Democracy for the Arab World Now, sees this as an example of Biden falling short of his pledges. MBS is running Saudi Arabia as a “rogue state,” Alaoudh said, and the Biden administration is “so weak, so ambivalent, so reluctant, thinking anything they are going to do is going to push Saudi Arabia to China. All MBS understands is the power of toughness and ultimatums.” Ending arms sales to Saudi Arabia altogether unless it withdraws from Yemen would be one such ultimatum the administration could make, Alaoudh suggests.

Biden has made one big move: He won’t talk to MBS directly. The president, thus far, has only held phone calls with his father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. This has reportedly angered MBS. But it’s an insufficient form of retribution. “The big punishment for murder and dismemberment of a journalist is you don’t get to meet the president yourself? You can meet with anyone else and get all the weapons you need,” said Andrea Prasow of the Freedom Initiative. “The consideration of human rights is not integrated into US policy. It’s an add-on.”

Why is there so much hedging in US policy toward Saudi Arabia, even when the Biden administration has set out to shake things up?

Biden’s Middle East priorities

The Biden team now seems resigned to a close relationship with Saudi Arabia in order to achieve its own policy objectives, like cheap gas prices and an accord with Iran.

The US is largely energy independent and has steadily decreased the amount of oil it imports from the Persian Gulf. Even so, Saudi Arabia and its partners within OPEC have tremendous power over global oil prices, which in turn affect what Americans pay at the pump.

In late September, as gas prices were rising, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan traveled to Saudi Arabia in what was the first visit of a senior Biden official to meet with MBS. The trip was discreet: no photos with the crown prince, no critical statements.

“The bottom line is that US policy toward Saudi Arabia hasn’t changed at all and still is driven by energy prices,” said Anne Patterson, who served as the top Middle East diplomat in the Obama State Department. “The administration, like others before them, had to go hat in hand to the Saudis to ask them to raise production to lower US gasoline prices.”

In the Middle East more broadly, the Biden administration has focused on getting Iran back to a nuclear accord, which Trump ended despite bipartisan objection. That return requires the buy-in of regional partners like Saudi Arabia and Israel. The diplomatic acrobatics between Middle East powers may lead to similar compromises that Obama pursued when his team essentially let MBS invade Yemen in 2014 as a way to get Saudi Arabia on board with the deal.

Biden’s team is also concerned with countering China’s influence. China, dependent on Gulf oil, is now Saudi Arabia’s primary trading partner and is also helping Saudi Arabia build a ballistic missile factory.

Khoury, the former diplomat, says the Biden team wants “to transform US foreign policy from the Cold War mentality of an overreliance on the global war on terror, use of military, and so on, into putting diplomacy first.” But he likens it to a trapeze artist jumping from one bar without knowing which bar to catch.

“You end up with a face on the ground,” Khoury said.

Back to basics?

Biden advisers returned to Washington with an appreciation that the Trump years were so disruptive, and MBS so dangerous, that Biden couldn’t return to the two countries’ close cooperation during the war on terrorism. A “dramatic rethinking” was needed, wrote Benaim, but now a return to the time before Trump might be the best they could do.

While the administration has raised human rights in private conversations with Saudi counterparts, the louder message is coming from the Pentagon, with its approval of massive weapons sales. The Obama administration sold $118 billion of arms to the country and the Trump administration $25 billion, and Biden is poised to help Saudi Arabia continue to be the world’s largest buyer of weapons.

The Defense Department said the latest $650 million sale “will support US foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that continues to be an important force for political and economic progress in the Middle East.”

Human rights activists in Saudi Arabia, however, don’t see MBS’s leadership as a force for “progress.” Some aspects of life in Saudi Arabia have liberalized under MBS — with shifts like men and women attending concerts together. But these are limited reforms at the hands of a leader who regularly imprisons or kills his political enemies and has targeted feminist activists. “Even as the country opens up socially, culturally, and politically, it’s become more restrictive and much more suffocating,” a Saudi person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of those concerns, told me.

MBS may have been a pariah immediately after Khashoggi’s assassination, but now much has been restored. Three years ago, titans of business shunned the kingdom’s “Davos in the Desert’’ investment conference. Last year, many returned; the administration sent Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves to speak, not exactly a high-level presence but another example of the middling policy that confers some legitimacy on MBS.

McGurk, the top Middle East adviser in the White House, summed up Biden’s approach as “back to basics,” with an emphasis on “lessons learned” and “not pursuing maximalist, unachievable objectives.” At best, that means treading water in the Middle East. At worst, it suggests to MBS and other tyrants that they will face no consequences.

One might say that Biden’s campaign rhetoric was just politics and that, historically, campaign promises don’t translate into actual foreign policy. But Biden was no regular candidate — he had chaired the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and traveled the world as vice president — so his comments from 2019 might have had gravity.

