By John Kiriakou / Original to ScheerPost
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — On the second day of his trip to Saudi Arabia, President Joe Biden met with the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)—Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates—along with Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq to discuss security issues, but particularly to push for a united front against Iran. Biden has spent much of his trip to the Middle East reinforcing the regional policies of his predecessor, Donald Trump, rather than implementing the policies on which he campaigned for president. And he is rightly taking heat for his meetings yesterday with Saudi officials, which many observers believe “legitimized” Saudi Arabia’s murderous Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman and accomplished nothing for Biden.
The President began the day today by refusing to answer any questions from the media about his talks with Saudi leaders yesterday. There would be no discussion of yesterday’s “fist bump” or reports in the U.S. media that Biden was here to “beg” the Saudis for oil. But that’s exactly what the media want to talk about. Why, they wanted to know, would Biden give the Crown Prince a casual fist bump after calling him a murderer and vowing to make him a pariah? Why would he make it look like relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia would be “reset,” as CNN and the BBC reported today, when the Crown Prince still denies that he was responsible for ordering the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi? It’s unlikely that any official answers will be forthcoming.
Instead, today’s meetings were solely about security. Biden held bilateral meetings with all of the attending heads of state, and then met with the GCC as a group. The topic was Iran. Biden has proposed a loose alliance of these nine countries, plus the United States, against Iran. There are, however, several problems with the idea. Qatar and Oman have warm relations with Iran. It’s simply not in their national interest to join an alliance against Tehran. Iraq has even closer relations with its neighbor. The Shia Muslim government in Baghdad is closely tied to Iran, and it has been since the United States overthrew the anti-Iran Sunni Muslim Saddam Hussein. Why would the Iraqis want to antagonize Iran? What would they have to gain?
More important, the U.S. appears to be doing Israel’s bidding on this proposed security arrangement. A “regional security alliance” against Iran was originally Benjamin Netanyahu’s idea. The former, and likely future, Israeli Prime Minister has worked for years to isolate Iran in the region and around the world, and it appears that an American president is finally in agreement. Donald Trump was happy to do whatever Israel’s leaders wanted him to do. He moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He closed the Palestinian liaison office in Washington. He cut off humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. Biden was supposed to reverse all that. But he hasn’t. He’s just carried on with Trump’s policies.
This is the same Joe Biden who, as vice president, proudly touted the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or Iran Nuclear Deal. He condemned Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement. But he has dragged his feet on reentry, the agreement is now as good as dead, and he’s rallying the region for a new defense agreement against the Iranians.
But there is no regional defense agreement as Biden departs Saudi Arabia this evening. It’s just an idea. Nothing was negotiated and nothing was decided. Joe Biden is going home with nothing. Yesterday, the Saudis said that they were not able to increase oil production, and if they could find a way to do it, they wouldn’t make an announcement until the OPEC+ meeting next month. And on top of all that, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman is a player again, having met privately with the President of the United States.
I ask that I be allowed a non-sequitur here. At the press center, a facility set up for the world press to gather for briefings on the meetings and for interviews, I spoke to a Middle Eastern journalist this morning. He asked if I had noticed that King Salman in every meeting had an iPad sitting on his lap. I had noticed and I had found it odd. The journalist then asked if I had noticed that the Crown Prince also had an iPad. That I hadn’t noticed. He explained that at 86 years of age, the king is infirm and easily confused. He can’t carry on a substantive conversation. So he keeps an iPad on his lap. The Crown Prince, in turn, constantly texts his father talking points, questions to ask, and answers to give when he is being questioned. Muhammad bin Salman is running Saudi Arabia. The King is just a figurehead. There’s no doubt about it.