The Illiberal Axis Just Struck Biden Where It Hurts... And The Response?
Putin And MBS Are Working To Throw The Election To The Republicans
Asked by Judy Kurtz this week, Michael Cohen told The Hill that he worries that Trump will have him killed-- or something along those lines-- if he gets back into the White House. “My fear is that you’re going to see like what you see in Russia right now. All of these individuals flying out of windows or mysterious deaths of suicide. Donald has a very long list of— we’ll call it an enemies list— and I’m certain that I am definitively on it.” I spent some time in Moscow a few years ago. It was an uptight place filled with unsmiling, furtive people— nothing like St. Petersburg, which was like a normal European city where it was easy total with people and and and. But Moscow… blecchhh. And we were just over a bridge from the Kremlin and there was a bad vibe.
Ukrainians are experiencing more than bad vibes, a lot more. And now Putin, pissed off that the U.S. and our NATO allies have armed the Ukrainians enough to thwart his goals, seems to have persuaded the Saudi dictator to help him elect a MAGA Congress. Yesterday Ken Klippenstein wrote at The Intercept that what was obvious even more the Saudis announced that they would slash oil production by 2 million barrels a day, driving up the cost of gasoline.
Biden sure isn’t overreacting, to put it mildly. The White House “called it a ‘hostile act’ and said the administration was ‘re-evaluating’ the Saudi relationship,” which may sound harsh… but isn’t anything more than a sound. The Saudis have “enormous influence in Washington” and American politicians kiss their asses— deep kiss.
A handful of congressional Democrats vowed “to block weapons sales and even taking the unprecedented step of introducing legislation to withdraw U.S. troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The bill’s sponsors linked their efforts to the war in Ukraine, pointing out how keeping oil prices high results in a windfall of profit to bankroll Russian President Vladimir Putin’s bloody invasion.” But if they got away with 9-11 and got away with slicing up Washington Post reporter Jamal Kashoggi... I think they know no one in DC is going too ever hold them accountable for anything.
Klippenstein wrote that there are “experts” who say this was “a foray by Saudi’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS, into U.S. electoral politics: a move by the Saudi-dominated oil cartel OPEC against President Joe Biden and in favor of Donald Trump. ‘The Saudis are working to get Trump re-elected and for the MAGA Republicans to win the midterms’ Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow of the Brookings Institution, told The Intercept. ‘Higher oil prices will undermine the Democrats.’ Oil prices affect not just the price at the pump but also the cost of virtually everything in our fossil fuel-dependent economy— and are a major driver of inflation. ‘There’s no doubt that the Saudi-led OPEC oil production cuts are a strategic effort to hurt Americans at the pump and undermine our work to tackle rising costs,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA).”
MBS’s affinity for Trump is hardly a secret. Trump broke with presidential tradition by paying his first foreign visit to Saudi Arabia’s capital, where he inked a record $350 billion weapons sale to the autocracy. He also repeatedly defended MBS amid reporting, including by his own CIA, that the crown prince had ordered the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. “I saved his ass,” Trump reportedly said. “I was able to get Congress to leave him alone”— referring to three times he vetoed congressional resolutions blocking billions in weapons sales to the Saudis.
The cozy relationship between Trump’s circles and the Saudis persisted after the president left office. Just six months after leaving the White House, Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and former top White House adviser, won a $2 billion investment from the Saudi sovereign wealth fund at the request of MBS, who overrode the objections of Saudi officials. Kushner would later flaunt his influence with the Saudis in a pitch to investors for his investment firm Affinity Partners, according to a pitch deck obtained by The Intercept in April. And Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s firm, Liberty Strategic Capital, raised $1 billion from the Saudi sovereign wealth fund.
Experts suggest that MBS’s oil production cut is a targeted attempt to hurt the Democrats’ electoral prospects. “This is MBS’s October surprise,” said Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. “This is his election interference. It forces Biden to make a choice: Will he protect America’s democracy and Democratic lawmakers in Congress, or will he triple down on a flawed gamble that says that the U.S. has no choice but to acquiesce to Saudi Arabia to prevent Riyadh from aligning with Russia?”
Khalid Aljabri— son of Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief, Saad Aljabri, and a frequent commentator on Saudi affairs— also made the comparison to the October Surprise: a term for a late-in-the-game, election-swinging event coined during Ronald Reagan’s successful bid to unseat Jimmy Carter. Aljabri said, “Emboldened by Biden’s no-consequence policy and empty campaign rhetoric, MBS wants to make a Carter out of Biden with OPEC’s October surprise, knowing that high gas prices and inflation influence domestic U.S. politics.”
In many ways, MBS’s decision to tamp down oil production is a rebuke to Biden’s controversial meeting with the crown prince in Jeddah this summer in which the two shared a fist bump. The meeting— following secret backchanneling with Riyadh by CIA Director William Burns, in which oil was discussed— flew in the face of Biden’s campaign promise to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah.”
There were several early signs that the meeting wouldn’t lead to the diplomatic thaw that the administration had hoped for. When Biden touched down in Jeddah, he was greeted not by a top official but by a provincial governor— a major diplomatic snub. And within minutes of the meeting between Biden and MBS, Saudi officials were leaking to the media, disputing Biden’s claim to have brought up Khashoggi.
The failure of the meeting to repair relations created tension between the White House and congressional Democrats, who feel as though the oil production cuts leave them vulnerable in the upcoming election and that the administration isn’t doing enough to compel Saudi Arabia to restore production.
…Democrats have several policy tools they can use to compel Saudi Arabia to back off the production cuts. On Monday, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), chair of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that he would use his power to block all weapons sales to Saudi Arabia going forward.
While Menendez has called on the Biden administration to suspend all U.S. cooperation with the Saudis, the administration has only said vaguely that it would reevaluate the relationship. Responding to congressional Democrats’ calls to block military support to Saudi Arabia, the State Department made clear that it would not do so. Instead, the Biden administration is reportedly discussing canceling an upcoming meeting in Riyadh concerning air and missile defense cooperation.
“I think that’s barely a slap on the wrist,” a source close to the administration said, pointing out that MBS and even many high-level officials weren’t going to be attending the meeting. “Them skipping out on this meeting is not going to cause MBS to lose sleep.”
And that goes double for Putin.