Biden’s Embarrassing Saudi Failure | The Nation

On Tuesday, at a White House event promoting vaccination, President Joe Biden was asked by a reporter, “What’s your reaction to the Saudis on oil urging the U.S. not to use the reserves?” Biden paused. The silence lasted long enough for a second reporter to start asking another question. Then Biden smiled and addressed the first reporter, saying, “Get your Covid shot.” Biden’s non sequitur stands as a fitting symbol of his administration’s policy toward Saudi Arabia, which now stands exposed as a ridiculous mixture of cynicism, wild rhetorical shifts, and incompetence.

Biden entered the White House promising to treat the Saudis as a pariah regime because of their human rights abuses—not least of which was the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which the US intelligence community has concluded was ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Then, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine caused global oil prices to rise, Biden scurried to Saudi Arabia this July in an embarrassing effort to mend fences—a visit memorialized with that mortifying photo of Biden and bin Salman making a fist bump. Biden came out of the trip apparently convinced that he had a commitment from the Saudi government to ramp up oil production in order to offset the shortages caused by Putin’s war. But, in a move the Biden administration interprets as a betrayal, the Saudi government spearheaded an OPEC Plus move to actually cut back oil production.

A lengthy New York Times report surveying the saga concluded, “What happened over the last half-year is a story of handshake agreements, wishful thinking, missed signals and finger-pointing over broken promises.” The newspaper added that Democratic lawmakers who were shown the diplomatic record as part of congressional oversight were “left fuming that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman duped the administration.”

Some Democrats, feeling that the Saudi cutback was designed to help not just Putin but also the Republican Party, have been threatening reprisals. Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer fumed, “What Saudi Arabia did to help Putin continue to wage his despicable, vicious war against Ukraine will long be remembered by Americans.” The Biden White House said it is reassessing USA/Saudi relations.

But the Saudi government hardly seems worried. Rather, the extreme cockiness displayed by Saudi officials suggests that they think they have the upper hand, with the United States needing the free flow of Saudi oil so much that the Biden administration will have to swallow any indignity. Bin Salman’s staff has leaked contemptuous comments about Biden. The Wall Street Journal reports that the crown prince “mocks President Biden in private, making fun of the 79-year-old’s gaffes and questioning his mental acuity, according to people inside the Saudi government. He has told advisers he hasn’t been impressed with Mr. Biden since his days as vice president, and much preferred former President Donald Trump, the people said.”

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