From those remarks, it’s clear that Biden and his inner circle understand MBS. And it’s equally clear that they haven’t figured out how to turn their criticisms into policy.

News Related


New York Rangers get another comeback win to force Game 7 vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

PITTSBURGH — How many times can the New York Rangers dig themselves into a hole and climb back out? At least one more, as of Friday night. The Blueshirts came ... Read more »

Wilson, balanced Aces cruise to 96-73 victory over Dream

COLLEGE PARK, Ga. (AP) — A’ja Wilson scored 15 points, Kelsey Plum had 14 points and 11 assists and the Las Vegas Aces rolled to a 96-73 victory over the ... Read more »

EXPLAINER: Why frustration lingers in Okinawa 50 years later

The Associated PressFILE – U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Mike Anglen of Turner, Ore., center, stands atop a cliff as Sgt. Bryan Wallace of Pikin, Ill., waits for his turn before ... Read more »

Astros beat Nationals 6-1 for 11th straight victory

WASHINGTON (AP) — Jose Altuve homered on the first pitch of the game, Yordan Alvarez and Yuli Gurriel also went deep and the Houston Astros extended their winning streak to ... Read more »

Kreider scores late, Rangers edge Pens 5-3 to force Game 7

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Chris Kreider’s long slap shot bounced over Louis Domingue and into the net with 1:28 left and the New York Rangers beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-3 on ... Read more »

Astros push winning streak to 11, roll past Nationals 6-1

WASHINGTON (AP) — Jose Altuve homered on the first pitch of the game, and Yordan Alvarez and Yuli Gurriel also went deep to help the Houston Astros extend their winning ... Read more »

Moustakas, Drury power Reds to 8-2 victory over Pirates

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Mike Moustakas homered twice and Brandon Drury drove in four runs to break out of a slump and lead the resurgent Cincinnati Reds to an 8-2 victory ... Read more »

Peterson's bases-loaded walk lifts Brewers over Marlins 2-1

MIAMI (AP) — Jace Peterson walked against Anthony Bender with the bases loaded in the ninth inning and the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Miami Marlins 2-1 Friday night. After starters ... Read more »

Padres: No cancer found during manager Bob Melvin's prostate surgery

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The San Diego Padres say no cancer was found when manager Bob Melvin had prostate surgery on Wednesday. Melvin, 60, was recovering at home Friday after ... Read more »

Ogunbowale, Gray help Wings rally past Mystics, 94-86

WASHINGTON (AP) — Arike Ogunbowale scored 27 points, Allisha Gray had 21 and the Dallas Wings overcame a 15-point second-quarter deficit to beat the Washington Mystics 94-86 on Friday night. ... Read more »

Resigning North Dakota senator led lawmakers in travel costs

The Associated PressFILE – North Dakota Sen. Ray Holmberg listens during a joint House and Senate Appropriations Committee meeting at the Capitol in Bismarck, N.D., on Jan. 7, 2009. Holmberg, ... Read more »

Residents in picturesque California county hit with gas prices topping $7 a gallon

A California county known for its spectacular mountains and proximity to Yosemite National Park has been paying the nation’s highest gas prices. Read more »

Boudreau to return as coach of Canucks next season

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Bruce Boudreau will return as coach of the Vancouver Canucks next season after helping to turn the struggling NHL club around as a midyear replacement. ... Read more »

New Zealand leader Jacinda Ardern tests positive for COVID

On Location: May 13, 2022 Catch up on the developing stories making headlines.The Associated Press WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has tested positive for COVID-19 ... Read more »

Today in History for May 14th

Highlights of this day in history: Colonists go ashore in Virginia to set up Jamestown; Lewis and Clark begin to explore Louisiana Territory; Israel founded; Skylab launched; Movie producer George ... Read more »

Twitter CEO expects Elon Musk acquisition to close, addresses spending cuts

Musk is awaiting details supporting calculations that spam, fake accounts represent less than 5% of Twitter's users Read more »

Padres: No cancer found during Bob Melvin's prostate surgery

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The San Diego Padres say no cancer was found when manager Bob Melvin had prostate surgery on Wednesday. Melvin, 60, was recovering at home Friday after ... Read more »

Renovated NYC museum shows indigenous perspectives

The American Museum of Natural History in New York City recently finished a major renovation of its exhibition on the native peoples of the northwest coast of North America. Curators ... Read more »

Police release 911 calls in Gilgo Beach case

A woman who disappeared in a beach community on New York’s Long Island more than a decade ago, sparking an investigation into a possible serial killer, said “there’s somebody after ... Read more »

