Biden’s Trip: Saudi Arabia Versus Iran

On Friday, July 15, President Biden will land in Saudi Arabia. The White House has worked overtime struggling to defend against the charge that the trip to the repressive autocracy with one of the worst human rights records in the world reveals the hypocrisy and empty words of Biden’s defining democracy versus autocracy foreign policy world view.

Biden is not, the White House insists, going to Saudi Arabia as a supplicant begging to ease the oil crisis caused by the sanctions on Russian oil he intended to hurt Russia. Biden’s insistence that Americans will accept the pain of high gas prices for "as long as it takes" because that is the price of the battle against autocracy is not being compromised by crawling to an oil producing autocracy because that is not the purpose of the trip, the White House defends.

But in his recent piece in The Washington Post, Biden couldn’t get past the second paragraph before saying that his trip to the Middle East "benefits Americans in many way" because "Its energy resources are vital for mitigating the impact on global supplies of Russia’s war in Ukraine."

The White House prefers to present the trip to Saudi Arabia as an effort to foster a "more secure and integrated Middle East." But the trip only integrates the Middle East by dividing it against itself and by further dividing the world into new cold war blocs. It is meant to "counter Russia’s aggression" and to "put ourselves in the best possible position to out-compete China." It is meant to nurture a Middle East military alliance against Iran.

In order to realize these goals, Biden insists, he has to meet and "engage directly with countries that can impact those outcomes." So, it is necessary to "meet with Saudi leaders." But the selective emptiness of those words is revealed by Washington’s refusal to meet with Iran for direct talks to return to the JCPOA nuclear agreement that Biden says, in the same opinion piece, was "a nuclear deal that was working" until the US "reneged" on it and "abandoned" it.

Begging a human rights abusing monarchy for oil is justified by the White House because Biden will get up off his knee long enough to talk to Saudi Arabia—though Washington can’t compromise its values by talking to Iran—about joining a military alliance against Iran. In order to grease the pathway to welding Saudi Arabia into the anti-Iran Middle East military alliance it is building, the Biden administration is considering lifting its ban on selling offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia.

The Biden administration is talking to Saudi Arabia about potentially arming them and about joining a regional military alliance against Iran. Saudi Arabia has launched a war that has led to the death of hundreds of thousands of people in Yemen and left 17.4 million more food insecure, creating "the world’s worst humanitarian crisis." They supported and financed the al-Sisi coup in Egypt and propagated and bankrolled the export of extremists. They brutally put down peaceful protests in Bahrain and blockaded Qatar.

Iran has launched a war on no one. They have been fighting in Syria at the invitation of the Syrian government where they are fighting the Islamic State that Saudi Arabia helped spawn and has backed.

Though the US and Saudi Arabia accuse Iran of possessing a nuclear weapons program, it was the U.S. that illegally broke the deal that would ensure there was none.

Iran has always sworn that nuclear weapons are haraam, forbidden by God. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, first and consistently laid down this ruling; his successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has consistently reiterated it. Khamenei has insisted that “from an ideological and fiqhi [Islamic jurisprudence] perspective, we consider developing nuclear weapons as unlawful. We consider using such weapons as a big sin.” In 2003, Ayatollah Khamenei issued a fatwa that declared nuclear weapons to be forbidden by Islam. And the supreme leader was neither going rogue nor the exception: “There is complete consensus on this issue,” said Grand Ayatollah Yusef Saanei, one of the highest-ranking clerics in Iran. “It is self- evident in Islam that it is prohibited to have nuclear bombs. It is eternal law, because the basic function of these weapons is to kill innocent people. This cannot be reversed."

Until the US shattered the JCPOA nuclear agreement, Iran had been completely and consistently in compliance with their commitments under the agreement, as verified by eleven consecutive International Atomic Energy Agency reports.

Saudi Arabia, too, does not have a nuclear weapons program, and they do not have a nuclear bomb. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they couldn’t have nuclear bombs at a time of need. Saudi Arabia’s substantial financial backing of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program may not have come without a string. According to Andrew Small in The China-Pakistan Axis, "a number of accounts suggest that Riyadh . . . has reached an agreement that would see Pakistani warheads transferred into the Saudi’s possession if they decide that the security situation in their neighborhood requires it."

And Saudi Arabia may have the capacity to deliver those warheads. They acquired intermediate-range ballistic missiles and launchers. Small says that the Saudis "provided assurances to the United States that they would not be armed with nuclear warheads, but the missiles’ presence on Saudi soil has posed a standing question ever since."

King Abdullah has always said that if Iran gets a nuclear weapons capacity, Saudi Arabia "will get nuclear weapons." The BBC reported in 2013 on intelligence reports that "nuclear weapons made in Pakistan on behalf of Saudi Arabia are now sitting ready for delivery." The report quotes Gary Sanmore, Obama’s counter-proliferation adviser, saying, “I do think that the Saudis believe that they have some understanding with Pakistan that, in extremis, they would have claim to acquire nuclear weapons from Pakistan.”

Either Biden is making a compromising trip to Saudi Arabia to beg for oil relief from a brutal autocracy that was made necessary by his war on autocracy, or he is considering selling offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia while forging a military alliance against Iran that will further divide the region. Or both.

Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.