Biden Kowtows To Saudi Arabia

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Yves here. Recall that there is tons of antipathy, meaning personal antipathy, between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Biden. Biden and the Dems lambasted MbS over the execution and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi. MbS snubbed Biden by refusing to take Biden’s call when he tried to browbeat the Kingdom into falling in line with Russia sanctions.

By Barkley Rosser, Professor of Economics at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Originally published at EconoSpeak

Apparently President Biden will be visiting Riyadh as part of his forthcoming Middle East tour. The report on this coincides with an apparent end to negative comments about the nation’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), whom the CIA has accused of having ordered the execution and chopping up of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It must be admitted that MbS has made some progressive moves, allowing women to drive and reigning in to some extent the power of the Mutaween religious police. But he has also thrown many critics and just rivals into jail or confinement, in the case of wealthy rivals stripping them of much of their assets. A not regularly recognized fact is that MbS came to power by carrying out a coup against the former crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, with it likely he was encouraged in this by Donald Trump and Jared Kushner, with the latter getting paid off with $2 billion by MbS after Trump left office.

Biden had avoided meeting MbS or even communicating with him. He also had cut off some of the military support the US had provided for MbS’s war in Yemen. Now he will be meeting him. Juan Cole claims that there are four reasons for this change of attitude: oil, Yemen, Israel, and Iran. Much of this reflects unfortunate events, with in my view prospects for improvements not likely on most of these fronts.

The oil problem arises from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent sanctions on Russian oil, which have led to substantial oil price increases, exacerbating inflation in the US. Apparently Biden would like the Saudis to increase oil production. But they have been in cahoots with Russia in wanting restrain production and prop the price of oil up for a long time. It is not at all obvious Biden will get anything out of MbS on this matter.

Yemen is one matter here where something good may be happening. A cease fire has been in place for two months, and Biden wishes to encourage this with hope of a full blown end to the war there. This is a worthy matter that I applaud.

Apparently Israel has encouraged Biden to make this trip and hopes for Saudi Arabia to join, UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco in the Abraham Accords in recognizing Israel. I am not against that, per se, but supposedly Israel and Saudi Arabia are already cooperating on a number of initiatives. This certainly removes the Saudis from providing any pressure for a better treatment of the Palestinians. And part of the matter with Israel involves the fourth matter, Iran.

On this I see nothing good. Israel and Saudi Arabia both are pleased to see that the US has not reentered the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran. The US should never have left the deal, and Biden should have gotten back into it soon after becoming president. But he followed the demands of Israel and various politicians in the US in making demands on Iran to do more things like end its missile program that were not part of the JCPOA and which most observers accurately forecast Iran would not go along with. That has proven the case. In any case, the Israelis and Saudis want to emphasize the US not rejoining the JCPOA.

I note that the Saudis probably will not give Biden a nice oil production increase. Does he want that? He should reenter the JCPOA and end the sanctions on Iran. They can provide that oil production increase, or at least some of one.

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    1. Louis Fyne

      whiffs of terminal stage Austro-Hungarian Empire.

      Franz Joseph Biden visiting his dominions to project an empire air of power while the provincial governors are two steps ahead

      1. digi_owl

        Or late imperial China, with the troops high on opium and the eunuchs running the forbidden city.

    2. NotTimothyGeithner

      We are, but deindustrialization means power moved. Also, the US empire heavily relied on local elites fearing people’s vanguards. The threats aren’t the same. The Beijing-Moscow alliance isn’t the old Soviet paranoid Politburo. They don’t care about the identities of local powers that be as much as reasonable contracts being respected.

      We saw from Obama’s Cairo speech that people were fine with a mythical status quo, but the US wasn’t holding up its end. The result is the Saudis aren’t afraid. They can call in Russian and Chinese support if the US were to get cranky.

      Before Ukraine made the news, Blinken went to Africa to form an anti-China bloc. He came back griping that the local satraps expected something in return for following US rule. The empire was counting military bases, not whether those bases made sense or could be supported, and so the empire was reduced without fanfare.

      1. Synoia

        If Blinken did not know that money is the grease of power in Africa, he is either ignorant or stupid. Or both.

  1. griffen

    Begs the question, if the average price of gasoline in much of the continental US were much lower would this be a visit on more preferable terms? There are really few levers available left to lower the price per barrel on crude / WTI.

    President Biden is not alone in his travels to the Kingdom. They may not need to travel there particularly, but many elite professional golfers are playing next week on the first event of the Saudi-backed LIV golf tour.

    1. Oh

      Let’s face it. The US Treasury ‘manages’ Saudi’s oil receipts. Biden will probably threaten to freeze their assets. In addition Biden will probably embargo spare parts for the war material (planes, tanks, etc.). Saudi doesn’t have too many options. They will roll over quick.

      1. John Wright

        One could suspect that Saudi Arabia has watched the USA seize the $300billion from Russia and is “pricing in” this possibility of a similar action for them as well, even if they continue to sell oil.

        If they are pumping oil out of the ground and converting it into US securities that can be made inaccessible, they might think their strategy of oil to dollars and US assets is not wise.

        That Biden,”hat in hand”, is making the trip rather than the Saudi’s visiting the White House is telling in itself.

        And it not that Saudi views the USA as a big buyer of its output.