Academy Awards set 2023 Oscars for March 12

The Associated PressFILE – Oscar statue on the red carpet at the Oscars on Sunday, March 27, 2022, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Next year’s Academy Awards will ... Read more »

Actor Fred Ward, of 'Tremors,' 'The Right Stuff' fame, dies

The Associated PressFILE – Fred Ward, a cast member in “30 Minutes or Less,” poses at the premiere of the film in Los Angeles on Aug. 8, 2011. Ward, a ... Read more »

Judge refuses to drop elections suit against Trump, media

NEW YORK — A Colorado judge on Friday denied motions to dismiss a defamation lawsuit filed by an election systems worker against former President Donald Trump’s campaign, two of its ... Read more »

Q&A: Becky G unveils every side of herself in latest album

The Associated PressFILE – Becky G appears at the Oscars in Los Angeles on March 27, 2022. Beck G’s latest album is “Esquemas.” (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File) NEW YORK ... Read more »

North Korea reports 21 new deaths as it battles COVID-19 outbreak

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea reports 21 new deaths as it battles COVID-19 outbreak. Read more »

North Korea confirms 21 new deaths as it battles COVID-19

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea says 21 people died and 174,440 people were newly found with fever symptoms on Friday alone as the country scrambles to slow the spread ... Read more »

White Sox place Giolito on COVID list, activate Vaughn

The Chicago White Sox placed ace Lucas Giolito on the COVID-19 injured list and activated outfielder Andrew Vaughn following a rehab assignment with Triple-A Charlotte on Friday. Giolito began experiencing ... Read more »

Traded back and forth, Ford learns to live out of suitcase

NEW YORK (AP) — Mike Ford has learned to travel light — and quickly. Since the start of the season, the 29-year-old first baseman has played for Tacoma, San Francisco ... Read more »

Falcon 9 rocket launches Starlink satellites

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched 53 Starlink satellites to low-Earth orbit from California on Friday. (May 13) Read more »

Celtics' Robert Williams remains out for Game 6 vs. Bucks

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Boston forward/center Robert Williams missed his third straight game with an injured left knee as the Celtics tried to keep their season alive Friday night in Game ... Read more »

Padres sign Robinson Canó, plan to use him off the bench

ATLANTA (AP) — The San Diego Padres have signed veteran second baseman Robinson Canó to a major league contract and plan to use him as a left-handed bat off the ... Read more »

WNBA star's Russia detention extended by 1 month

The lawyer for WNBA star Brittney Griner says her pre-trial detention in Russia has been extended by one month. Alexander Boykov told The Associated Press the relatively short extension indicated ... Read more »

Louisiana justices toss COVID-related charges against pastor

Hundreds of thousands of Americans fighting long-haul symptoms from COVID-19 Dr. David Putrino from Mount Sinai Health System and COVID long-hauler Joel Fram discuss the long-term effects of the disease.The ... Read more »

Sandy Hook lawsuits against Alex Jones on track to resume

The Associated PressFILE – This Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, photo shows radio show host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones at Capitol Hill in Washington. The Sandy Hook families’ lawsuits against ... Read more »

Rockies' Bryant closer to return after cortisone shot

DENVER (AP) — Colorado Rockies outfielder Kris Bryant took swings in the cage Friday for the first time since he was sidelined with a sore back nearly three weeks ago ... Read more »

Mariners demote Jarred Kelenic to minors after poor start

NEW YORK (AP) — Rather than make his Citi Field debut against the team that traded him, Jarred Kelenic was demoted to Triple-A Tacoma by the Seattle Mariners on Friday ... Read more »

Biden: ASEAN partnership 'critical' in this moment

Looking to strengthen ties, President Joe Biden welcomes leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to Washington for the first time. “We’re launching a new era in U.S.-ASEAN relations,” ... Read more »

Phil Mickelson will not defend his title at next week's PGA Championship

Phil Mickelson caught lightning in a bottle last year at Kiawah Island, winning a major championship at 50 years of age. The fairways flooded, and the golf world stood and ... Read more »

Tennessee Titans' Malik Willis on Ryan Tannehill's mentorship comments: 'Everything is cool'

The Tennessee Titans didn’t take issue with Ryan Tannehill’s comments about mentoring third-round rookie Malik Willis. Willis and coach Mike Vrabel were asked about Tannehill’s scrutinized remarks following the first ... Read more »

Lawyers plan suit against Lufthansa over Jewish passengers

Lawyers for 26 passengers said Friday they told Lufthansa that they will sue the German airline for refusing to let members of a large group of Orthodox Jewish passengers board ... Read more »

Wild face offseason after yet another early ouster

While the Minnesota Wild were stacking up franchise records and securing the extra home game for the first round, general manager Bill Guerin carefully acknowledged a “great year” for the ... Read more »