President Biden has received a great deal of criticism for including Saudi Arabia in his planned trip to the Middle East later this week. Today’s Washington Post features his answer in the form of an op-ed called “Why I’m Going to Saudi Arabia.” The first paragraph asserts that his purpose is to “advance important American interests.” The rest of the article fails to make the case.
He starts with the argument that “diplomacy and cooperation” are less likely to produce “violent extremism” than “conflict.” In general this is true, but cooperation with oppressive dictators (like cooperation with apartheid colonizers, but his visit to Israel included in this trip is another subject) only increases the likelihood of violent extremism.
He then boasts that the Middle East is more stable now than it was when he took office. Any truth to this would be due to his following through on military intervention reductions initiated by his predecessor. Instead Biden mentions only Trump’s order’s to fly B52 bombers to the region and back again. That these fool’s errands failed to deter is undisputed, but so has everything else Biden or his predecessor have attempted.
He then, understandably, takes credit for the truce in Yemen. Without doubt, the violence has decreases under the truce, but his assertion that “the past few months in Yemen have been the most peaceful in years” is spin that ignores UN-acknowledged “reports of alleged violations from both parties including shelling, drone attacks, reconnaissance overflights, and the redeployment of forces.”
He then boasts, “My administration will continue to increase diplomatic and economic pressure until Iran is ready to return to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, as I remain prepared to do.” Sounds great, except that it is his administration that perpetuates Trump’s withdrawal from the accord. Trump’s claims to the contrary not withstanding, Joe, it was you who won the election.
He also boasts about his role in shortening Israel’s horrific bombings of Gaza. I do not doubt that absent U.S. pressure, Netanyahu would have gladly continuing the killings. Yet, as Shibley Tilhami pointed out in a piece for the Brookings Institution, unlike George W. Bush who condemned as “heavy-handed” an Israeli strike that killed only 14 civilians, Biden refused to “criticize Israeli bombings that killed more than 200 Palestinians, including scores of children, and brought down many high-rise buildings, including one housing the Associated Press and other media outlets.”
He then puts forth a short list of token actions he claims “reversed the blank-check policy (towards Saudi Arabia) that we inherited.” Well, we shall all grant that something is better than nothing, but sanctions on low-level minions while MbS continues to get the royal treatment is even less impressive than arrests of low-level drug dealers by officials taking payoffs from drug kingpins. His boast that his strategy to “reorient” not “rupture” relations with the monarchy is helping “stabilize oil markets with other OPEC producers” tells us much about his true concerns.
Even more telling is his delight in the fact that he will “be the first president to fly from Israel to Jiddah, Saudi Arabia” and it symbolism “of the budding relations and steps toward normalization between Israel and the Arab world.” This provides the context for understanding how man can boast about restoring approximately $500 million in humanitarian aid for Palestinians, while also boasting about the over $4 billion in military aid to Israel that makes that humanitarian aid necessary.
Setting aside all the lame excuses, one must still address Biden’s valid opening point. Is it not the case that “diplomacy and cooperation” are less likely to produce “violent extremism” than “conflict?” If Joe Biden believed that he could have included Gaza and Tehran as stops on this trip.
Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute