America’s strategic interests seem to have prevailed even as US President Joe Biden reprimanded Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman by releasing an intelligence report saying the assassination of critic Jamal Khashoggi was carried out with the prince’s tacit approval. Mr Biden stepped back after suspending some arms sales, drawing criticism from his own party that he didn’t go the whole hog and sanction MBS, who goes scot-free for the sinister actions of his Rapid Intervention Force lackeys which pursues and silences dissidents at home and abroad.
In calling out the Crown Prince, who is the real power behind his ailing father King Salman, who still occupies the throne, Mr Biden merely sent out the political signal that he is different from Donald Trump and that Saudi Arabia can’t expect the same kind of cosy ties it enjoyed with the White House through Mr Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, especially if it breaches human rights as brazenly as, say, Russia did with Alexei Navalny.
The Saudi-US pact goes back eight decades to the Franklin D. Roosevelt era when Americans gained access to cheap Saudi oil in exchange for protection under a bizarre security covenant between the world’s oldest democracy and the epitome of an Islamic monarchy. The tensions that came with the release of the intelligence report may only help push the kingdom further towards Russia and China, the latter already Saudi’s biggest trade partner.
The prince’s actions, which included detention of hundreds of princes and businessmen at a luxury hotel in 2017 aimed at consolidating his power base, may not have endeared him to a more liberal America with its faith in personal freedoms. Mr Biden’s moves since moving into the White House has been to reset America’s ties with many countries with the focus on first stamping out Mr Trump’s erratic and personalised style of handling foreign relations. Can Mr Biden propel America quickly enough into cherishing democratic values and human rights once again? That remains the key question.