As much as anyone tried to avert gazing, he/she/they still would have been hard pressed to escape seeing the dreadful fist bump between Joe Biden, president of the United States, and Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince of Saudi.
Things went downhill from there, reports, among others, the WSJ.
Mr. Biden insisted that, in front of the entire U.S. and Saudi delegations, he had labeled the crown prince the killer of Jamal Khashoggi. Saudi Minister of State Adel al-Jubeir was quick to say he didn’t recall hearing that.
When Mr. Biden was asked if the foreign minister was telling the truth, he said no—implying that a key Saudi official was a liar. Even the New York Times questioned if Mr. Biden’s account was accurate, noting that he has a history of describing events other meeting participants don’t recall.
After 50 years in the Senate, wasn’t Mr. Biden’s goal, even if he were not president, on behalf of the people of the United States, to rebuild U.S.-Saudi cooperation? Instead, according to Karen Elliott House in the WSJ, his trip was worse than a missed opportunity.
It damaged U.S. security interests in the Middle East by highlighting to the world that neither Saudi Arabia nor other Gulf states trust the U.S. enough to make any sacrifices to renew badly frayed relations. In a speech to Arab leaders, the president proclaimed: “We will not walk away and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia or Iran.”
That fell on doubting ears from a man they watched walk away from Afghanistan.
The United Arab Emirates promptly announced its effort to return an ambassador to Tehran and resolve differences diplomatically. Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud contradicted Mr. Biden’s claims of enhancing Saudi-Israel relations, and reiterated that any increased oil production won’t be a Saudi decision but one by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries Plus, which includes Russia. That’s a not-so-subtle way of saying Saudi will maintain its warming relations with Vladimir Putin regardless of what the U.S. thinks.
What Did the President Achieve?
Not much: No oil, no peace in Yemen, no confronting Iran or anything else.
That failure was compounded by the risible way the White House handled the visit.
The White House staffer who thought a banal buddy-to-buddy fist bump was preferable to a customary formal handshake should be fired. It had nothing to do with Covid; the president shook hands with other Saudis and also, earlier, with Israelis and Palestinians. If he thought that forgoing a handshake would appease anti-Saudi critics in his own party, he was wrong. Rep. Adam Schiff blasted the fist bump as “visible proof of the continuing grip oil rich autocrats have on U.S. foreign policy.”
Mr. Biden took the easy way out, as he often does, by blaming the press for his embarrassments. Without any substance to report, what was the press going to report, especially after the president’s bravado about punishing the Crown Prince?
- Biden went to the region at a moment when the world faces enormous economic and security risks.
- Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is causing food shortages and price increases that will only worsen as Ukraine’s inability to export its grain and plant a new crop ripples across the world.
- Destabilizing migration flows from poor countries in Africa and the Mideast such as Egypt, which depend heavily on Ukrainian wheat, will follow.
- Inflation, already a world-wide problem, seems sure to get worse unless
- China’s economic slowdown produces a global recession, something that will hurt every nation including the U.S.
- Putin’s continues nuclear threat. Daily the risk grows that Russia’s ally in Tehran will complete its own bomb. International experts believe Iran already has enough enriched uranium to build at least one bomb. Mr. Biden and Israel’s Prime Minister Yair Lapid pledged again that Iran will not be permitted to acquire nuclear weapons.
From Mr. Lapid: “The only way to stop them (Iran) is to put a credible military threat on the table,” but as Ms. House writes, Joe Biden hasn’t done that.
For 18 months (Biden) has begged Tehran to forgo nuclear weapons while turning a blind eye to its violation of economic sanctions, its mischief in neighboring nations, and its support of Houthi rebel attacks on Saudi Arabia. He affirmed on this trip he’ll keep chasing that chimera of negotiations.
A Disturbing Correlation
Biden’s determination to conciliate an implacable foe is not dissimilar to Neville Chamberlain’s 1938 Munich meeting with Hitler, claims Ms. House.
Let’s hope it doesn’t produce a similar result in a year.
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