Are There Any Adults in the White House?

We have previously noted that the oil production cut by OPEC+ was primarily engineered by Russia and Saudi Arabia, and that President Biden’s statements condemning Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto ruler, might not have exactly persuaded that nation to work charitably with the United States. Now, from Business Insider:

The US and Saudi Arabia traded petty insults in an feud over oil after a reported secret deal fell apart

by Tom Porter | Thursday, October 27, 2022 | 7:00 AM EDT

A US official mocked a comment by a Saudi prince who claimed the White House was acting immaturely, the latest exchange in an embarrassing feud between the nations over oil.

“It’s not like some high school romance here,” John Kirby, the communications coordinator at the National Security Council, said when asked about a comment by Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman.

The prince had criticized the White House for releasing some of its vast oil reserves to reduce prices, painting the move as childish and describing Saudi Arabia as the “maturer” country.

Kirby was not happy. “We’re talking about a significant, important bilateral relationship, a partnership that has survived over 80 years,” he said. “I don’t think talking about it in terms like that necessarily lends the gravity of how important this relationship is, to the way that we’re considering it.”

The New York Times reported on it from a different angle:

U.S. Officials Had a Secret Oil Deal With the Saudis. Or So They Thought.

After Saudi leaders pushed to slash oil production despite a visit by President Biden, American officials have been left fuming that they were duped.

By Mark Mazzetti, Edward Wong and Adam Entous | Tuesday, October 25, 2022

WASHINGTON — As President Biden was planning a politically risky trip to Saudi Arabia this summer, his top aides thought they had struck a secret deal to boost oil production through the end of the year — an arrangement that could have helped justify breaking a campaign pledge to shun the kingdom and its crown prince.

It didn’t work out that way.

Mr. Biden went through with the trip. But earlier this month, Saudi Arabia and Russia steered a group of oil-producing countries in voting to slash oil production by two million barrels per day, the opposite of the outcome the administration thought it had secured as the Democratic Party struggles to deal with inflation and high gas prices heading into the November elections.

So, President Biden went through with what the Times called a “politically risky trip”, but while on that trip, raised the Jamal Khashoggi killing at the very beginning:

“I raised it at the top of the meeting, making clear what I thought at the time and what I think of it now,” Mr. Biden said. “I was straightforward and direct in discussing it. I made my view crystal clear. I said very straightforwardly for an American president to be silent on an issue of human rights is inconsistent with who we are and who I am. I always stand up for our values.”

He reported that Prince Mohammed, often known by his initials M.B.S., denied culpability.

“He basically said that he was not personally responsible for it,” Mr. Biden said. “I indicated that I thought he was.”

Somehow, some way, no one in the Biden Administration was adult enough to realize that the President’s supposedly private conversations with the Crown Prince, which Mr Biden then reiterated publicly, might just sabotage the deal that had been previously negotiated to help “justify breaking a campaign pledge to shun the kingdom and its crown prince.”

The move led angry Biden administration officials to reassess America’s relationship with the kingdom and produced a flurry of accusatory statements between the two governments — including a charge by the White House that Saudi Arabia was helping Russia in its war in Ukraine.

Lawmakers who had been told about the trip’s benefits in classified briefings and other conversations that included details of the oil deal — which has not been previously disclosed and was supposed to lead to a surge in production between September and December — have been left fuming that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman duped the administration.

An obvious point: the Arabs have a completely different culture than do Americans — yes, I know: Americans do not really seem to have just one culture ourselves — and perhaps it shouldn’t have been expected that the Crown Prince would shrug off a little public insult the way Americans seem to believe he should have. Mr Khasoggi’s murder was arranged sometime after the Saudi exile, who wrote for The Washington Post, essentially called Mr bin Salman a liar. It was a political risk for the Crown Prince to arrange, order, or at least suggest — “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” — that Mr Khasoggi needed to be eliminated, but it happened anyway. A savvy foreign policy expert might have realized that Mr bin Salman took things, took criticism, personally.

Of course, when I look at the silliness, right before an election in which the Democrats are expected to lose control of the House of Representatives, in which the Biden Administration has engaged, I don’t see a lot of savviness evident.

Perhaps those congressmen “fuming that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman duped the administration” might start asking themselves: was it Mr bin Salman who duped the Biden Administration, or was that Mr Biden himself?
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