Citations Needed, (Citations Needed 2022)


Media Spin regarding President Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia and meeting with Mohammed bin Salman as reluctantly performed or as a necessary evil Carry water for the underlying (Realpolitik) truth: Biden, and United States foreign policy in general dating back to well before Biden, engage willingly with Saudi Arabia. The purpose of the media spin is to provide a narrative for liberals to latch on to which explains why the United States is doing bad things, engaging with bad people, etc.

Nima: The lie is that Biden is meeting with an enemy. He’s not.


Adam: Right. So every three, four years, five years, the President of the United States, going back to since before I was born, they visit Saudi Arabia and they codify a long existing geopolitical relationship in the Middle East. Namely, a few things which we’ll go over, which is the US support of Saudi’s bombing in Yemen, which is seen as a quote-unquote “counter measure” against quote-unquote “expansionist” Iran. That’s how they view it. They support, everyone reduces this to oil, and oil is a part of it, but it’s much more than that.

Adam: In the 17th and 18th century, whenever a royal needed to get a divorce because they hated their wife or they wanted a younger wife or the wife more likely couldn’t breed them a male heir, they would have some council of priests come up with, almost always say, ‘Oh, they’re cousins, this is a violation of a taboo against marriage because they’re all cousins,’ right? So this is sort of similar to that where there’s this clergy class of reporters who needed to explain why the fist bump was not bad but because, my favorite was Peter Baker — who is the biggest fucking hack in the world — who’s a foreign policy for The New York Times wrote, quote, “As soon as Biden got out of the car and saw MBS waiting, he immediately put his fist out making clear it would not be a handshake.” This is followed by New York Times reporter Ben Hubbard who said, quote, “A chilly fist bump with M.B.S. welcomes Biden.”

Nima: “Chilly.”

Adam: Right.

Nima: “Chilly,” see Adam.

Adam: A “chilly” fist bump.

Nima: They’re not friends, it was a “chilly” fist bump.

Adam: Right. And so then you get into this whole thing where everyone’s debating whether or not this, you know, about the fist bump, the optics, you know, cozying up to dictators, human rights, that’s all bullshit.

Nima: As if the decades long relationship, which is clear as fucking day, is not the actual story here.

Adam: Right and so the fist bump becomes a distraction in a sense, right? It becomes a way of, then the crime is not the selling of the $650 million in arms.

Nima: Right. Then we’re just reading fucking tea leaves instead of talking about the real issue.

Adam: Right. And so the big crime really should be the month-long Washington Post investigation, that came out on June 4 of this year, detailing how despite the fact that Biden claimed he was going to end the war in Yemen to much fanfare when he first came in office — obviously, on this show, we said that’s probably bullshit, turns out total bullshit — the US has been continuing to support the Saudi bombing of Yemen to this day since Biden’s office. So the crime is not that we’re supporting their war on Yemen or supporting the blockade of Yemen, although we sort of speak in platitudes about ceasefires and lifting blockades. Fundamentally, they’re still giving intelligence support, replacing parts, et cetera. Literally pointing to a map saying this is where you want to, you know, this is where the Houthi rebels are or whatever. The US obviously sells them hundreds of millions of dollars in weapons. None of that’s changed. Then there’s this whole narrative that, ‘Oh, he had to do it because of Ukraine.’ There was a Bloomberg headline that read, “Soaring Oil Prices Forced Biden to Engage with Saudis He’d Spurned.”

Nima: Again, remember, it’s not that Biden fundamentally as President of the United States is fine with the relationship with Saudi Arabia because it’s an absolutely critical relationship to what US foreign policy is and has been for decades. Biden does not have a problem with this. He is not hand wringing about this. He is not concerned with meeting with Mohammed bin Salman. This is not an issue and yet our media needs it to be this twisted, tough decision to make.

Adam: So from June 3, 2020, “Biden forced into Saudi thaw amid rising oil prices.” “Meeting with Crown Prince would cement U-turn for a US president who labeled kingdom a ‘pariah.’” Financial Times — not a U turn at all. Fundamentally, policy never changed.

