Biden’s foreign policy has been hard to track.
It’s been a bizarre back-and-forth between Saudi Arabia and the United States under the Biden Administration. U.S. foreign policy concerning Saudi Arabia has seemed wildly schizophrenic in its vacillations and intensity over the past two years.
On the campaign trail, candidate Joe Biden promised to make Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a “pariah,” for the Prince’s alleged role in the killing of Saudi Arabian dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
But by June of 2022, when gas prices started Democrats worrying in earnest about the midterms, the tune became markedly different. Biden, it seemed, would soon be traveling to Saudi Arabia in an attempt to negotiate better prices for Americans at the pump.
“Just a year after concluding that Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader ordered the brutal murder of an American resident and journalist, and after winning the White House with a vow to make Riyadh a ‘pariah,’ Biden is weighing travel to the kingdom next month as well as a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,” wrote Andrew Desiderio for POLITICO.
Justified or otherwise, the President’s summer trip to Saudi Arabia came to nothing.
Worse than the infamous fist bump, an odd, rather undignified back-and-forth about what the two leaders discussed ensued, with Biden insisting he confronted Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the latter’s role in the Khashoggi murder, and Saudis officials who also attended the meeting swearing it never happened.
Whatever the case, instead of increasing oil production OPEC announced a large cut in production in October.
“Why Saudi Arabia defied the US over OPEC oil supply cut,” CNN attempted to explain on October 7.
By October 9, 2022, Biden's allies in Congress were openly calling for retribution and escalation, redefining OPEC’s production cuts unilaterally as Saudi Arabia’s material support for Russian military aggression.
“The Best Way to Respond to Saudi Arabia’s Embrace of Putin,” fumed Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) in an op-ed for POLITICO.
“This week, Saudi Arabia colluded with Russia — deciding to cut 2 million barrels a day of oil production at the OPEC+ meeting, thus raising the price of gas to Russia’s advantage,” they wrote. “The shocking move will worsen global inflation, undermine successful efforts in the U.S. to bring down the price of gas, and help fuel Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.”
“The Saudi decision was a pointed blow to the U.S., but the U.S. also has a way to respond: It can promptly pause the massive transfer of American warfare technology into the eager hands of the Saudis,” proposed Sen. Blumenthal and Rep. Khanna. “Simply put, America shouldn’t be providing such unlimited control of strategic defense systems to an apparent ally of our greatest enemy — nuclear bomb extortionist Vladimir Putin.”
“Joe Biden warns of ‘consequences’ for OPEC as it sides with Russia even as Saudi Arabia attempts de-escalation,” reported the Independent on October 12.
Conservative media outlets were unsparing in their criticism of Biden.
“How to Lose Friends and Influence Over People,” quipped Tablet on October 12, 2022.
“How Biden and Progressives Got Saudi Arabia Wrong,” concluded the National Interest on October 21. “What we are seeing with Biden’s mismanagement of U.S.-Saudi relations is what we will get if a progressive-influenced foreign policy continues to ascend in the corridors of power in Washington.”
The Saudis didn’t appear to be any more impressed than the Republican Party, especially when President Biden moved to tap U.S. strategic oil reserves.
“Saudi blasts release of oil reserves ‘to manipulate markets,’” reported France 24 on October 25, 2022, quoting Saudi Arabian energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman: “People are depleting their emergency stocks, had depleted it, used it as a mechanism to manipulate markets while its profound purpose was to mitigate shortage of supply. However, it is my profound duty to make it clear to the world that losing emergency stock may become painful in the months to come.”
But by November, Washington’s attitude had shifted completely. In a step obviously intended to mend relations, the Biden Administration was forced to go even further out on a shaky limb of Saudi apologism: Shielding Prince Mohammed bin Salman from legal liability resulting from the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
“WaPo slams Biden’s move to shield MBS is Khashoggi killing suit,” fumed Axios on November 18.
It was a shrewd move by the Biden Administration, though largely symbolic. Shelving the old Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, better known as the Iran Nuclear deal, was not symbolic.
The Saudis despised the JCPOA from the beginning and have made no secret about what the agreement did to the Middle East over the past few years in terms of increased terror and proxy military campaigns funded by Iran with American money.
After shielding the Kingdom from legal and financial liability in the Khashoggi case, and shelving the JCPOA, has Joe Biden at last managed to mend relations with the Saudis?
Saudi Arabia is currently getting everything it wants from the Biden Administration, which is still determined to avoid domestic oil production and U.S. energy independence in favor of closer dealings with countries like Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Venezuela.
How this benefits the U.S. — and the environment — is, as yet, difficult to understand.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)