The announcement that President Biden would be traveling to Israel1 and then to Saudi Arabia in July and perhaps meeting with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), has triggered shock and outrage among progressives, human rights advocates, journalists, and others.
In 2018, under MBS’s direction, Saudi Arabia carried out the ghoulish murder and dismemberment of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a leading critic of the ruling royal family. Khashoggi lived in the U.S. and wrote for the Washington Post. His murder generated righteous global outrage among journalists and a wide range of justice-loving people. (For more on the Khashoggi killing, see “Some Basic Points of Orientation on the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the Heightened Dangers Internationally,” revcom.us, October 29, 2018.)
While campaigning for president the year after Khashoggi’s murder, Biden postured that he was going to get tough on MBS and Saudi Arabia by “mak[ing] them, in fact, the pariah that they are” and declared there is “very little social redeeming value in the present government in Saudi Arabia.” After he was elected Biden imposed some minor sanctions on Saudi Arabia and authorized the release of a report by the U.S. Director of National Intelligence blaming MBS for Khashoggi’s murder.
But now Biden is heading to Saudi Arabia, where he’s likely to meet or interact with MBS.
A New York Times article noted, “Human rights activists, media figures and even some of Mr. Biden’s fellow Democrats denounced the idea of a president shaking hands with a Saudi leader said to have ordered the killing and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi.”
What MBS ordered done to Jamal Khashoggi was an outrage and a crime. But those who are shocked that a U.S. president would shake hands with a Saudi leader with blood on his hands must confront some basic questions about the biggest, most vicious and murderous gang of criminals in the world—the U.S. imperialists.
Face Reality: Who Has Backed, Armed, and Overall Dominated Saudi Arabia Since Its Founding?
First, who do you think was crucial in Saudi Arabia’s founding 90 years ago?2 Who has been crucial to Saudi Arabia’s functioning, security, and influence in the decades since, and in an overall sense has been calling the shots—under both Democrats and Republicans? It’s the U.S.
Second, who do you think has more blood on their hands—MBS and Saudi Arabia? Or the USA and its rulers?
Yes, Biden’s visit, as one Saudi dissident said, is “the equivalent of a presidential pardon for murder, and MBS would perceive it as the Biden-issued license to kill more Khashoggis.”3 But this is not the first instance of a U.S. green light for Saudi crimes, and hardly the worst.
Talk about a license for mass murder—people have to face what the U.S. has done and is doing in Yemen: how, starting under Obama in 2015, the U.S. has backed the Saudi war in Yemen, including training Saudi pilots and guiding their warplanes in their bombing campaigns. The U.S.-backed air war has directly killed some 15,000 civilians in Yemen. Overall, the Saudi war has contributed to the deaths of over 400,000 people, driven millions—including children—to the edge of starvation, and created one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. All these are massive war crimes and crimes against humanity—carried out by Saudi Arabia and their American backers! (See sidebar.)
This Is About Imperialist Empire and Global Domination—Not Just Cheap Gas
Biden isn’t heading to Saudi Arabia (and Israel!) just or even mainly (or at all) to try to “lower gas prices.” He’s heading to Saudi Arabia because he’s the head of a global imperialist power fighting to maintain its dominance. As Bob Avakian drives home:
Imperialism means huge monopolies and financial institutions controlling the economies and the political systems—and the lives of people—not just in one country but all over the world. Imperialism means parasitic exploiters who oppress hundreds of millions of people and condemn them to untold misery; parasitic financiers who can cause millions to starve just by pressing a computer key and thereby shifting vast amounts of wealth from one place to another. Imperialism means war—war to put down the resistance and rebellion of the oppressed, and war between rival imperialist states—it means the leaders of these states can condemn humanity to unbelievable devastation, perhaps even total annihilation, with the push of a button. (from BAsics 1:6)
That global system of exploitation and oppression demands “allies,” really client regimes, like Saudi Arabia. Regimes that are violent tyrannies that ruthlessly suppress the masses of “their” people, especially women as is the case in Saudi Arabia. Just this past March, Saudi Arabia executed 81 people in one day—including, according to Amnesty International, some convicted of charges like “disrupting the social fabric and national cohesion” and “participating in and inciting sit-ins and protests”!4
The U.S. rulers may sometimes try and distance themselves from the savagery such regimes carry out. But in reality, these regimes aren’t “problems” or “embarrassments” for the U.S., they’re key pillars of America’s imperialist empire.
In the case of Saudi Arabia, its vast petroleum reserves have provided cheap energy and even more crucial strategic leverage for the U.S. rulers (and, of course, this has helped fuel the global climate emergency). The Saudi kingdom has been a stabilizing force in global capitalist-imperialist financial markets. Its location has been key to U.S. military moves and political domination of the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has been a willing partner of the U.S. in war after war—in Afghanistan in the 1980s, in Iraq in the 1990s and 2000s, in Syria in 2015, and more.
During the upcoming visit, Biden will reportedly be discussing key challenges to U.S. domination of the Middle East, including the Islamic Republic of Iran, and strengthening ties between Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel.
All of this is in the service of pushing the interests of an imperialist power. And as Bob Avakian has written about this imperialist power:
The U.S. by far holds the record for invasions, coups and other violent interference in other countries. It has continued, right down to today, to be responsible for atrocities—for example, in Yemen—which are far worse than what Russia has done in Ukraine.5
Where is the urgently needed outrage, condemnation, and determined opposition against that?