Biden’s efforts to bring Saudi Arabia into the Abraham Accords

Summary: a leading security expert explains the strategy behind President Biden’s ongoing negotiations to have Saudi Arabia recognise Israel and argues that with time on the Saudi side a deal is not coming anytime soon.

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2 thoughts on “Biden’s efforts to bring Saudi Arabia into the Abraham Accords”

  1. The Biden administration is currently considering going where no other president has gone before: providing formal security guarantees to Saudi Arabia and helping the kingdom develop a civilian nuclear program in return for Riyadh normalising relations with Israel. President Biden and his team argue that the United States has a national security interest in brokering such a deal.

    They are wrong. 

    Security guarantees for Saudi Arabia would be disastrous for U.S. interests, entrapping Washington as Riyadh’s protector despite a fundamental disconnect between U.S. and Saudi interests and values. Today, U.S. and Saudi strategic interests do not align. No amount of concessions to Riyadh will change this. To the contrary: Saudi Arabia actively undermines both U.S. interests and values.

    Washington’s support for actors like Saudi Arabia has resulted in a vicious cycle: by committing itself to the root of regional instability, the U.S. repeatedly finds itself having to confront challenges that are largely the product of its own presence and policies in the ME. 

    Operating under the logic of great power competition and adopting the Abraham Accords as the new guiding rod of U.S. Middle East policy, Biden risks further undermining U.S. interests. The administration fails to recognise the inherent limitations facing Russia and China in the Middle East – limitations which are well-recognised by regional actors, who are positioning themselves to best advance their own interests. By exploiting fears in Washington over the growing presence of Russia and China in the Middle East, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wishes to extract the ultimate concession from the United States. Instead of advancing U.S. interests, a deal that increased U.S. security commitments to Saudi Arabia in exchange for normalising relations with Israel would further solidify U.S. support for the underlying sources of regional instability within the Middle East.

    When it comes to U.S. policy toward Saudi Arabia, less is more. The United States must decide whether it will continue underwriting actors such as Saudi Arabia and the artificial status quo in the ME, or whether it will recognise the failures of its own policies and limit its involvement to a level commensurate with U.S. interests. 

    Riyadh is not, and should not be, an ally.  

    For more, read “Pariah or Partner? Reevaluating the U.S.-Saudi Relationship” [https://www.cato.org/policy-analysis/pariah-or-partner]

    1. I agree with Jon Hoffman that the United States shouldn’t rush into an alliance with Saudi Arabia, but frankly, I don’t think that’s either on the table or what will result from a process of negotiations.

      The Biden administration has discovered what many administrations have discovered: there are a whole host of important U.S. interests that are more easily advanced when the Saudis want to be helpful, and which are harder to advance when the Saudis want a different outcome. The Saudis feel the same way about the United States, and with good reason.

      I have a hard time imagining that the Saudis want to completely cast their lot with the United States. Russia is an important fellow energy producer, and China is their largest energy customer. They seem determined to be an independent global force. And as Hoffman correctly notes, Saudi values are profoundly different from the United States (and Saudis are often emphatic with me that they reject U.S. values on political rights or homosexuality).

      At the same time, U.S. agreements with Saudi Arabia that limit Chinese technological penetration, that improve marine security through the Strait of Hormuz and the Red Sea, that reduce threats to allies and partners in the region, and advance other U.S. goals have value.

      I strongly suspect that the Saudis are seeking to socialize some very ambitious demands in order to make them seem less outlandish. That is not to say the White House embrace them or Congress will approve them. For all I know, the White House is floating some of its own outlandish Ideas. In my judgment, we are in a brainstorming phase where we agree that there are no bad ideas and both sides are trying to get a lot on the table. We’re a long way from any of this coming to pass, and before it does we will have a robust debate about the shape of our Saudi ties. For now, we should keep our powder dry.

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