Western Media Insists Biden “Forced” Into Partnership With Saudi Arabia—Despite Decades of Uncritical, Unbroken U.S.-Saudi Alliance
The otherwise human rights-loving U.S., we were told this week, was compelled by circumstances into supporting the murderous dictatorship.
A feature of Serious U.S. foreign policy reportage is what we refer to on Citations Needed as “Stumbling Empire.” The U.S., western reporters casually tell us, is simply bumbling through world events without agency and, to the extent it does bad things, it does so not for self interest, ideology, or profit—but because it simply has no choice. It’s “dragged” into war, it “makes mistakes,” but ultimately acts with “good faith” and seeks to “spread democracy.” The opposite is true for Enemy States. When they commit similar human rights violations or go to war, it’s due to deliberate long-term plots of global conquest, clear moral choices, and cynical might-makes-right exercises of power.
An example of this media double standard was on full display this past week after news broke of an upcoming face-to-face meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Saudi dictator Mohammed bin Salman. Numerous outlets insisted Biden was “forced” to cozy up to the journalist-slaying dictator “over oil prices.”
Soaring Oil Prices Force Biden to Engage With Saudis He’d Spurned, Bloomberg (6/8/22)
‘Pariah’ no more? Democrats grit their teeth over Biden’s Saudi trip The president’s Middle East reset raises human rights concerns for some fellow Democrats. Others are prepared to get pragmatic, Politico (6/8/22)
What’s particularly strange about this framing is that all of these articles contrive a meaningful change in policy, insisting Biden is doing a “U-turn” or a “180,” primarily noting mean things Biden said about Saudi Arabia on the e 2019 and 2020 primary campaign trail when he was trying to assuage progressives. But after Biden was elected in November 2020, to the extent he did anything to “cool” relations with Saudi Arabia, it was token and superficial at best.
The only concrete gesture these outlets can point to to back up this narrative that Biden had somehow turned on Saudi Arabia is the release of an assessment by the CIA that Saudi officials killed Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. But this public disclosure—as dozens of human rights groups noted at the time—came with no formal sanction on the monarch, or any real punishment at all. Soon after, the U.S. followed through—again, over the protests of activists and human rights groups—on a $650 million weapons sale to Saudi Arabia. And according to many analysts, Biden’s political and military support for the Saudis’ 6 year war on Yemen, made the conflict worse. Indeed, a months-long Washington Post investigation just this week detailed the extent to which Biden, despite lofty words to the contrary, has carried on supporting Saudi’s virtually one-sided slaughter of Yemeni civilians without pause.
New analysis by The Washington Post and Security Force Monitor at Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute (SFM) provides the most complete picture yet of the depth and breadth of U.S. support for the Saudi-led air campaign, revealing that a substantial portion of the air raids were carried out by jets developed, maintained and sold by U.S. companies, and by pilots who were trained by the U.S. military. The Biden administration in 2021 announced an end to U.S. military support for “offensive operations” carried out by the Saudi-led coalition against Yemen’s Houthi rebels and suspended some munition sales. But maintenance contracts fulfilled by both the U.S. military and U.S. companies to coalition squadrons carrying out offensive missions have continued, The Post’s analysis shows… An analysis of public contract announcements shows that the United States provided arms, training or maintenance support to the majority of the fighter jet squadrons in the campaign. The Post found that as many as 94 U.S. contracts were awarded to individual Saudi and UAE squadrons since the war began.
So what exactly is the change in relationship? What supposedly is different now from a year ago? What was Biden or the larger U.S. military apparatus “forced” to do exactly? The answer is nothing.
As Column contributor Sarah Lazare reported in March, the Biden White House has hired upwards of 28 people with financial ties to Saudi Arabia, or its close ally—the United Arab Emirates. This is not something an incoming administration does when they’re earnestly seeking to curb a regime’s influence and standing.
The U.S.-Saudi client state relationship has never changed in material terms, only occasional shifts in P.R. tone. A sanctimonious and deeply cynical Washington Post editorial on Biden’s upcoming Saudi trip shows just how nonexistent this supposed “rift” is. The Post, despite Saudi Arabia killing one of its own columnists, doesn’t implore Biden to skip meeting with bin Salman—only calling the choice “disappointing''. It doesn’t demand Biden sanction Saudi Arabia, or use any economic pressure The Post demands from the U.S. on enemy states like Cuba and Iran. It certainly doesn’t demand Biden arm the anti-Saudi Yemeni fighters as it does when lobbying for the U.S. to arm Ukrainians, who are also fighting off a foreign invasion and brutal bombing campaign. No: It insists that Biden “raise U.S. human rights concerns” at a news conference and maybe get one or two of the thousands of political prisoners out of jail. In other words: the same superficial P.R. stunts American presidents have done when visiting our dictator allies for decades to preserve their “human rights” brand while maintaining business as usual. If Biden had responded to Russia’s Ukraine invasion by simply mildly chiding Putin publicly before he continued selling weapons backing the invasion, would The Post or any other outlet supposedly concerned with human rights have found this sufficient? Of course not.
As it stands, no weapons contracts will be paused, no sanction imposed at the UN, nothing that would fundamentally change the relationship. The U.S.’s dictator flunkies get a bit of a dressing down, another handwringing news cycle about the U.S. “forced” by circumstance to be blatant hypocrites, and some vaguely racist headlines about the shifty Middle Eastern Arabs and Jews forcing America to “abandoned its principles.”
This whole charade is seen as such by virtually everyone who lives outside the beltway. The idea that Biden is, once again, “forced” or “compelled” into a 80-year-old alliance of mutual interest is not a serious framing of the geopolitical reality. It’s a White House-curated narrative designed to absolve the Biden White House and all who work there, who very much care deeply about maintaining their liberal brands, both during and after their time in government. It’s designed to polish Democrats' image as they work with the most vulgar, gutter dictators in the world who liquidate Yemeni school children without batting an eye. All while they maintain the fiction that the U.S. is somehow a promoter of democracy and human rights. Just yesterday, the head of USAID Samantha Power announced a “toolkit” to “strengthen global democracy” while she herself said nothing and did nothing as the Obama White House she worked for provided military support to Saudi Arabia’s brutal war on Yemen, killing of dissidents, subjugation of women, and suppression of freedom of speech and religion. Once outside the White House she performatively condemned the war, and rewrote her own history of culpability, only to reenter under a new Democratic administration and go back to saying and doing nothing in protest.
The narrative that the U.S. is “forced” into backing Saudi Arabia over gas prices is an ahistorical, power-serving, racist myth. The U.S. supports the dictatorship of Saudi Arabia because that’s exactly what the Saudi regime was set up by Western powers to do, and it’s why the alliance is maintained and defended—despite the occasional wrist slapping. The Saudi state kills Iranians and Iranian allies, helps maintain control over regional energy resources, and is an ally of Israel. Everything else is spin.