The Moral Case for Restoring U.S.-Saudi Relations

Next month, President Biden plans to visit Saudi Arabia, where he will no doubt meet with its de-facto ruler, Mohammad bin Salman (MBS)—despite widespread objections (voiced previously by the president himself) that the kingdom should be isolated because of its dismal human-rights record. Of particular concern to those making this argument is the killing by Saudi agents of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Robert Satloff, however, argues that Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia isn’t an abdication, but an embrace, of moral responsibility:

What is so important to U.S. interests that it not only merits Biden’s travel to the kingdom but demands it? It is the fundamental decision by the leadership of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia to end its support and funding of Islamist radicalism, to stop its decades-long export of extremist ideology, and to focus instead on a positive agenda of human development at home and the development of a relationship with Muslims around the world that urges them to have a healthy respect for the laws and norms of the countries in which they live. This is huge.

A word of context. . . . Dating from at least the 1978 takeover of the Mecca mosque by the ideological forebears of Osama bin Laden, Saudi strategy has tried to outflank the extremists by outdoing them, financing people and institutions that rivaled the extremists in their extremism. In reality, this was a protection racket that required the kingdom to pay an ever-greater price to stay just one step ahead of the radicals. As such, it was doomed to failure—and when all those young Saudi men rammed jetliners into the World Trade Center towers, it failed in horrific fashion.

Extricating themselves from the grip of extremism has been, for Saudis, an agonizingly slow process. The . . . most dramatic changes have come in the last five years, since King Salman elevated his son Mohammad as crown prince.

So, yes, President Biden, go to Saudi Arabia and shake MBS’s hand. . . . After all our country has been through these past 21 years, isn’t the real moral imperative not to shun MBS but to do everything in your power as president to ensure that the Saudi Arabia of tomorrow is definitively, conclusively, and irretrievably different than the Saudi Arabia of the past?

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Human Rights, Islamism, Joe Biden, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy


The ICJ’s Vice-President Explains What’s Wrong with Its Recent Ruling against Israel

It should be obvious to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the Gaza war that Israel is not committing genocide there, or anything even remotely akin to it. In response to such spurious accusations, it’s often best to focus on the mockery they make of international law itself, or on how Israel can most effectively combat them. Still, it is also worth stopping to consider the legal case on its own terms. No one has done this quite so effectively, to my knowledge, as the Ugandan jurist Julia Sebutinde, who is the vice-president of the ICJ and the only one of its judges to rule unequivocally in Israel’s favor both in this case and in the previous one where it found accusations of genocide “plausible.”

Sebutinde begins by questioning the appropriateness of the court ruling on this issue at all:

Once again, South Africa has invited the Court to micromanage the conduct of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Such hostilities are exclusively governed by the laws of war (international humanitarian law) and international human-rights law, areas where the Court lacks jurisdiction in this case.

The Court should also avoid trying to enforce its own orders. . . . Is the Court going to reaffirm its earlier provisional measures every time a party runs to it with allegations of a breach of its provisional measures? I should think not.

Sebutinde also emphasizes the absurdity of hearing this case after Israel has taken “multiple concrete actions” to alleviate the suffering of Gazan civilians since the ICJ’s last ruling. In fact, she points out, “the evidence actually shows a gradual improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza since the Court’s order.” She brings much evidence in support of these points.

She concludes her dissent by highlighting the procedural irregularities of the case, including a complete failure to respect the basic rights of the accused:

I find it necessary to note my serious concerns regarding the manner in which South Africa’s request and incidental oral hearings were managed by the Court, resulting in Israel not having sufficient time to file its written observations on the request. In my view, the Court should have consented to Israel’s request to postpone the oral hearings to the following week to allow for Israel to have sufficient time to fully respond to South Africa’s request and engage counsel. Regrettably, as a result of the exceptionally abbreviated timeframe for the hearings, Israel could not be represented by its chosen counsel, who were unavailable on the dates scheduled by the Court.

It is also regrettable that Israel was required to respond to a question posed by a member of the Court over the Jewish Sabbath. The Court’s decisions in this respect bear upon the procedural equality between the parties and the good administration of justice by the Court.

Read more at International Court of Justice

More about: Gaza War 2023, ICC, International Law