After Focusing on Saudi Faults While Ignoring Iran’s, Washington Must Now Reverse Course

June 10, 2022 | Noah Rothman
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Even before coming to the White House, Joe Biden promised to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” as punishment for the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018. But, with the price of a gallon of gasoline nearing or exceeding five dollars in much of the country, the president has begun making efforts to mend ties with Riyadh and its de-facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Noah Rothman comments:

The publicly available intelligence implicating bin Salman in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi is entirely believable. It was an egregious act for which the crown prince should pay a price. But . . . the conduct of statecraft in an imperfect world occasionally involves dealing with distasteful figures. It is also egregious, [moreover], to allow Americans to struggle with financial hardships for as long as they have. . . . And the indignation of the commentary class over this concession to reality, even at the expense of a principle, only exposes a callous disregard for all the other concessions Biden has been forced to make.

For example, the Biden administration pared back sanctions targeting Venezuela’s criminal regime. . . . The Biden White House has been just as eager to coax Iran back into the community of nations. The administration’s pursuit of a new nuclear deal with Iran, [if successful], is likely to include provisions that would allow the Islamic Republic to sell more of the roughly 2.4 million barrels of oil the country pumps per day.

Iran is hardly a paragon of human rights. It, too, oppresses and murders its people, and it, too, menaces America’s allies and threatens U.S. interests. It also regularly holds Westerners, including Americans, hostage. And yet, the United States engages with Iran on multiple tracks.

[Saudi Arabia’s] leadership can be castigated and even punished for its human-rights abuses while acknowledging the vital role the country plays in its region and in the global economy. . . . The goals of this campaign [to anathematize Riyadh] went unarticulated even as its costs mounted. As statecraft, it was as incomprehensible as it was unsustainable.

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