Ace reporter Judith Miller tells us how Joe Biden has ruined yet another strategic relationship for the United States.

Miller: Will President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman be holding their noses when they meet during Biden’s first trip as president to Saudi Arabia on Friday?

To say there is no love lost between the 79-year-old American president and Saudi Arabia’s 36-year-old de facto ruler is an understatement. The two men obviously loath each other.

During the campaign, Biden lambasted President Donald Trump for overlooking bin Salman’s human rights abuses, especially the gruesome 2018 murder and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post contributing columnist.

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One of Biden’s first acts as president was to release the CIA assessment that MBS, as the Saudi prince is known, had ordered the killing (a charge he denies.) Pledging to treat the kingdom and its de facto ruler as “the pariah that they are,” Biden froze offensive arms sales to the kingdom and imposed sanctions and travel bans on Saudis linked to the killing, but as several veteran analysts noted, not on MBS himself.

Even after plans of the visit leaked, Biden’s discomfort was evident. Initially denying that he would visit the kingdom, Biden tried to justify the trip by saying that he was meeting several other Arab rulers in Jeddah. In a Washington Post op-ed days later, Biden wrote that the goal of his visit “from the start” was to “reorient” but not “rupture” relations with the kingdom, “a strategic partner for 80 years.” But even in his op-ed, Biden could not bring himself to mention the crown prince by name.

The disdain is apparently mutual. Having reportedly refused to take a call from Biden in the run-up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, MBS told the Atlantic magazine when asked if Biden misunderstood him, “Simply, I do not care.”

But realpolitik — or riyal politique, in this case — has led both men to recalculate. Biden decided on the trip after Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine helped push gas prices to the stratosphere and his approval ratings down to treacherous territory. While critics have blasted the about-face as an abandonment of his commitment to human rights, supporters have welcomed it as a return to a more traditional stance that reflects the priority of oil and geopolitics over a desire to isolate the kingdom for its human rights abuses.

“We can all agree that no one should be killed, dismembered and cooked in a Tandoori oven in Istanbul,” said David Schenker, a Middle East expert who served in the Trump administration. “But is Saudi Arabia’s human rights record really that much worse than, say, Egypt’s?”

Given COVID-19, and instructions for Biden before he left the U.S., there probably won’t be a handshake. There will surely be no hint of a bow, which President Barack Obama appeared to make when he met then Saudi King Abdullah in 2009, and President Donald Trump did, too, when he received a civilian medal from MBS in 2017. There will be no hand holding, an Arab tradition among men, which President George W. Bush did when he greeted the Saudi king at his Texas ranch in 2005. Nor will there be any air kisses on this kiss-and-make-up trip.

This piece was written by Jim Gunner on July 14, 2022. It originally appeared in LifeZette and is used by permission.

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