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On Khashoggi and Yemen, a Timid Biden Administration Capitulates to the Saudi Regime Yet Again

by Samuel B. Parker



The second week of December was a rough one for the Biden administration.


In the span of only eight days, President Biden recommended that Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman receive diplomatic immunity for his role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and then successfully scuttled a Yemen War Powers Resolution that would have halted U.S. involvement in the violence of the Yemeni Civil War.


The diplomatic immunization of Crown Prince bin Salman played out in a federal court in Washington, D.C. in early December. Hatice Cegnize, fiancé of the late Khashoggi, had sued the Saudi monarch for orchestrating the brutal slaying of her partner. Both U.S. and Turkish intelligence agencies have conclusively determined that Crown Prince bin Salman directly ordered the assassination of the dissident journalist, who routinely criticized the foreign and domestic policies of the Saudi government. U.S. and Turkish officials insist that covert Saudi agents were operating under Crown Prince bin Salman’s explicit instructions when they abducted Khashoggi inside of a Saudi consulate in Istanbul, strangled him to death, dismembered his body with a bonesaw, and subsequently tampered with evidence and fled the country.


Despite overwhelming indications that Crown Prince bin Salman eliminated a civilian journalist, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit against the Saudi royal on December 6th. The judge expressed his reluctance to do so, but remarked that he essentially had “no choice” due to the fact that the U.S. Department of State, under the guidance of President Biden, had “‘informed the court that [Crown Prince bin Salman] is immune.’” After vowing to hold Khashoggi’s killers accountable for their flagrant acts of violence, President Biden backed down entirely, failing to even enact minimal diplomatic penalizations against the Crown Prince, let alone prosecute him for murder.


Just as President Biden was working to shield his fellow head of state from liability related to the Khashoggi case, his administration was tangling with Senate Democrats over a proposed resolution aimed at ending U.S. contributions to the Saudi intervention in the Yemeni Civil War.


Saudi involvement in the ongoing conflict in Yemen has racked up nearly 10,000 civilian casualties in the last seven years: a figure that, while already alarming, is widely considered to be a conservative estimate. As Saudi Arabia pummels Yemeni men, women, and children from the air and fuels a severe famine by blockading Yemeni ports, the U.S. government recklessly continues to train Saudi pilots and deal arms to Riyadh; since 2015, Saudi Arabia has purchased more than $64 billion worth of weapons and sophisticated weapons technology from the United States. To make matters worse, the U.S. government has neglected to track whether these weapons are being used by Saudi forces in Yemen, implicating the United States in Saudi war crimes that have targeted wedding parties, funerals, hospitals, and other civilian gatherings and population centers.


In an effort to curtail U.S. aid to the Saudi military, Senator Bernie Sanders introduced a Yemen War Powers Resolution that would forbid any and all military assistance to Saudi Arabia without specific approval from the U.S. Congress. The resolution gained some Democratic support in the Senate, but Senator Sanders promptly withdrew it after President Biden threatened a veto.


These actions are disappointing, but they are not surprising. President Biden has already demonstrated that, like many of his predecessors, he is eager to usurp unconstitutional control over U.S. military operations around the world, and he is prepared to interrupt any political momentum that compromises that illegitimate executive power. He has also shown no sign of willingness to challenge the Saudi government on the global stage, making him the latest apparent hostage to U.S. interests in oil and national defense.


While lethal arms flow from the United States to Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia has positioned itself as the fifth largest supplier of foreign oil to the United States. President Biden has overseen the importation of a third of a billion barrels of Saudi oil since he took office in 2020, in a continuation of a trend established by presidents before him. Given the refusal of the United States to buy Russian oil during the Russo-Ukrainian War, the Saudi market share is sure to increase in the coming years. The maintenance of numerous U.S. military installations and a strategic CIA drone base in Saudi Arabia is yet another complicating factor.


Saudi Arabia remains one of the few ostensibly compliant trade partners and hosts in a region that is allegedly pivotal to U.S. economic and security interests. Consequently, the U.S. government seems to have concluded that it simply cannot risk any damage to relations with Crown Prince bin Salman. The tragic result of this purely pragmatic calculus is the perpetuation of a global society wherein status, wealth, and influence can purchase impunity.


For the price of petroleum and Patriot missiles, the U.S. government has auctioned off both its credibility and its virtue.