Joe Biden gives Saudi Arabia's crown prince a terrifying gift: invulnerability

As president, donald trump allegedly bragged about the gift he gave her Muhammad bin Salmanthe powerful crown prince and de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia: “I saved his ass.”

But on Friday, President Joe Biden gave the prince an even greater gift than Trump could give him: an aura of invulnerability.

Biden traveled to Crown Prince Mohammed’s home turf, greeted him with a fist bump that immediately made global headlines, and then sat down for a meeting with the crown prince that was structured to present him as the president’s equal, despite his insistence. statement from the White House that Biden would largely deal only with King Salman. Both the men and their teams ignored a reporter who scream out: “President Biden, is Saudi Arabia still a pariah?”

Biden’s outreach to the crown prince conveyed the sense of normalcy in US-Saudi ties that he has sought since 2018, when he faced global outrage and unprecedented fury from Washington after Saudi agents killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a mission he had ordered. Trump repeatedly defended the crown prince, but public pressure forced him to end some US support for the Saudi military campaign in Yemen, with senators from both parties voting to convict Crown Prince Mohammed.

Friday’s hug sent a message of complete rehabilitation for the crown prince, known as MBS, precisely because it came from Biden.

Biden and his allies, including nearly every major Democrat, have spent years attacking Trump for resisting accountability for Khashoggi’s murder and ignoring other alarming behavior by MBS, including kidnapping Lebanon’s prime minister and launching a fierce domestic crackdown. As a Democratic presidential candidate, Biden fiance “Insist on responsible Saudi actions and impose consequences for reckless ones.” And once Biden took office, joined by Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, the Saudis took him seriously enough to make concessions, partially freeing some dissidents and moving toward ending their brutal operation in Yemen.

Although the crown prince had used trade links, lobbying and diplomacy with other autocrats to slightly restore its position globallyit still seemed vulnerable to censorship from its most important partner, the US.

Lawmakers, foreign policy analysts and activists who wanted to reform the US-Saudi relationship saw an opportunity for unprecedented progress. They believed that the Biden administration could secure concrete Saudi commitments to respect human rights and limit US entanglement in Middle East tensions by becoming more cautious about arms sales and other military support.

However, by last fall, they they were already disappointed. Biden seemed to have reached the limit of his willingness to challenge Riyadh and the historic US policy of glossing over Saudi abuses. With his current trip, the president has made it clear that he is not seeking major change.

It has been crushing for activists in Saudi Arabia, Israel and Palestine who believed in Biden. They feel completely abandoned.Sarah Leah Whitson, CEO of DAWN

Biden’s pick sets him apart of top Democrats and supports the crown prince: the most significant united front of skepticism towards him has fragmented, and publicly he seems to have outdone his critics without giving them almost anything in return.

Meanwhile, Biden may soon give in to more of their demands. A congressional source told HuffPost that the administration appears close to lifting its year-long ban on selling offensive weapons to the Saudis.

The Biden Administration tried to justify the visit with a week-long public relations campaign that largely failed to convince skeptics that it would bolster US leadership in the region, lead to better treatment of Saudi dissidents, or lower gasoline prices thanks to to increased Saudi supply. At a press conference in the kingdom on Friday, the president said that due to his meeting with MBS, the price of oil could fall “in a couple of weeks” and described what he saw as other key results of the trip, such as a warmer weather. Ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel and increased hopes for peace in Yemen.

Yet among observers who worry about what MBS might do with his newfound sense of impunity, Biden’s moves have sparked fear for the future and deep disappointment.

Earlier in the week, Saudi activist Lina Alhathloul saying a hearing on Capitol Hill that the United States endorsed a dangerous vision of the Middle East. “This is not what stability looks like to me as a Saudi citizen. I don’t want a country that is ruled by someone who tortures women, including my sister. Someone who chops up journalists. Someone who starts wars throughout the region,” she said.

While Biden gave MBS the photo opportunities analysts believe he wanted most from the trip, his team appears to have ignored a recommendation from guard dogs: That the president organized high-profile meetings with critics of the Saudi government to show his support for reform in the kingdom.

“It has been crushing for activists in Saudi Arabia, Israel and Palestine who believed in Biden. They feel completely abandoned,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of DAWN, a nonprofit Khashoggi founded before he was killed. “In my opinion, they shouldn’t have believed him because of the incentive structure in our country… the only message the Biden administration is sending us is that power makes things right, money makes things right.”

This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.

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