Joe Biden Juggles Principles, Pragmatism in Stance on Autocrates

As a presidential candidate, Joe Biden hasn’t been shy about calling out dictators and authoritarian leaders as he bases his foreign policy on the idea that the world is at war between democracy and autocracy.

But Biden’s governing approach as president has been much less black-and-white as he moves toward pragmatism in a world beset by heightened tensions, the economic fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, concerns about China’s global ambitions. tries to balance the principles. And much more about advancing Iran’s nuclear program.

Those crosscurrents were evident when Biden played host to America’s Summit in Los Angeles last week, where his decision to oust the leaders generated considerable drama as he called dictators and many other world leaders. Inspired to boycott this event.

We don’t always agree on everything, but because we are a democracy, we work through our disagreements with mutual respect and dialogue, Biden told summit participants as he tried to resolve disputes.

Even as Biden was ousting a trio of leaders from the gathering, his national security team was preparing for a possible visit to Saudi Arabia, an oil-rich state that the president enjoyed in the early days of his successful White House run. I was given the label of a fairy kingdom. ,

After Biden took office, his administration made it clear that the president would avoid a direct association with the country’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, after US intelligence officials concluded he had killed US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. killing and dismemberment was approved. If the visit to Saudi Arabia goes ahead as anticipated, Biden is expected to meet with Mohamed.

Biden’s stern talk toward the Saudis during the campaign and earlier in his presidency was part of a broader message he gave to Americans: to dictators and powerhouses if the United States is to gain credibility on the world stage. The days of blank checks should be over. ,

However, recently, such sharply doctrinal rhetoric has fueled more real politics.

At a time of skyrocketing gas prices, an increasingly fragile situation in the Middle East, and continuing concerns about China expanding its global footprint, Biden and his national security team have determined that liberating the Saudis is simply not justified. According to a person familiar with the White House who is considering the final Saudi visit yet, who spoke only on condition of anonymity.

The blurred lines along which the US will and will not engage has left the White House facing a tough question: how can the president cite the doctrine of turning down engagement with dictators in his own backyard, even if he is Saudi. Considering calling on the authorities to use mass arrests and horrific violence to quell dissent?

President Biden remains committed to placing human rights and democracy at the center of our foreign policy. It is,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters at a summit concluding news conference on Friday. That doesn’t mean it’s totality.”

But Edward Frantz, a presidential historian at Indianapolis University, indicates that Biden is as stuck as his predecessors when it comes to the Middle East.

President Jimmy Carter, who said human rights were central to his foreign policy, was beyond the blood-thirsty reputation of Iran’s Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. President George HW Bush stopped supporting the rebellion against Saddam Hussein because his advisers warned that Iraq would plunge into civil war without a strongman. US administrations from President Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama have ignored the torture and arbitrary captives of the Hosni Mubarak government in Egypt for the sake of a credible strategic partner in a difficult corner of the world.

It is noteworthy that Biden is being forced out by his position on the Saudis in large part because he takes a principled stance on Ukraine, Frantz said. “But it’s hard not to see the same pattern that has been established over the past 80 years here.”

Human rights advocacy groups and even some Democratic allies of the president are warning Biden that Saudi travel could be dangerous.

Six House Democrats, including the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, wrote to Biden last week asking him to use a pledge to renegotiate that relationship for the service if he decides to go ahead with the trip. must comply. Oil production, human rights and the sale of ballistic missiles by China to the kingdom were reported on US national interests and Saudi authorities.

Human Rights Watch’s Middle East director Lama Fakih said President Biden must acknowledge that any meeting with a foreign official gives him immediate credibility on the global stage, whether intended or not. Meeting with Mohammed bin Salman without human rights commitments would justify Saudi leaders who believe there are no consequences for serious rights violations.

Even as Biden was warming up to the Saudis, he was committed to keeping Western Hemisphere dictators out of the summit in his own backyard.

The decision was seen as heavy-handed by some allies. The President of Mexico, Anders Manuel Lepez Obrador, and the leaders of Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Bolivia opted to skip the summit over Biden’s decision to oust the leaders of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Argentina’s president, Alberto Fernández, and Belize’s prime minister, John Brisio, were among those to show up, but publicly criticized Biden’s move.

Geography, not politics, defines America,” Bryso said.

Before taking office, Biden didn’t hold back about what he saw as the shortcomings of some of his fellow leaders, especially those who had less than stellar records as champions of democracy, but President Donald Trump’s goodwill. were in grace.

During the 2020 campaign, Biden argued that Brazil should face significant economic consequences if President Jair Bolsonaro continues deforestation of the Amazon. Biden called the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an autocrat and waited more than three months in his presidency to speak with his fellow NATO leader. Most notably, Biden said Saudi Arabia was an untouchable who would pay the price for its human rights abuses, including the brutal murder of Khashoggi.

When Biden met with Bolsonaro on Thursday on the sidelines of America’s summit, the engagement was decidedly civil. Biden made no mention of the Brazilian leader’s unsubstantiated claims about his country’s voting system and unsupported claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 US election.

During the two leaders’ appearance in front of reporters, Biden also commended Brazil for making real sacrifices in defending the Amazon. The White House said that in their private conversation, they discussed working together on sustainable development to reduce deforestation.

Bolsonaro, the most prominent Latin American leader to attend the summit, agreed to attend on the condition that Biden allow him a private meeting and refrain from confronting him over some of the most controversial issues between the two men. , according to three cabinet ministers from Brazil’s leaders who requested anonymity to discuss the issue. White House officials said no preconditions had been set for the talks.

In recent weeks, top Biden advisers and NATO officials have been working to persuade Erdogan to back down on his threats to prevent historically neutral Sweden and Finland from joining NATO.

Last week, Biden and his administration failed as they praised Saudi Arabia’s role in pressing OPEC+ to increase oil production for July and August. Biden also called the state courageous in agreeing to an extension of the ceasefire in its seven-year war with Yemen.

Douglas London, a former CIA officer who spent 34 years in the Middle East, South and Central Asia and is a scholar at the Middle East Institute, said Biden’s tone shift represented an uncomfortable reality: Prince Mohammed, widely regarded as Known as MBS, someone America is likely to deal with in the coming years.

Yes, we are reminded of how the president referred to MBS as the dictator of a pariah state whom America was about to teach a lesson, London wrote in an analysis. Timing in politics and foreign policy, as in life, has a huge impact, and it is important to remember that the average oil price when then-candidate Biden said it was $41 a barrel.

Now, it is hovering around $120 a barrel.

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