Nima: Right. Labeling a pariah but doing nothing to create pariah status is not actually making a pariah.

Adam: […] “The president’s Middle East reset raises human rights concerns for some fellow Democrats. Others are prepared to get pragmatic.” So —

Nima: Oh, oh, that’s a really good one.

Adam: Pragmatic.

Nima: Human rights concerns: niche issue. Pragmatism: reality.

Adam: So every single time we do this we get the same hand wringing concerns and part of me is just kind of frustrated by this because I’m like, what’s the point of this theater? What’s the point at this point, in the year of our Lord, Ken Roth has been the head of Human Rights Watch for going on, you know, 35 years or going on 30 years now, right? You’d think after Clinton, Bush Jr., Obama, Trump, Biden all did the exact same trip, they greenlit the exact same weapons deals, they have soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia who then left but then sort of came back. You have the US selling every single Gulf despot from Kuwait to UAE to Saudi Arabia the same spy technology so they can spy on dissidents and lock them up. You have these very cozy business relationships between Saudi Arabia funds Vice media, UAE funds CNN, you would think after these decades of relationships that this is not something that deviates from quote-unquote “abandoning principles,” that it’s actually the principle itself and that once you shred that pretense, again, what replaces it shouldn’t be, might makes right nihilism or kind of Kissinger view of the world about power1, it should be okay, well, what would a government that actually cares about human rights both negative and positive, right? Not just freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, but freedom from poverty, freedom for education, freedom for housing.

Adam: Right. What would that regime look like and is that something we could maybe pressure our government to do or fight for? The sort of classic critique of this arrangement is that allied states, the United States and allied states, are viewed as being, when they commit human rights violations, it’s seen as a deviation whereas when human rights are committed by enemy states, they’re existential to who they are.

Nima: Right. Fundamental to what those states are all about. They only understand power, they don’t care about their people, that’s all the stuff that we’ve that about on the show like about what these kinds of countries elsewhere deemed to be official US state enemies. They are fundamentally bad and we are fundamentally good.

Adam: Right and we just deviate. Yeah, we need a mild talking to, we need a mild chiding. And so a very infamous version of this was in January of 2015 when King Abdullah died, this is again this sort of worst of the worst human rights violators, this is before the war in Yemen started but we’re talking, you know, women can’t drive, chopping up dissenters, mass beheadings, oppressive Shia religious intolerance, blah, blah, blah, you name it, they got it, a lot of connections to al Qaeda, which we’ll table for another episode. Yeah, Human Rights Watch’s headline was, “Saudi Arabia: King’s Reform Agenda Unfulfilled,” and the article said, quote:

King Abdullah’s reign brought about marginal advances for women but failed to secure the fundamental rights of Saudi citizens to free expression, association, and assembly. Abdullah’s successor, King Salman, should halt persecution of peaceful dissidents and religious minorities…

So it’s like, okay, his reform agenda was unfulfilled, right? And contrast this with Hugo Chavez who died about 21 months prior, Human Rights Watch’s headline was, “Venezuela: Chavez’s Authoritarian Legacy.” “Dramatic Concentration of Power and Open Disregard for Basic Human Rights.” Throughout the obituary of Chavez he’s seen as existential to the regime as human rights abuses whereas Saudi Arabia remains, even though of course, they commit hundreds and hundreds of more human rights abuses than Chavez ever did, Saudi Arabia is seen as having a reform, unironically, said to have a reform agenda, which was simply unfulfilled.

Nima: Reform agenda. It just didn’t get to be completed, because the noble reformist died. Oops.

Adam: Yeah, their dog ate the reform agenda so they had to sort of write it again, it was a whole thing. I mean, this whole thing is so, you realize again, just after years and years and years of this kind of discourse how empty it is, how much it’s meant to sort of limit the conversation.

