From the Right: Saudi Arabia and the Fist Bump Heard Around the World
By Don Schmitz
During the 2019 debates, regarding Saudi Arabia then presidential candidate Joe Biden stated : “We were going to in fact make them pay the price, and make them in fact the pariah that they are.” He also said “I would make it very clear we were not going to in fact sell more weapons to them.” His statements departed from every president since FDR, all who recognized the strategic importance of the kingdom to the U.S.
Biden has done neither, however, with a major arms sale to them last November, and the now infamous fist bump with Mohammed bin Salaman (MBS) last week.
The original schism stems from our righteous indignation over the brutal murder of exiled Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey, and we are right to take MBS to task for this heinous crime. International relationships are a tricky equation however, and we must interact with world leaders to varying degrees in a complicated world.
America is a special country, in that we promote our values of personal liberty internationally, including fighting to defend those who share our values against tyrants. It is a jarring dichotomy to our actions and rhetoric when we ally ourselves with those who dramatically depart from those values, but although we are immensely powerful economically and militarily, we are not omnipotent, nor is change overseas achieved in one fell swoop. Accordingly, America has found itself often making tough decisions about who to engage with, cut ties with, or fight. This is not a partisan issue; it spans centuries, irrespective of changes in party here at home.
In 1943 President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with the great butcher Josef Stalin in Tehran, giving the Soviets the Kurile Islands should they declare war against Japan. They met again in Yalta in 1945, and ironically, this month (July 17) marks the 77th anniversary of the Potsdam conference where President Truman shook hands with Stalin. Stalin crushed the press, starved 8 million Ukrainians, murdered tens of millions more, and created the Gulags, yet we shook his hand through two administrations (both Democrats, by the way, for those partisans proclaiming moral high ground).
Should we have allied with Stalin? To defeat Hitler and Tojo, yes. Did the millions of families starved, displaced, and oppressed feel betrayed by the pictures of that handshake? Undeniably. Was Stalin antithetical to our American morals? Incontrovertibly, every bit as much as Hitler and Mao. Subsequently however, we then contained the Soviets for over 40 years, until they collapsed in the late 1980s. We didn’t abandon our values — we were pragmatic, changed what we could, and bided our time. I imagine our presidents scrubbed their hands with antiseptic after those handshakes.
Today’s world is no different, and the international pirouette continues. Much goes into the mental calculus, but ultimately it is our government’s responsibility to pragmatically pursue what is in the best interests of the U.S. Sometimes others are so evil, importantly coupled with being so threatening, that we will unilaterally forge ahead, as with ISIS. Sometimes we will utilize embargos or “constructive engagement,” as with apartheid South Africa. Other times tyrannies are too powerful to ignore or attack, and we must maneuver for decade to effectuate change, as in China. So many shades of grey, which on moral grounds, is intensely distasteful for Americans.
Saudi Arabia is ranked “not free” by Freedom House, among the lowest rankings with North Korea and Syria. It has 30,000 political prisoners, control of the internet and press, zero religious freedom with blasphemy carrying the death penalty, while gays are stoned to death. They share little of our values. However, Saudi Arabia is a counterweight to Iran, which not only engages in all the above, but also actively engage in international terrorism, proxy wars, and have committed to destroying Israel and the Western democracies.
Furthermore, the Abraham Accords, forged under the Trump administration, have seen normalization of relations between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan. Biden’s administration is now attempting to strengthen the Israel/Sunni Arab block, and has negotiated cooperation between Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel. Countervailing, Iran has entered a 25-year economic agreement with China and is expected to join the Shanghai Cooperation Agreement. Now add our war on fossil fuels here at home, and the Russian oil embargo, contributing to runaway inflation. With surplus oil supplies in Saudi Arabia, our interests become clear.
I’m sure Biden threw up in his mouth from that fist bump, as did FDR and Truman after shaking Stalin’s hand. Remember our alliance with Saudi Arabia facilitated our decimating Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who tortured and murdered many thousands. Israel will attack Iran should they develop nuclear weapons, and Saudia Arabia, a regional military powerhouse, will also fight against the Shiite theocracy in Iran. We should hold tyrants accountable where we can, but there are potentially millions of lives at stake, and the lines are being drawn. We must choose wisely.