opinion | Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia undermines our moral authority

Fred Ryan is the publisher of the Washington Post.

Inexperienced politicians often learn the hard way between campaigns and government, making bold statements during their campaigns that later require embarrassment. But when it comes to international realpolitik, no modern candidate is better informed than Joe Biden. After decades on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and eight years as vice president, Biden launched his 2020 campaign, based in part on his experience in foreign policy.

Read this piece in English: Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia erodes our moral authority

When Biden promised in his election campaign to make Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a “pariah” for his role in the assassination of Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, the world had every reason to believe he meant what he said. has.

So why is President Biden now on his knees going to Jeddah to shake the bloody hand of the “pariah” state? Once again he seeks votes.

The president justified his trip as a necessary step to promote stability in the Middle East and deter Russian and Chinese aggression. But the president should know that his meeting with Mohammed bin Salman will give the Saudi leader exactly what three years of Saudi PR campaigns, furniture spending and even a new golf league have not achieved: a return to earn respect. This undeserved remission will in turn undermine the foreign policy goals that Biden hopes to achieve.

First, the Biden meeting will indicate that American values ​​are negotiable. Earlier this year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan abruptly closed the trial of 26 Saudis suspected of involvement in Jamal’s assassination shortly before his scheduled visit to Saudi Arabia to demand economic investments that would boost his 2023 re-election bid. Now the US president is turning a blind eye to Jamal’s assassination in an attempt to lower petrol prices ahead of the autumn midterm elections.

Biden needs the Saudis to increase their oil production to keep global energy prices in check. The trip sends a message that the United States is willing to turn a blind eye when its commercial interests are at stake. We have learned through decades of hard lessons recruiting terrorists by exploiting the hatred of the United States among people who have been brutalized by their tyrannical leaders. This narrative works best when Americans brilliantly talk about human rights until there is something else we need more – like cheap oil.

Sudden changes of direction like the one Biden is doing now undermine our moral authority and cultivate resentment against America. They are sending a message to democracy activists and reformist governments around the world that Washington is an unreliable partner. It creates confusion and spoils our diplomacy – an act the opposite of what Biden says his journey is trying to achieve.

No significant obstacle prevented the Saudis from increasing oil production once Russian forces entered Ukraine. Bin Salman ignored key Biden administration officials and refused to take part in a phone call with the president in response to U.S. calls for increased production.

Neither meetings with Biden’s lawmakers nor a phone call will give MBS what he most wants: a photo of the president shaking hands. So Bin Salman persevered until Biden was desperate enough to give up. We can make sure that other “allies” whose support we need take notice.

The Biden Assembly also sends a dangerous message about the value the United States places on a free press. A photo with a fist and a smile with bin Salman indicates to autocrats everywhere that you can literally get away with killing a journalist as long as you have a natural resource that the United States so desperately wants.

This risk is not hypothetical. When Jamal, who lived in Virginia, was killed, the world was amazed that bin Salman would kill a journalist with close ties to the United States. Today, another Post contributor and permanent resident of the United States, Vladimir Kara-Murza, is in a Russian prison. An independent American citizen for the newspaper and other publications called Austin Tice is still being held in Syria almost a decade later. When the image of Biden compressing his body with the body of a beauty killer appears around the world, what would you say to Vladimir Putin and the Syrians who control the lives of these journalists?

Some have tried to argue before Biden’s trip that enough time has passed since Jamal’s assassination to move the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia forward. But it’s not too late for Biden to make good on this mistake. We can not forget that despite the assassination of Jamal more than three years ago, the Saudis are subjected to horrific oppression every day. Political prisoners, dissidents, independent journalists and others are captured and tortured on the orders of bin Salman. Women are second-class citizens, and gay and minority rights do not exist.

Biden’s team had previously said the president would “raise the issue of human rights” with his Saudi counterparts. Once such a statement has been made, the discussions will surely turn quickly to the actual agenda items of the meeting – such as the oil flow – without any effort back. Praying must insist on more. Before meeting Bin Salman, Biden must send a list of political prisoners to be released as a prerequisite for the meeting. As Ronald Reagan did when he visited the Soviet Union, Biden must insist on meeting face-to-face Saudi dissidents while in the country. If he wants to attract worldwide attention to polish the image of the killer, the least he can do is to highlight the men and women who risk everything for the freedom and dignity of their people.

In a country where total censorship, public flogging, beheadings, “disappearances” and hundreds of political prisoners are common, the release of a few activists will have little effect in addressing the kingdom’s brutality. But this is a start. This is a way to show that Biden’s self-loathing is aimed at ensuring greater human rights and not just cheaper oil at American pumps. This is something bin Salman can do now as soon as Biden asks for a minimum display of benevolence.

If bin Salman offers anything less, Biden must reject the orchestrated handshake the Crown Prince so desperately longs for. Otherwise, the desired image of Ibn Salman in the album will be of American disgrace.

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