Yet, despite these moves, like so many aspects of his nascent presidency, Biden’s approach to Saudi Arabia so far is mostly a reversion to the pre-Trump status quo, rather than an overdue and fundamental shift in policy.
But a fundamental shift in policy is needed. The status quo in Saudi Arabia is unsustainable. As the world shifts away from reliance on Saudi oil, leaders in Riyadh can no longer afford to pay male citizens to sit in an office and female citizens to sit at home, while the real work is done by expat laborers. MBS has accelerated an economic and social transition that is necessary and should be encouraged. Eventually moving toward “normality” will mean either revolution in Saudi Arabia, or a less authoritarian government.
Biden should help support Saudi Arabia in this transition. But to avoid the Iran model, i.e., Saudi Arabia going through a violent revolution and 40 years of hostility toward the U.S., Biden should support Saudi normalization, despite MBS’ murderous despotism.