After a long cold winter in U.S.-Saudi relations, spring at hand.
Well, summer, actually, but whatever.
U.S. President Joe Joe Biden campaigned for the presidency in 2020 calling Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) a “pariah,” insisting that MBS had ordered the murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, and vowed that he would have no contact with him whatsoever.
Less than two years later, Biden is planning a splashy trip to the Middle East next month – July 13 to 16 – and while he is coming to Israel first, guess where he is heading next?
That’s right, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
And guess who is Biden planning to meet with personally?
That’s right, Mohammed bin Salman.
Why is Biden making such a sharp U-turn?
Here are the five things you need to know.
First, gas prices in the U.S. are going through the roof.
Second, Democrats in the House and Senate are terrified American voters are going to punish them at the polls in the mid-term elections in November.
Third, desperate for lower oil prices, Biden is changing his tune. He needs Saudi Arabia to pump much more oil to have any hope of driving domestic gas prices down. Yet the Saudis have no intention of helping Biden unless he changes his policy and his rhetoric, removing the kingdom – and the man next in line to be king – from the dog house and showing the world that strong a U.S.-Saudi alliance is a critical element of U.S. national security and energy security.
These three points are the main reasons Biden is heading to Riyadh.
But there are two more.
Fourth, the nuclear deal Biden has so desperately sought with the terrorists in Tehran is falling apart. The Iranian regime believes that Biden is so weak that there is no real incentive to make any concessions to him, much less give him any manner of foreign policy “win.” What’s more, the Iranian leadership increasingly believes that the Democratic Party is about to be swept out of power in the mid-term elections this November, and that Biden and his team are likely to be personally swept out of power in November 2024. So, why make a deal with Biden when Republicans are probably coming to power and will take a much harder line towards them?
Thus, Biden is suddenly having to recalculate. Rather than make massive concessions to America’s main enemy in the Middle East, Biden now believe he needs to strengthen his alliances with America’s main allies in the region. Thus the visit to Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Fifth, Biden and his team apparently finally sense that there is a huge foreign policy “win” sitting right in front of them, and it has nothing to do with Iran. Biden has the opportunity to help Israel and Saudi make peace and normalize their relations.
For the past two years, I have been making the case over and over again that Biden could win a Nobel Peace Prize if he would focus on helping Israel and the Saudis make the “mother of all peace deals.”
Distracted by mounting inflation and economic troubles at home, and a range of serious troubles abroad – particularly Czar Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine – neither Biden nor his team have given nearly enough attention to the importance of dramatically and substantively improving and deepening Washington’s alliance with Saudi Arabia, much less quietly brokering a deal between Jerusalem and Riyadh.
Until now – when Biden himself is in the political dog house and looking for a way out.
Which brings us to MBS’s decision this week to travel to Egypt to meet with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, then to Jordan to meet with King Abdullah II, and then to Turkey to meet with President Recip Tayyip Erdogan.
The mission: to shore up Saudi Arabia’s regional alliances, and try to all get on the same page before Biden comes to town.
The meetings in Cairo and Amman will be interesting and important.
But the meeting in Ankara with Erdogan is going to be fascinating.
Because Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in Turkey.
It was Turkish intelligence that bugged the Saudi consulate and thus uncovered the sickening plot by low- and mid-level Saudi operatives to drug, kill and then butcher Khashoggi.
It was the Turkish government who leaked a steady stream of sordid details about the Khashoggi murder to the media to indict, try and convict MBS in the court of public opinion.
Four years later, however, no proof has ever been released actually demonstrating that MBS knew about the murder in advance, much less ordered it.
The Turkish economy is in the tank.
Erdogan is desperate to rebuild relations he has soured or strained to the breaking point with everyone in the region, including Israel and Saudi Arabia.
And MBS is determined to show that he is not isolated, but rather that he is the leader of an important and rising regional power.
That’s why MBS is on the move this week.
And believe me, the White House is watching.