According to press sources, President Biden will go to Saudi Arabia later this month after visiting Israel.
Typically, a meeting between the president of the United States and a senior Saudi royal would not draw much media attention or controversy.
Since Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited King Abdulaziz on board the USS Quincy in 1945, presidents of the United States have dealt with the Saudi royal family.
Biden’s conversation with Crown Prince might get quite unpleasant. The two leaders have taken extraordinary measures to avoid each other.
A meeting would come after months of diplomatic heavy lifting and represent a turnabout for a US president who once declared Saudi Arabia a "pariah" with "no redeeming social value." https://t.co/2DsVNMyjQc
— CNN (@CNN) May 19, 2022
Despite this, the media is focused prominently on how Biden’s upcoming visit constitutes a complete 180-degree flip.
The president ran on a platform of transforming Saudi Arabia into a “pariah state.” It is easy to comprehend why someone might give this argument. Nonetheless, the Biden administration’s first few months were marked by sternness with the Saudis.
The administration authored an intelligence community assessment blaming Mohammed for the killing of Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi, stopping U.S. arms shipments to Riyadh.
The administration also made it quite clear to the heir to the throne that his father, King Salman, was the only Saudi Biden was willing to speak with directly.
Behind the Scenes
Even before last week’s announcement of Biden’s visit intentions, it was clear that the government would never regard Saudi Arabia as a Middle Eastern North Korea. The president and crown prince may not have been on talking terms.
Still, their deputies continued to conduct business as usual, making telephone conversations, in-person meetings, and discussing various topics, including the oil sector, Iran, Gulf defense, and conflict in Ukraine.
https://t.co/19Exr4ZDpq Biden's shortsighted boycott of Russian oil created worldwide shortages and skyrocketing energy prices. Saudi oil chief Abdulaziz bin Salman said the Kingdom could no make up for the loss of Russian oil and natural gas.
— John M. Curtis (@drjmcurtis) May 18, 2022
Brett McGurk, Biden’s senior Middle East representative, and Amos Hochstein, the State Department’s leading energy envoy, made several trips to the country.
The Saudi deputy minister of defense and MBS’s younger brother, Prince Khalid bin Salman, was recently in Washington on a state visit.
It was always unlikely the United States would sever all diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia.
Regardless of how petty or deranged one may believe Mohammed to be, this was never a possibility with the greatest oil producer in the world.
Gas costs in certain U.S. locations exceed $5 per gallon. Meanwhile, Biden anticipates a challenging midterm election cycle in November.
Biden reached the conclusion that Mohammed will likely govern Saudi Arabia for decades. He recognizes that disregarding or stigmatizing him indefinitely is likely not a viable choice.
The primary issue in the U.S.-Saudi relationship is not the relationship itself, but its character.
Washington historically acted as though the U.S. and Saudi interests are similar; this has been the case across successive administrations. The Saudis have strategically taken advantage of this false premise.
Biden should proceed with caution as he attempts to restore relations with Riyadh. He should not commit the United States to extra security obligations that it can not or should not bear.