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This Photo of Biden and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Is the Ultimate Sign of Presidential Weakness

President Biden, who vowed during his 2020 presidential campaign to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah,” is facing widespread criticism for meeting and fist-bumping Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Friday.

SO WHAT

Sometimes a fist bump is worth a thousand words.

THEN

At a November 2019 Democratic primary presidential debate, then-candidate Biden said if elected president he would make Saudi Arabia “pay the price” for the killing of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi and “make them in fact the pariah that they are.”

As recently as last month, Biden downplayed a scheduled visit to Saudi Arabia.

  • “I’m not going to meet with [bin Salman.] I’m going to an international meeting, and he’s going to be part of it,” he told reporters in June, responding to allegations from human rights advocates that the trip was at odds with his past promises.

NOW

Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia last week has sparked widespread blowback, with the optics of his fist bump with bin Salman coming under especially heavy scrutiny.

The president’s eschewing of hand shakes in favor of bumping fists during his trip to the Middle East was ostensibly part of COVID-19 protocols intended to minimize physical contact, the Washington Post reported last week.

  • But as noted by NPR and other outlets, the president shook hands with world leaders during other stops on the Middle East tour.
  • “There are so many issues at stake that I want to make clear that we can continue to lead in the region and not create a vacuum — a vacuum that is filled by China and or Russia, against the interest of both Israel and the United States and many other countries,” Biden said Thursday, explaining his decision to meet with bin Salman.

ZOOM OUT

A widespread perception is that the politically weak position Biden finds himself in — devastatingly low approval ratings, a floundering economy, an energy crisis — forced his hand, or fist, as far as making nice with Saudi Arabia.

  • “If we ever needed a visual reminder of the continuing grip oil-rich autocrats have on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, we got it today. One fist bump is worth a thousand words,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., tweeted Friday.
  • “What Biden didn’t mention was the elephant in the room: Saudi Arabia has oil — lots and lots of it — that the United States needs. That’s always been true, but it is even more true with Biden pledging not to import any oil from Russia due to its invasion of Ukraine. (Gas prices have come down somewhat from their highs of a month ago but remain elevated.),” CNN editor-at-large Chris Cilliza wrote Sunday in an opinion article blasting the president’s Saudi Arabia visit.
  • Fred Ryan, publisher of the Washington Post, issued a statement Friday calling Biden’s fist bump with bin Salman, “shameful,” saying: “It projected a level of intimacy and comfort that delivers to MBS the unwarranted redemption he has been desperately seeking.”

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