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Biden Goes to Saudi Arabia for What Might Be a ‘embarrassing’ Climbdown — or a Welcome Reset

This week, Vice President Joe Biden will make his first journey to the Middle East in his capacity as commander-in-chief, and his first stop will be in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

He will go with a list of aims, some of which include achieving energy security, bringing the Saudis and Israelis closer together, pushing a truce in Yemen, and forming a regional front that is more united in its opposition to Iran.

However, it is a risky move for this president to take, and no one can say for certain how much he will actually accomplish as a result.

This is a contentious move for this president, and no one knows how much he’ll accomplish.

Some have called the visit “embarrassing” because of Biden’s apparent retreat from the tough words against the kingdom that he used during his campaign and in the early months of his presidency, while others have praised it as a necessary step in the right direction.

Things have changed since then. The price of gasoline in the United States is at an all-time high, and Russia’s protracted conflict in Ukraine has significantly restricted the worldwide supply of oil. Are we in for an embarrassing apology or are we in for a reset for two countries with shared interests? That is the question.

“I won’t be there. Asked in June about President Trump’s meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Rep. Adam Schiff (D, Calif.) remarked, “I wouldn’t shake his hand.” When he mentioned the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, he alluded to Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Nahayan. Repeatedly, the Saudi government has disputed the claim.

He promised to handle Saudi Arabia as “the pariah that they are” throughout his 2019 presidential campaign and has been outspoken in his criticism of the country’s human rights record. Rather than the kingdom’s 36-year-old crown prince, he insisted on seeing Saudi Arabia’s King Salman as his equal.

A ‘welcome Reset’

It appears that Biden has come around to prioritizing those interests over what was maybe a more idealistic story.

‘Why I’m Going to Saudi Arabia,’ the president wrote in the Washington Post on Saturday. “From the start, my intention was to refocus — but not rupture — relations with a country that’s been a key partner for 80 years,” he stated in the letter. It’s critical for the stability of the region and American interests that the United States and Saudi Arabia have a strong relationship, according to him.

Biden isn’t even close to being a serious contender. In the eyes of Saudi analyst Ali Shihabi, a member of the kingdom’s royal court, Biden’s visit is an opportunity to heal the wounds of the past.

This “struck a wall of realism” because of the Biden administration’s “error,” he said, which was to carry over their campaign rhetoric into their official capacities.


“It’s a reset,” he remarked. And it’s a welcome reset, in my opinion. Because the kingdom also values the relationship. And they’d want to see those clouds dissipate,” they add.

I think he puts that behind him by visiting the monarchy and things with America are back where they were before,” Shihabi continued.

Human rights, according to Biden, will remain a top priority for him. There are a number of security and energy-related concerns that make this improbable, though.

A senior resident researcher at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington tells Politico that Biden isn’t the first president to run on a “human rights will be essential to my foreign policy” platform only to be confronted by the realities in the Middle East.

Foreign Ministry and White House did not respond to CNBC’s requests for comment on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

What is Saudi Arabia’s objective?

However, despite criticism, the Saudis are looking to the United States for a few things, chief among them an unbreakable guarantee of security.

It’s time for an upgrade in air defense, Shihabi remarked. Defense of the region’s airspace is critical, and I believe that Vice President Biden can make a significant contribution there. In order to safeguard the GCC’s airspace, a formal commitment of resources would be required.

Vice President Joe Biden’s withdrawal of American Patriot missile batteries from Saudi Arabia last year infuriated Saudi Arabia, which had been targeted by Houthi rebels and other Iranian-backed forces in Yemen.

“Not Likely to Result in a Breakthrough”

It is possible that Biden will fail to make a breakthrough in relations, according to Soltvedt from Verisk Maplecroft.

“The United States has been unable to persuade Saudi Arabia to expand its oil output. He predicted that this will remain the case.

Saudi Arabia, according to Biden’s advisers, has committed to remaining firmly united with the United States against Russia and China. Some, though, are skeptical that the efforts at reconciliation will succeed.


According to Trita Parsi, a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, there is little evidence that Biden’s strategy of showering the Saudi crown prince… with concessions will lead to a long-term commitment from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to the U.S. side in this century’s great power competition.

He maintained that the United States’ interests were not served by a military commitment to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf partners.

To quote Parsi, “committing American life in defense of these Arab dictatorships is far more disgraceful than an uncomfortable presidential handshake with the Saudi Crown Prince.” There will be no troop withdrawal from the Middle East, Saudi Arabia would pay a price for its actions and the conflict in Yemen will be ended all at once if Biden is elected vice president.

Others, on the other hand, believe that the United States’ ability to exert influence in the region and around the world depends on its close ties with Saudi Arabia’s leadership, particularly the crown prince.

According to the Arab Gulf States Institute’s Ibish, “great power struggle with China is not achievable by ignoring the Gulf region and wishing for the best”. “On the contrary, it is a sign of continuous participation.”

“Even when the values are not shared or mutual in many circumstances,” he continued, “it is a viable alliance because of broad, shared common interests.”