Joe Biden made the killing of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi an issue on the 2020 campaign trail, criticizing Donald Trump for his inaction and embrace of the Saudis.
He called Khashoggi’s death “flat-out murder,” saying the Saudi journalist was “butchered,” and called for “consequences.” In 2018, he promised to “reassess” the U.S. relationship with the Saudis. He also vowed he would punish senior Saudi leaders in a way the Trump administration had not.
“There’s very little social redeeming value in the present government in Saudi Arabia,” Biden said in a 2019 Democratic debate. “They have to be held accountable.”
Now that he has the power, Biden is singing a much different tune. On Thursday, the administration said that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) should be granted “sovereign immunity” from lawsuits stemming from the murder. One suit, brought by Khashoggi’s fiancee, was looking to hold MBS accountable for the journalist’s death after the CIA revealed that Khashoggi had been murdered in Turkey and perhaps dismembered on the explicit orders of the crown prince.
The request is non-binding and a judge will ultimately decide whether to grant immunity. But it is bound to anger human rights activists and many U.S. lawmakers, coming as Saudi Arabia has stepped up imprisonment and other retaliation against peaceful critics at home and abroad and has cut oil production, a move seen as undercutting efforts by the U.S. and its allies to punish Russia for its war against Ukraine.
The State Department on Thursday called the administration’s call to shield the Saudi crown prince from U.S. courts in Khashoggi’s killing “purely a legal determination.”
Biden’s craven surrender to the Saudis isn’t surprising. Every American president for the last 40 years has had to bend the knee in some way to the Saudi royal family. Part of the reason is oil, but it’s also a spider web of influences, favors, quid pro quos, and backroom dealings with tens of billions of dollars at stake that makes the U.S.-Saudi Arabia relationship special.
They need us and we need them. It really is that simple.
The U.S. military long has safeguarded Saudi Arabia from external enemies, in exchange for Saudi Arabia keeping global oil markets afloat.
“It’s impossible to read the Biden administration’s move today as anything more than a capitulation to Saudi pressure tactics, including slashing oil output to twist our arms to recognize MBS’s fake immunity ploy,” Whitson said.
A federal judge in Washington had given the U.S. government until midnight Thursday to express an opinion on the claim by the crown prince’s lawyers that Prince Mohammed’s high official standing renders him legally immune in the case.
Railing against Trump for doing exactly what Biden is doing now has disappeared down the memory hole. There has been little mention of Biden’s bombastic criticism of Trump for his handling of the Khashoggi murder.
“I think it was a flat-out murder,” Biden said in a 2019 CNN town hall as a candidate. “And I think we should have nailed it as that. I publicly said at the time we should treat it that way and there should be consequences relating to how we deal with those — that power.”
Eventually, the outrage over Khashoggi’s murder will fade. And the Saudis’ treatment of women and religious minorities will continue to offend the sensibilities of civilized people around the world.
FDR supposedly said about Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, “He [Somoza] may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” No doubt Biden sees MBS in the same light.