Desperation II, Saudi Boogaloo: Biden sends CIA chief to make nice with MBS

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Oiled and busted, 2019 edition: “There’s very little social redeeming value of the — in the present government in Saudi Arabia.” New hotness, 2022 inflation edition: Sucking up to Mohammed Bin Salman to get him to take your calls.


This might actually be good news, but only if this was more than a brown-nosing expedition:

CIA Director William Burns made an unannounced trip to Saudi Arabia last month to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, U.S. and Saudi officials said, as the Biden administration pushes to repair ties with a key Middle East security partner.

The visit took place in mid-April in the coastal city of Jeddah, where the Saudi leadership spent much of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. While details of what the two men discussed weren’t available, recent sources of U.S.-Saudi tension include oil production, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Iran nuclear deal and the war in Yemen.

“It was a good conversation, better tone than prior U.S. government engagements,” one American official said of the top U.S. spy’s meeting with Prince Mohammed, who runs Saudi Arabia’s daily affairs on behalf of his 86-year-old father, King Salman.

Say, whatever happened to Biden’s desire to “recalibrate” relations with the Saudis, and especially MBS, after the murder of Khashoggi? That effort was underwhelming even in the first instance, especially given Biden’s campaign rhetoric about the quantity of “redeeming social value” in Riyadh. By July 2021, senior Biden administration officials personally hosted MBS’ brother in a state visit.

This, however, reeks of desperation. Biden desperately needs more oil production in order to get prices lower in the US for the political survival of his party. He’s still hostage to the hardline progressives in his party, who erupted in outrage when Biden attempted to slightly loosen restrictions on production and exploration he hastily imposed at the start of his term. Biden tried to call on MBS to get Saudi Arabia to increase production at the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, only to get very publicly snubbed by one of our key strategic partners in the Middle East.


That snub was more than just a rebuke for Biden’s remarks about MNS, however, The Saudis are aghast at Biden’s efforts to release Iran from sanctions aimed at their nuclear-weapons development, and likely even more so in regard to the potential for taking the IRGC off of the State Department’s terrorist-organization list. The IRGC is fueling the Houthis in Yemen that openly attack Saudi Arabia, as well as stoke anti-Sunni factions in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, and likely the West Bank and in Jordan as well.

The previous administration understood the necessity of dealing with the Saudis and to use that relationship to build bridges between other Sunni nations and Israel for the purposes of limiting Iran’s strategic reach. This administration doesn’t have a single strategic brain cell in their collective heads. Instead, they’re constantly reacting rather than controlling events, especially on energy policy and foreign policy, both of which are inextricably entwined into national security issues in ways that are only beginning to dawn on Joe Biden.

If this visit was to reassure the Saudis that Biden was rethinking his direction on Iran, then perhaps this is more strategy than desperation. If so, however, he picked the wrong messenger:

Mr. Burns is a former deputy secretary of state who studied Arabic and held postings in the Middle East, as well as having prior experience in covert diplomacy. During the Obama administration, he helped lead secret talks with Iran that led to a multination accord in 2015 to limit Tehran’s nuclear development in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. …

Since taking over the nation’s spy agency last year, Mr. Burns has made at least 15 trips abroad, including a secret visit to Kabul last August to meet with the Taliban’s top figure. He has since played a key role in the Biden administration’s response to the war in Ukraine, visiting Russia last November to warn President Vladimir Putin of the consequences of an invasion.


So to send a message of friendship to the Saudis, Biden sent the author of the JCPOA and a man behind Biden’s grand plan to abandon Americans in Afghanistan? I’m sure that impressed the Saudis. Good luck getting Biden’s calls answered in Riyadh.

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