haykel15_Royal Council of Saudi ArabiaAnadolu Agency via Getty Images_MBS Royal Council of Saudi Arabia/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Biden’s US-Saudi Recalibration

Former US President Donald Trump often publicly humiliated the Saudi leadership, benefiting neither America nor the Kingdom. His successor Joe Biden’s softer approach, based on mutual interests, will prove more salutary and enduring.

PRINCETON – US President Joe Biden’s administration has refused to impose sanctions directly on Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, despite the recently released CIA assessment that he “approved an operation […] to capture or kill” Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018. By not punishing MBS, as the Kingdom’s de facto ruler is widely known, Biden has disappointed many. But he correctly put one of America’s most important foreign relationships first.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken summed up the administration’s stance well, saying that, while America wants to “recalibrate” US-Saudi ties, the bilateral relationship “is bigger than any one person.” Blinken’s statement, which could apply equally to the murdered Khashoggi as to MBS, underscores an important fact. Biden, like every other US president since Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s, realizes that Saudi Arabia is vital to maintaining American strategic interests in both the Middle East and the rest of the world, and has chosen not to risk rupturing the relationship by antagonizing the Kingdom’s next monarch.

Many Democrats are disturbed by the gap between Biden’s rhetoric toward Saudi Arabia during the election campaign, during which he declared that he would “make them in fact the pariah that they are,” and the reality of compromise in managing America’s foreign-policy interests. Biden’s critics wanted to see MBS punished, if not removed from the Saudi line of royal succession, and regard the decision not to sanction the crown prince as a betrayal of the values-based foreign policy that the president promised to pursue.