Editor’s Note: This was excerpted from the February 25 edition of CNN’s Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.
In diplomacy, as in physics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Saudi Arabia is experiencing the downside of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s decision to bet the farm on the Trump family.
“The President’s intention – as is the intention of this government – is to recalibrate our engagement with Saudi Arabia and have counterparts communicate with counterparts,” Joe Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, said Wednesday before today’s call between her boss and MBS’s father, King Salman. It doesn’t get much blunter than that.
The fact that the first chat between Biden and the monarch took this long tells its own story. As does the President’s decision to end support for Saudi operations in the Yemen war. His willingness to engage on the Iran nuclear deal is also a disappointment for Riyadh.
The US will soon release an intelligence report expected to find MBS complicit in the murder and dismembering of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Thanks in part to the close relationship between fellow princelings MBS and former first son-in-law Jared Kushner, the Kingdom initially got a pass for the Washington Post columnist’s killing.
Atrocities like the killing of Khashoggi are incompatible not just with human decency, but also with the Biden administration’s focus on democracy. The new White House also has no intention of emulating former President Donald Trump by anchoring its Middle East policy on Saudi Arabia and right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who also had to sweat for weeks before his Biden call.
Snubbing MBS is a public signal that the US is looking for a behavioral change. Avoiding the crown prince will be sustainable for only so long: He is already the driving force in Riyadh, the King is 85 and Saudi Arabia’s petroleum riches and strategic position mean it will remain an important US ally.
But for the next four years, it’s going to be tougher to get Biden’s ear. And the flattery and glowing orbs that entranced Trump are unlikely to work.