17th July 2022
US President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman – who is the pariah?
To suggest that US President Joe Biden is speaking with a forked tongue on his current propaganda tour of the Middle East is an understatement. The fist bump, with Saudi Crown Prince, Mohamed bin Salman, who even the famously mendacious CIA regard as having given the order for the execution of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, made a lie of Biden’s promise to treat bin Salman as a pariah following the journalist’s murder.
Clearly, such considerations cannot be allowed to obstruct the desire to persuade the Saudis to free more oil onto the world market, to compensate for the shortfall in Russian supplies, or to continue to build rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and the region’s other US client state, Israel, in opposition to the perceived threat from Iran.
Leaders of six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates – plus Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq held talks on regional security and bilateral relations with the US at a summit in Jeddah over the weekend. Biden pledged that the US “will not walk away” from the Middle East and leave a vacuum to be filled by Russia, China or Iran. Biden also told the summit that the US is committed to ensuring Iran never gets a nuclear weapon.
Biden is in the region to sell the repackaging of US Middle East policy which has been outlined by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, who emphasised Washington’s desire to promote “regional stability” through diplomacy. Top White House official on the Middle East, Brett McGurk, has talked of a desire for “returning to basics” through the “3D approach” of deterrence, diplomacy and de-escalation.
Considering the extent to which the US has destabilised the region, through promoting Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan, to invading Iraq, Syria and Libya, while arming the Saudi state to bombard Yemen, many in the region would welcome the US walking away.
However, the right of nations to self determination and the principles of non-interference in the affairs of sovereign states, are not values that the US has even deigned to pay lip service to over the years and are certainly not ones which fit into the US imperialist unipolar world view.
It is in the strategic interests of the US to see an expansion and strengthening of the Abraham Accords, agreements between Arab countries and Israel, initiated under former President, Donald Trump, which seek to deepen Israeli influence over the Arab world. Biden is using his visit to press this agenda through promises of security and technology investments.
Biden will use all of his political charisma to make these promises sound magnanimous but, in effect, they are about consolidating the role of the US as the main arms supplier to the region and clearing a path for US technology companies to be the region’s main supplier of communications infrastructure.
On the question of Palestine, Biden is paying lip service to a two state solution while at the same time bolstering Israel’s military capability and effectively turning a blind eye to the atrocities committed against the Palestinian population on a daily basis. In the effort to airbrush the question of Palestine from the international agenda the Saudis are complicit. They are keen to ensure both Israel and the US remain on board with their virulent anti—Iran position, born out of the Sunni/Shia schism in the Muslim world, but increasingly hardening into a classic nationalist power struggle.
While the Saudis and Israelis in many ways appear to be unlikely allies, their mutual perception of Iran as an existential threat brings them together. The US desire for regime change in Tehran means that they are happy to both encourage and arm any Israeli/Saudi alliance. While Biden professes to want to win over the Iranian theocracy by diplomacy, some state of the art weaponry under US control in the region is seen as a minimum backstop.
While the Iranian dictatorship struggles to free itself from US sanctions imposed when Donald Trump reneged on the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, resulting in more trade with Russia and China, Saudi Arabia enjoys the largesse of the US and its allies on a number of fronts. The recent Saudi backed LIV Golf tour, which has generated such controversy in the sports world, continues the Saudi sportswashing agenda, following the recent bankrolling of Newcastle United.
The Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), chaired by Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, has bought shares worth £78m in Aston Martin, adding to its investment in other blue chip companies and car makers including Lucid electric start up and McLaren.
Western arms manufacturers continue to see the Saudi dictatorship as a lucrative customer and weapons continue to pour into the kingdom. Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) noted that the published value of UK arms licensed for export to the Saudi-led coalition since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015 is £8.6 billion (including £7.1 billion to Saudi Arabia alone); however, CAAT estimates that the real value of arms to Saudi Arabia is over £23 billion, while the value of sales to the Coalition as a whole (including UAE and others) is nearly £25 billion.
As staggering as those figures are Britain is, as ever, a junior partner when it comes to any relationship with the US. A total of 73% of Saudi Arabia’s arms imports come from the US and 13% from Britain. The Saudis annual spend on weapons is close to $50bn. Lucrative business indeed.
Biden’s visit will do little to assuage the fears of many people in the region that the US has its own military and economic interests to the forefront, while the interests of the people of the Middle East are not a significant concern. US military interventions and backing for unelected dictatorships has often been at the root cause and, at the very least, fuelled conflict in the Middle East.
Biden may see his four day tour of the region as part of a charm offensive but for the people of the Middle East, until the US allows them to determine their own futures, free from domestic dictators or foreign intervention, the presence of a US President in the region will simply be offensive.