        “Saudi Arabia, the largest OPEC petroleum exporter to the United States, was the source of 5% of U.S. total petroleum imports and 6% of U.S. crude oil imports. Saudi Arabia is also the largest source of U.S. petroleum imports from Persian Gulf countries. About 8% of U.S. total petroleum imports and 9% of U.S. crude oil imports were from Persian Gulf countries in 2021.”

        Maybe the Saudi’s want to diversify their investments and armaments away from the USA?

  2. SocalJimObjects

    Didn’t the Saudis produce a video mocking Biden just a couple of months ago? Perhaps Biden is just trying to make sure there won’t be a repeat performance. I am however guessing Biden will commit some sort of gaffe in whatever meeting he’ll have with MBS, and a second video will be out circulating even before Air Force One has a chance to take off from Saudi Arabia.

  3. digi_owl

    Funny how much people fret about Khashoggi, yet Israel has recently effectively executed two journalists with scarlessly any coverage (largely thanks to them following up the first one with an attack on the funeral procession).

    I guess the way it was done reminded many western journalists that they were not sacred, just because they had an ID card from a large media company.

    Another issue is that the Saudis may have overextended when they funded their proxy in the Syrian war, and now simply can’t affect the oil price like they did before. Thus they are happy to see the price to through the roof so they can fill up the royal coffers without any additional effort.

    1. DJG, Reality Czar

      digi_owl: As we know from U.S. sloganizing, there are Good Guys with Guns and bad guys with guns.

      The Good Guys with Guns in Israel regularly mistreat and kill Palestinians, with impunity. There’s simply nothing that can be done about it!

      Then the Good Guys with Guns confiscate Palestinian land and tear our olive trees grown and cared for by Palestinians. There’s simply nothing that can be done about it!

  4. Susan the other

    Here’s one calculation: The Saudis have always cooperated with us, since FDR, because we were the undeniable world power. We’ve been running a dwindling protection racket since then. Lately, certainly since 9/11, they have watched us fail at one thing after another, both domestic and foreign. Culminating now in the war in Ukraine where we have failed to contain the fighting, we have lost all our own mercenaries and most of the EU’s, we simply stood back and watched as Ukraine was leveled, much like we leveled Syria – opening our southern border to Ukr. refugees; we’ve even failed miserably in the propaganda war. And worst of all – our entire control paradigm, that we are the big defender of freedom and equality and we are willing to fight and die for it with all our outrageous weapons of mass destruction, isn’t selling; we have lost credibility. So has war itself. So the Saudis must at least be thinking, How is the US gonna pay us now?

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      The KSB ( Kingdom of Saudi Barbaria) government wanted Syria leveled, so that its pet Jihadis could take power. The Saudi disappointment is that the DC FedRegime did not simply go all the way and install KSB’s pet jihadis in power in Syria.

    2. DJG, Reality Czar

      Susan the other: Except for that little lapse in cooperation when the Saudis sponsored the attack on NYC on 11 September. Or: A different kind of cooperation.

      I think that the most important assertion in the post is this: “On this I see nothing good. Israel and Saudi Arabia both are pleased to see that the US has not reentered the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran. The US should never have left the deal, and Biden should have gotten back into it soon after becoming president.”

      The US of A could have initiated and maintained normal relations with Iran a long time ago. As in during the 1950s, instead of installing the Shah. Yet the U.S. elites chose not to and keep acting mystified at Iranian-government behavior. It would have meant dealing with an Iranian-owned oil company: Quelle horreur!

      As a writer with expertise wrote long ago, and I paraphrase that writer: “Iran and Iranians were the most pro-American people in the Middle East, and the U.S. government managed to wreck the relationship. It’s hard to fathom.”

      The U.S. government and the citizenry are gulls. Taking advice from the Saudis and the Israelis is like playing three-card monte with that guy in the subway.

      1. Susan the other

        Which sends me off wondering if the Saudis worst nightmare is the West taking over the Caspian. Because Saudi oil would be worth far less to us then. So by all means the Saudis want to create a barrier to that happening, either by international diplomacy or by war. And 9/11 would have seemed the perfect move, no?

  5. Mo.B

    We are an empire but Joe Biden is not an emperor. He is a servant of some kind. So the Saudis are treating him as such, in the abusive way they treat all their servants. Kinda fun to see him humiliated, as O’bummer was.

  6. Hickory

    Yes, empire, but utterly incompetent at protecting the protection racket. I mean, yes money greases the wheels in Africa – but it doesn’t have to be that way. That’s fragile, once other countries have more money, then you’re competing for your vassal states. Could the US not have put more durable vassal-relationships in place? I get that that’s why colonialism works – your own people live there and your own people run the show, like the British for example in India. But it seems like the US’s control has been so weak the past 20 years – witness Bolivia voting out the gov’t that came in in a coup a year later.

    I don’t support the imperialism, and… it’s actually more worrying seeing the abject incompetence, esp given the nukes involved. Luckily Biden seemed to hint that a false flag tactical nuke attack was off the table in his ny times op-Ed.

  7. ChrisRUEcon

    “Bonesaw” Bin Salmaan knows who-has-whom by the huevos

    He can let that phone ring till the battery dies, because he knows USA needs KSA more than KSA needs USA.

    Having a good laugh at the fact that the Saudi’s are also basically going to “Kerry Packer” (via Wikipedia) international golf … LOL

    Fall of Empire, indeed …

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