Biden and the Gasoline

Why the president’s trip to the Middle East also has quite a lot to do with American domestic policy.

The reputable foreign policy magazine Foreign Policy recently ran an astute analysis, asserting that the Middle East has become a place where the great ideas of American presidents go to die. Joe Biden realizes this cruel reality. That’s why he has kept away from the region for 1 1/2 years since he became president. Now, Biden is going anyway.

This Wednesday, he will arrive in Israel. On Friday he continues on to Saudi Arabia. It was high time for Biden to visit Israel. It would have been an affront to America’s traditional ally if a president did not visit during the first half of his term. That’s also why the Israel part of the trip is not controversial at all.

Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia is more controversial in the United States. During his campaign, Biden declared Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a pariah because he had journalist Jamal Khashoggi killed in 2018 after Khashoggi criticized the regime. Now, however, Biden is not just paying the strong man of Riyadh a visit, he’s also doing that in an especially significant way: He’s flying directly from Israel to the kingdom, the first American president to do so. Saudi Arabia doesn’t normally allow direct flights from Israel.

Biden’s attempts at rapprochement are easy to explain. Bin Salman has slid down on Biden’s list of bad guys because Vladimir Putin has brutally pushed himself forward. Biden did not make a secret of that when he explained the diplomatic reason for his travel in a guest editorial in The Washington Post. “We have to counter Russia’s aggression, put ourselves in the best possible position to outcompete China.” To do this, he would have to talk directly with those countries that could help.

Could Lower Gas Prices Still Save the Democrats in the Midterms?

Saudi Arabia is supposed to help primarily by producing more oil. Because that could potentially lower gas prices, it could benefit the economy, but naturally it could benefit Biden’s party as well, something he didn’t mention. The Democrats face a massive trouncing in the November midterm elections, and high energy prices are one important reason for this. However, market observers doubt that a slight increase in Saudi oil production will lower prices at American gas pumps. All realistic future expansions in production are already factored into today’s prices.

Furthermore, the Saudis have barely any reason to help Biden. The president will likely try to entice them by holding out the prospect of providing aid in case of an attack by Iran. However, the Saudis know full well that Biden is politically embattled at home. They are likely to assume that the Republicans will win a congressional majority in the fall elections, and that in two years, the country will elect a Republican president again. Such a president would likely undo Biden’s Middle East policy just as Donald Trump undid Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. This is no time whatsoever to let great ideas die.

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About Michael Stehle 54 Articles
I am a graduate of the University of Maryland with a BA in Linguistics and Germanic Studies. I have a love for language and I find translation to be both an engaging activity as well as an important process for connecting the world.

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