by Hugh Fitzgerald
Guess what's more important to Joe Biden than human rights?
President Biden is known to dislike the Saudis for their poor human rights record at home, their causing a “humanitarian crisis” in Yemen, and for their murder of Jamal Khashoggi, for which he especially blames Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Why, then, did he just agree to sell $650 million in advanced weaponry to Riyadh? A discussion of the sale is here: “Biden, the Saudis, and Arms and Human Rights,” by Mitchell Bard, Algemeiner, November 24, 2021:
Headlines hailed the participation of countries from around the world in a climate summit aimed at achieving international consensus on steps to “save the planet” with President Joe Biden leading the charge. One of the essential elements the president has stressed is the need to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, and yet he has been begging Saudi Arabia to increase fossil fuel production.
Not really, if you know the history of US-Saudi relations.
Recall that since the presidential campaign, Biden has tried to position himself as a human rights president. Biden seemed determined to make an example of the Saudis and downgrade our decades-long relationship with the kingdom and call out Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) because of his role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
But like other presidents, Biden faced the choice of acting on principle or on national and personal interest — and, like his predecessors, wasted no time largely abandoning principle.
Cutting fossil fuel use is secondary to Biden’s political survival. He fears that as energy prices rise, the economy will tank, and with it the Democrats’ hope for retaining political power.
For Biden, cutting the use of fossil fuels is a long-term goal. But he has to worry about the short-term, that is the mid-term elections less than a year away, and whether the Democrats can retain the House and Senate. If oil prices rise too much – see today’s gasoline prices at the pump — ordinary Americans will blame Biden and the Democrats, and vote accordingly. He chooses to try to keep those oil prices low, despite this contradicting his long-term goal of moving the economy off fossil fuels.
Conservatives have lambasted Biden policies that have hamstrung the domestic oil industry after the United States had become the largest oil producer in the world, and was less affected by the machinations of OPEC. The members of OPEC have taken advantage of the situation by reducing oil supply to drive up energy prices. Rather than reverse policies that would anger his [environment first] base, the president has taken the tried-and-true path of begging the Saudis for help and offering them weapons in exchange.
When the American oil industry was going full throttle, and the U.S. became the world’s largest producer, it — and not the Saudis — determined prices. When he first came into office, Biden shut down new oil and gas leases on federal lands, as his base wanted and as he promised he would do during the campaign. But recently the Administration has been easing up, granting permits for some drilling. And he has not banned fracking outright, but placed many burdensome regulations on the process that have discouraged would-be producers.. With prices at the pump increasing during the holiday season — when fifty million Americans will be on the road — Biden announced that 50 million barrels of oil from the strategic oil reserve will be sold in an attempt to lower the current sky-high prices at the pump.
But his biggest change has been in his decision to woo Saudi Arabia In order that it might raise production and lower oil prices for Americans. No more talk about the Saudi “murderers” of Jamal Khashoggi, or the Saudi role in the “humanitarian disaster” in Yemen, or the harsh treatment of foreign workers in the Kingdom. And no more talk, either, by the Administration, about ending arms sales to the Saudis.
Is it a pure coincidence that the administration offered Saudi Arabia 280 air-to-air missiles valued at up to $650 million earlier this month?
The United States has been playing this arms-for-oil game for decades. We have ignored the Saudis’ human rights abuses, support for radical Islam, and actions that undermine American interests in exchange for lower oil prices. The Saudis depend on America’s security umbrella to keep their royal heads on their royal shoulders but still buy weapons that can’t protect the kingdom (see the Yemen war), but allow them to feel more secure and boast to their neighbors and subjects that they have the latest and greatest technology.
The Saudis like to buy weapons that, in many cases, are too complicated for their military to use. But it doesn’t matter: they are determined to have the very best and most sophisticated weaponry America can provide, in enormous quantities, to flaunt before friends and enemies alike. Warehouses full of rockets and missiles, giant garages bursting with tanks, hangars full of planes and UAVs – all this makes the Saudis feel more secure to have tens of billions of dollars in weaponry, even if their military are incapable of using much of it.. The Kingdom is the largest buyer of American weapons, spending nearly twice as much as the next largest buyer, Australia.
Arms sales also help US leaders politically. Contractors and subcontractors based in states across the country benefit from producing more weapons. The Arab lobby, which includes Saudi officials and their lobbyists, in addition to defense industry leaders and lobbyists, legitimately argue that jobs are created to bolster the local and national economy, and thereby help incumbents….
Proposed arms sales to the Saudis have an enormous readymade lobby: it consists of all those who work in the defense industry and stand to gain from such sales: Raytheon, Lockheed-Martin, Boeing and so many others. How many tens of thousands of new jobs will be created if this proposed $650 million sale goes through?
