“Though Biden appears willing to overlook Khashoggi’s death in order to shore up America’s access to Saudi oil, he is at least on record as explicitly having condemned that murder. At a November 2019 primary debate, Biden said he would “make [Saudi Arabia] the pariah that they are” and stop arms sales to the Middle Eastern nation. A month after Biden took office, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines released a government report confirming that the Crown Prince directed the assassination. The administration also delayed most weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, in light of its continued involvement in Yemen’s brutal civil war.”
“For many Middle East analysts, Biden’s trip signals pragmatism. “A successful foreign policy for a global power such as the US cannot choose values over interests,” wrote Council of Foreign Relations president Richard Haass in a recent article. “What the Biden administration is contemplating in Saudi Arabia appears to be righting the balance.””
“Biden, who says he went to the Middle East to address “the needs of the free world,” has explained the strengthening of relationships with Arab states and Israel as a success.
But it’s worth taking a look at what concrete victories that closeness produced.
Saudi airspace will be opened to Israeli planes — an incremental step toward normalizing relations between the two countries, yes, but more of a victory for jetliner rights than human rights. A new peacekeeping arrangement was announced for the Red Sea Islands between Egypt and Saudi Arabia; the islands have been a regional geopolitical touchpoint, but the deal is hardly a major win beyond the region. There was talk of bringing Iraq closer to its neighbors, with a new electricity initiative to connect Iraq with the Middle East. Infrastructure projects totaling about $100 million were announced for Palestinians, including 4G networks for the occupied West Bank. The latter two, while worthwhile, are minor compared to other US development and foreign aid streams of funding — and minuscule compared to annual military aid to Israel.
A moderate success was Saudi Arabia’s ongoing commitment to maintaining a ceasefire in Yemen, a worthy goal considering the destruction wrought there, in part with the support of American weaponry, though hardly an issue that demanded a presidential visit.
As for oil, we haven’t seen any grand announcements. Ahead of the trip, a US official told reporters there wouldn’t be any big energy news, and instead pointed to an announcement a month prior from OPEC that the group of oil-producing nations would increase production.
It has left observers wondering exactly why Biden made the journey.”
“A senior Biden administration official, on the last day of Biden’s Middle East trip, described human rights at the center of America’s goals — “I’d go so far, literally, to say right at the forefront of our foreign policy,” they said.
But human rights is not even at the forefront of the administration’s press releases, fact sheets, and meeting summaries.
The official touted a “Biden doctrine” for the region. In the document, values rank lowest — fifth — after bullet points about partnerships, deterrence, diplomacy, and integration. So partnerships (with unsavory leaders) and deterrence (through our security assistance) are the priorities here.”
“This Biden trip is a preview of US foreign policy in an era of great power competition with China and new fault lines of a world divided by Russian aggression. There are trade-offs. “You sanction Russian oil, and you give power to Middle Eastern autocrats,” Khalidi told me. “The only reason he’s sidling up to these human rights abusers is because of the knock-on effects of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, and the energy impact of that invasion.”
Or, as Freeman put it, “The message to the people in the region is we only care about you in the context of our great power rivalry.”
Despite the emphasis on Russia, there was little movement on solidifying a Middle East coalition in support of Ukraine. The United Arab Emirates is a major hub for Russian businesspeople and dirty money, and that seems unlikely to change. Egypt is a hot spot for Russian tourists. Saudi Arabia and Israel are still fence-sitters in the Ukraine conflict, hesitant to definitively take a side. While Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE voted to condemn Russia’s invasion in the UN resolution, none has joined the US-led sanctions against Moscow.
Yet all of these regional powers are making demands of the US to take a harder line on Iran and enable them militarily. (Wait, wouldn’t realpolitik be crafting a deal with Iran, and getting more oil production online in the process?)”
“President Joe Biden’s administration said this week that it would not send US government officials to the Beijing Games in protest of China’s human rights violations, including its abuses against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang and anti-democratic crackdown in Hong Kong. The United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada also said this week that they will keep their delegations home.
This diplomatic boycott isn’t a full-on protest of the games, and won’t prevent athletes from participating in the 2022 Olympics. It won’t affect the spectacle of the event all that much, although lots of skiers will probably be asked about it. And despite some pressure from activists and human rights advocates, corporate sponsors — a.k.a. the money behind it all — have been largely silent.
All of this makes the US diplomatic boycott “more symbolic than substantial,” Zhiqun Zhu, a professor of political science and international relations at Bucknell University, wrote in an email.
That symbolism can still needle the Chinese government, especially now that countries beyond the US have joined, and even more so if others follow suit. The Olympics matter to Beijing — maybe not as much as its coming-out party in the 2008 Summer Games, but President Xi Jinping still wants to signal international prestige to the world and to his domestic audience, especially amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Chinese government has pushed back pretty hard against the boycotts. Before they became real, China warned of “resolute countermeasures,” without specifying what those might be. Since the boycott announcements, Chinese officials basically said that’s cool, but you actually weren’t even invited anyway.”
“the EU signed off on a law that will give the bloc the power to ban travel and freeze assets of individuals and entities involved or associated with violating human rights, including genocide, slavery, extrajudicial arrests and killings, gender-based violence, human trafficking, and other abuses that are “widespread, systematic or are otherwise of serious concern.”
The EU’s adoption of this law is a big deal, both symbolically and practically. One of the European Union’s foundational principles is a commitment to human rights, democracy, and rule of law. But it has sometimes fallen short. This new tool will put some heft behind those commitments.
All 27 EU member states agreed — including some of the democratic-backsliding countries in the bloc like Hungary, which previously held up attempts to pass this kind of EU-wide law.
Practically, this gives the EU a lot more flexibility in whom and what it can target for rights violations. Previously, the EU was mostly limited to applying sanctions in country-specific situations, like a conflict, as in Syria, or for certain issues like terrorism or cyberattacks.
Since this law applies to all EU member states, it cuts violators off from a lot of travel — including nice vacation destinations on, say, the French Riviera — and from accessing and locating assets.”
“The United Nations’s premier body for protecting human rights has elected serial human rights abusers, including Russia and China, to the panel, once again calling into question whether it’s actually an important platform to address the plight of millions — or an anachronism.
The Geneva-based, 47-member UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) does two main things: It passes nonbinding resolutions on human rights issues around the world, and it oversees the work of experts who investigate violations in specific countries. Its supporters, those of whom in the US typically lean left, say it’s a place where nations can address issues that don’t usually garner the world’s attention. Its critics, who mostly lean right, argue it’s a toothless organization that kowtows to authoritarians and harbors a deep anti-Israel bias.
Detractors gained an upper hand in the debate this week when China, Russia, Cuba, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan each won enough votes to sit on the UNHRC for a three-year term (though China received fewer votes than it had in previous years). Other despotic regimes angling for a spot, like Saudi Arabia, didn’t get the nod, however.”
“it’s fair to look at the council and think it’s a problematic forum the US should stay out of. But experts say there are a few problems with that view, namely that the US loses any influence in that forum to push back against the Russias and Chinas of the world — and Israel is left without a strong backer on the council.”