All dictators usually kill. They seldom do it themselves. They prefer others bear the stain of the blood.
They live obsessed with staying in power because they know that without it, they would be put on trial, jailed and perhaps executed. Their citizens know they are killers. And that’s why they like nothing more than getting international recognition.
And this is where President Joe Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia comes in. Why is he going? To look for cheap oil that will drop the price of gasoline – and inflation – in the United States. Officially, Biden’s trip is designed to push for the normalization of relations with Israel, find an end to the war in Yemen and coordinate joint counter-terrorism operations. But no one can fail to notice that Biden, in fact, is going to look for cheap oil. But the cost is extremely high, even though it’s not measured in dollars.
During his presidential campaign Biden was very tough on the Saudi monarchy. He said he would make it “pay the price” for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi – a legal U.S. resident and powerful critic of the Saudi government – at the Saudi consulate in Turkey, in 2018 and make the kingdom a “pariah.”
Prince Muhammad bin Salman, 36 years old and known as MBS, is the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia. Even though his father, Salman bin Abdulazis Al Saud, remains the king. A US intelligence report concluded the prince “approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi … We base this assessment on … the direct involvement of a key adviser and members of Muhammad bin Salman’s protective detail in the operation, and the Crown Prince’s support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi.” The prince has denied the accusations.
Khashoggi, a columnist with The Washington Post who exposed multiple abuses and cases of corruption by the Saudi dictatorship, was murdered and dismembered after he entered the consulate for what he believed would be bureaucratic paperwork for his upcoming marriage. The United States condemned the murder and the State Department imposed visa restrictions on 76 persons linked to threats to dissidents abroad.
But Biden’s promises did not hold ujp for long.
There came the pandemic, inflation and now the threat of a world recession, and the Biden Administration folded before the Saudi dictatorship. Not only does he paint it to the world as a “pariah,” he’s visiting in a few days.
The Biden trip is “a very bad idea,” Sen. Tim Kaine, a member of the foreign relations committee, said in an interview with CNN. “His blood stain has not been cleansed,” Kaine said of Khashoggi. “And I get it that circumstances change. But what’s the fundamental issue in the world right now? It’s the authoritarians.”
But it seems the United States treats authoritarian rulers around the world in very different ways. There is no clear and even policy for them.
Biden has said, for example, that Vladimir Putin is “a war criminal.”
And his administration did not invite the leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela to the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles because they rule through brutal dictatorships. Instead, the president will board Air Force One and will start to negotiate in their home with the people in charge of the Saudi Arabian monarchy.
What a contrast. How shocking. How disappointing.
Who can understand that? What happened to all those declarations that US foreign policy is based on respect for human rights and democracy? In Los Angeles itself I had the opportunity to chat with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and ask him.
Why doesn’t the United States treat all dictatorships in the same way. Why does it treat Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua one way, and China and Saudi Arabia another?
“What President Biden has done is to put human rights and democracy at the heart of our foreign policy,” Blinken told me. “But that’s not the only things we look at. We have to look at everything together, in order to protect the interests of the United States.”
The key word in that answer is “interests.” It’s been said thousands of times that countries and governments have no principles, only interests. And at this moment the Biden administration believes it is more important to bring down the price of gasoline in the United States than to maintain international pressure toward a deep and humanitarian change in one of the world’s riches countries.
That two-sided policy of the United States – hard on some dictatorships and complacent with others – sends a terrible message in Latin America. If the United States is willing to negotiate with Saudi Arabia to drop the price of oil and gasoline by a few pennies, why doesn’t it do the same with Venezuela and its dictator, Nicolas Maduro? There are many dictators ready to negotiate.
If countries and governments believe that in times of economic crisis, like today’s, the United States will give way on its principles to win temporary benefits for its population, that would erode its leadership at the world level and become a target for well justified criticisms. The United States and Saudi Arabia have a relationship that goes back 80 years, historically presented a common front against Iran and were allies during the first Gulf War. But to falter before a dictatorship that murdered one of the most influential journalists in the Arab world will have grave consequences in the future. And it will cost human lives in the most vulnerable places around the planet.
The example is fatal. If the United States did it, others will do it also.
There are no good dictators. All of them murder, and do the impossible to remain eternally in power. That’s why to falter before them – in exchange for temporary interests – is always a mistake. It is to play their game. It’s not difficult to imagine them in their palaces,, laughing and saying, “We fooled them again.”