The administration insists it is concerned with human rights and, specifically the Khashoggi case. That is why officials reportedly speak only to King Salman and snub MBS. Those officials, and everyone else, knows, however, that MBS is in charge — so it should not be surprising that the Saudis have not satisfied Biden’s request to pump more oil.
There are at least three reasons [for this refusal to pump more oil].. One is that the Saudis under MBS do not feel inclined to help a president who has gone out of his way to insult them and pointedly downgraded relations. The second is that Biden’s much-discussed shift toward Asia, the Afghanistan debacle, and desperate pursuit of a return to the nuclear agreement with Iran has made all of America’s allies in the region question the US commitment to their security. Third, the Saudi economy isn’t what it used to be and even as MBS seeks to shift it away from a reliance on oil revenue, the Saudis need money now to pay for all the services their subjects have come to expect, and that requires higher oil prices….
The Crown Prince holds grudges; he’s ill-inclined to do any favors for Biden, who has made so much of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Why should he make things easier for someone who in the past has come down so hard on him?
And the foreign policy “pivot” by the Bidenites, now making a great to-do about focusing their attention away from the Middle East to Asia and, especially, to China, makes the Saudis and other Gulf Arabs uneasy. It means a loss of American focus on what the Saudis (and Israelis) see as the greatest threat to world peace: a nuclear Iran. They are especially worried about the unseemly desire of the Administration to cajole Iran into returning to the 2015 nuclear deal, including the Biden-Blinken willingness to jettison their original notion of “lengthening and strengthening” the 2015 deal. Now we know that there will be no attempt by the Americans to limit Iran’s work on ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, nor any attempt to rein in Tehran’s regional aggression, that relies on a network proxies and allies, including the Houthis in Yemen, the Kataib Hezbollah militia in Iraq, the Syrian army of Bashar Assad, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Saudis are naturally beginning to wonder how strong America’s commitment to defend the Kingdom from Iran really is. Finally, the Saudis may be rich, but Crown Prince’s spectacular plans for his megacities will strain their budget Just one of those planned cities, NEOM, will cost an estimated $500 billion to build, more than the total off $465 billion the Saudis now have in their financial reserves. The Saudis have also steadily raised the expectations of their people, who now demand greater public spending on such things as housing, education, and health. That means the government will need to spend ever larger sums. So Riyadh needs to keep oil prices high.
The Biden Administration cannot threaten the Saudis that the U.S. will raise its own production; Biden has already promised his base that he will cut back on oil leases on federal land and, while he won’t ban fracking outright, he’s decided on the “death of a thousand regulatory and legislative cuts” to make it much harder to engage in the practice. If he were to completely ignore those pledges, that base would abandon him.
There is only one thing Biden has to offer the Saudis: it’s the $650 million sale of advanced American weaponry. It flies in the face of all his remarks, after the murder of Khashoggi, about cutting such weapons sales as a way to express our anger with the Kingdom. It overlooks the continued human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, and the humanitarian crisis that the Saudis have caused for the civilians in Yemen. But Biden needs to keep control of the House in 2022. That means he needs to persuade the Saudis to raise their production so that the prices of heating oil, and gasoline at the pump, go back down to their levels of a few years ago. If the Saudis cannot get a commitment from him to deal militarily, if necessary, with Iran’s nuclear program – which commitment he won’t even make to our ally Israel – they can demand the next best thing, which are gigantic sales of American arms, beginning, but not ending, with this initial sale of weaponry worth $650 million. And while some in Congress, such as Republican Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee, are opposed to the weapons sale because of the Saudi role in creating the “humanitarian crisis” in Yemen, the sale is almost certain to go through. Too many well-paid jobs will be on the line for Congress to turn the deal down. And one large arms sale can lead to others; the Saudis are already our greatest customers by fa, for weapons The unspoken Saudi quid pro quo with the Bidenites is this: if the weapons sale goes through, then Saudi oil production will rise, and American consumers, who will, as a result, enjoy lower prices both for gasoline at the pump and for home heating oil, and will express their gratitude in the 2022 election, voting for Democrats.
And that, after all, is what Joe Biden cares about far more than the murder of Khashoggi, or the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, or the mistreatment of millions of foreign workers in Saudi Arabia. It’s the election of Democrats, who are doing such a splendid job in Congress today. Who can blame Biden for doing whatever it takes to get them re-elected, and at the same time, to help brand-new “progressives” to be elected, so that they can join the leftward likes of Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez in the Rayburn Office Building, making miching mallecho.