[links and footnotes added]

Adam: Would any New York Times reporter without irony say that scholars of the Middle East claim that it’s best that Russia align with Iran and Syria? Because that’ll promote good behavior, dissuade, no, you would be laughed out of the room if you said that. But this goofy, childish bullshit that has absolutely no empirical basis, is based on a bunch of racist assumptions, that somehow the US is the human rights Boys and Girls Club, is going to be your mentor, it’s going to look after you, it’s just going to look after these otherwise kind of restless young countries, and we’re going to, we’re going to guide them to the right path? What the fuck is that? After school special? Saudi Arabia knows what they’re doing, we know what they’re doing, they’ve been doing the same thing for decades, they serve a very specific function, and this idea that we’re going to change them from the inside. I mean, it’s the height of cynicism and Ben Hubbard is just a total fucking White House flunky, he’s a total national security state flunky, is going to just kind of seeing how many the sophistic little ratchet pellets he can shove in his article to so liberals can go, ‘Yeah, well, I guess he’s right, I guess we have no choice.’ So all that hemming and hawing and huffing and puffing over Trump patting dictators on the back and going to Saudi Arabia and doing this, it’s like, ‘I guess that this is somehow different than that.’ Well, no, it’s not different. Oh, because he did it with a heavy fucking heart.

Nima: Well, because see, this goes back to that sophistry, right? This goes back to the fucking sophistry, Adam, which is Trump did it because he fundamentally agreed with them and he wanted to be like them and he was impressed by dictators, right? But Biden, Biden does it because he just, ah, it’s such a bummer, he’s so forced, he’s going to, he’s going to be forced to give a “chilly fist bump” as opposed to —

Adam: Oh, a “chilly fist bump.”

Nima: Right. Here’s a chilly fist bump along with your $650 million worth of weapons.

Nima: […] “Cut Biden some slack. U.S. presidents have to deal with dictators.” That’s the headline, and in it, Max Boot argues, of course, what you would think which is, you know, hey, this is the way Realpolitik is executed, why is everyone getting so up in arms about this? In the article he writes this, quote:

“In truth, MBS is a more ambivalent figure than the cartoon villain that he is so often made out to be in media coverage. It’s true that he is cruel and repressive. He has created a climate of fear in Saudi Arabia, imprisoned dissidents and accumulated absolute power. But, while illiberal politically, he is liberalizing Saudi society.”

Adam: Yeah, which he’s not, whatever, he’s been doing the same reform agenda for, you know, the 250 year Saudi Foreign reform agenda.

Nima: The long game.

Adam: It’ll be ready when my great-great grandson.

Nima: That’s right. “Tourists are welcome for the first time,” he writes. “Theaters and concerts have been opened.”

Adam: Oh, theaters and concerts. Okay.

Nima: That’s right.

Adam: Yeah. Lord knows that that’s the mark of a liberal democracy is bread and circuses that historically —

Nima: That’s right. And meanwhile, The Washington Post is publishing this and Jamal Khashoggi, again, who was bone sawed alive by the MBS regime, by, you know, guys carrying this fucking shit out, that is the same outlet that is publishing this shit for Max Boot justifying it.

Adam: Max Boot argues on Twitter that Nixon met with Mao Zedong, FDR met with Stalin blah, blah, blah, and it’s like, look, it’s true, I actually think that all the anger about the fist bump is a distraction. It’s not really the problem.

Nima: Right. The meeting is not the issue. That could be diplomacy. He’s not meeting MBS for diplomatic reasons.

Adam: Right. He’s meeting with him to talk about increasing the weapons sales that we, the substance of the relationship is the problem, which is supporting and backing the subjugation of dissidents, the bombing of Yemeni, the oppression of women, I mean, you name it, right? The support for sectarianism in the region, blah, blah, blah, which again, I think has geopolitical function for US and Israel. It’s not the actual fist bump.

Nima: The lie is that Biden is meeting with an enemy. He’s not.

[links added]


Citations Needed. 2022. “News Brief: Biden’s Dictator Tour and the Tedium of Our ``Human Rights Concerns’’ Theater.” Medium.