Biden’s meeting with the Saudi crown prince risks becoming a gift to autocrats

President Joe Biden is bringing in the Saudi Crown Prince from the cold. Mohammed bin Salman’s human rights record remains abysmal, but Biden appears to have decided that – to drive down fuel prices and strengthen the alliance against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – he needed to stop holding the prince distant heir.

But the decision meeting MBS, as he is often called, is likely to be deeply counterproductive.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not limited to the territorial integrity of a sovereign state. It also reflects an attack by Russian autocratic President Vladimir Putin on the democratic aspirations of the Ukrainian people, which casts a harsh light on Putin’s increasingly repressive regime.

In other words, the conflict in Ukraine represents not only a military challenge to Ukraine, but also a political challenge to democracy. But as Russia today in Ukraine faces the geographic limits of its conventional military capability, the global struggle between autocracy and democracy is global. That’s why Biden should have resisted the pressure to meet the autocratic crown prince.

If Biden reduces the war in Ukraine to a mere geopolitical struggle, autocrats around the world will have cause to rejoice. They will say that democracies proclaim their values ​​but then sell them for a cheaper tank of gas.

The problem extends far beyond Putin, who fails to present his repressive kleptocracy as a model for the world.

On the contrary, the most important adversary in the struggle between autocracy and democracy is the Chinese government, which touts its dictatorship as a supposedly superior model of governance and seems to relish opportunities to showcase the US government’s commitment to of democracy and human rights as hypocritically selective.

MBS is a brutal dictator. The United States should not rehabilitate its image.

The main reason for Biden’s possible embrace of the crown prince is Saudi Arabia to promise pump modest amounts of additional oil to partially mitigate the shortfall caused by the sanctions imposed on Russia for its invasion. Energy prices have surged around the world and Biden wants to be seen taking steps to stem inflation.

Yet MBS remains a brutal dictator. He harshly suppressed all dissent in the kingdom. A US intelligence assessment attributes the Saudi government’s killing of freelance journalist Jamal Khashoggi to direct endorsement of MBS.

Modest advances for women’s rights under his rule – for example, letting women drive – were accompanied by the imprisonment and torture of women’s rights activists. Improving women’s lives, according to Mohammad bin Salman, must be guaranteed by monarchical prerogative, not by popular demand for their rights.

Additionally, since 2015, a coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates has repeatedly bombed Yemeni civilians. The Saudi government on June 2 agreed to a two-month extension of a two-month ceasefire in Yemen. But Riyadh has made no serious attempt to be accountable to war crimes against Yemeni civilians, meaning civilian killings could easily increase again if fighting resumes.

Biden was right to steer clear of such a bully. There is no justification now for admitting him into the realm of respectable rulers.

Biden’s efforts to build and maintain a global coalition in favor of Ukraine do not justify this decision. Yes, lower oil prices can help maintain Western unity over Russia – and can calm American consumers. But if it comes at the expense of democratic values ​​also at stake, the decision could easily backfire.

The summary executions by the Russian army and the indiscriminate shelling of populated areas in Ukraine have been appalling. They must be stopped and the senior officials who lead them prosecuted.

But as the Biden administration has recognized, the Kremlin is not the main challenge to democracy today. On the contrary, the government that has both the economic means and the political inclination to promote autocratic rule as an alternative to democracy is China.

Unlike Russia’s brutal war, China’s support for autocracy relies more on diplomatic and economic pressure. He argues that democracies are too messy, myopic and slow unlike the dictatorial impositions of the Chinese Communist Party.

Beijing uses threats of economic retaliation against governments that might condemn its brutal repression (for example, its detention of a million Uyghurs and other Turkish Muslims to force them to abandon their religion, culture and language) or its self-serving or ineffective policies (such as its early failures to contain the COVID-19 virus, or its extreme “zero-COVID” policiesbecause Xi Jinping cannot admit the mistake.)

Meanwhile, the Chinese government is looking for every opportunity to highlight inconsistencies in the United States’ commitment to democracy. This is why it is so important that the United States respond to Russia’s military challenge in Ukraine in a way that embraces democratic values ​​in principle and in practice.

With Biden now deciding to sue and meet with MBS, he should elevate — not abandon — the democratic values ​​at stake.

First, he should speak out forcefully and publicly about the continuing human rights horrors under the Saudi crown prince’s rule. A mere mention that Biden discussed “human rights” privately with the Crown Prince (as Biden did after his June 2021 Meet with Putin) will not be enough. The test is whether the Saudi people hear the details of what was discussed, as they have the greatest ability to push for real reform. They should feel emboldened, not abandoned, by the meeting.

Second, Biden should resist further blackmail. It is too early to resume the sale of offensive weapons to the Saudi military, given that little stands in the way of further shelling of Yemeni civilians, and there has been no accountability for the crimes of past wars.

Biden should also reject Saudi Arabia request for the US government to intervene to end the civil lawsuit in US courts against Mohammed bin Salman for the murder of Khashoggi. Since the Saudi justice system has made no serious effort to prosecute those who ordered the brutal killing of Khashoggi, civil suits are one of the few remaining forms of accountability. Additionally, Biden is expected to declare that his administration will impose targeted sanctions on Saudi officials who continue to direct serious rights abuses.

Finally, Biden should move forward with legislation that would pivot the United States toward a green energy transition away from fossil fuels that empowers petro-autocrats like MBS and Putin while accelerating the climate. collapse.

Only such a strong public adherence to human rights and democracy will stand a chance of upholding the democratic values ​​that are also at the heart of the war in Ukraine. Otherwise, Biden risks achieving only short-term gains by providing military support to Ukraine while undermining the much larger global political fight for democracy with China.