President Joe Biden’s trip to the Middle East, now in the rearview mirror, might easily have been summarized in advance: It pleased no one, angered some, achieved little, and underscored both the president and his nation’s weakness. Osama bin Laden understood correctly that, “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse.” And sadly, Joe Biden is no strong horse.
While the administration offered a cover story for the American leader’s pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Palestinian territories, the real reason behind the trip was known to all: more oil. Biden, despite denouncing Saudi Arabia as a “pariah” during his campaign, and despite declassifying the investigation into the murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi in the earliest days of his presidency, went to Jeddah to beg Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia (whom the U.S. intelligence community had fingered for Khashoggi’s murder) to pump more oil. From the outset, then, the trip was a humiliation. Sure, there was window dressing obscuring Biden’s purpose—a trip to Israel, a hat tip to the Palestinians—but all knew why he was there.
A more capable administration or a more sentient leader might have made a success of the trip. After all, there was a chance to stick a finger in the eye of Israel’s former and likely future prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who has few friends among Democrats in D.C. The Israeli government had just fallen, with new elections scheduled for fall. Biden’s one-time boss, President Barack Obama, did not hesitate when given his chance to meddle in Israeli elections. He once sent over his own political consultants to tilt the Israeli electorate against its right wing. But Biden could not achieve that, though his own antipathy toward Bibi is well known.
Still, all the proper pilgrimages were made. The president suitably remembered the Holocaust with a visit to Yad Vashem (though he managed even there to refer mistakenly to the “honor” rather than the horror of the murder of 6 million Jews). But never mind, the requisite agreements were signed. Biden and Israeli caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid released a joint statement, titled the “Jerusalem U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Joint Declaration,” which commits both to halting Iran’s advance toward a nuclear weapon, as if somehow this were a new idea. Evidently both team Biden—desperate to renew the Obama-era Iran deal—and Lapid—who hoped for a pledge to use military action in the event of an Iranian nuclear breakout—saw this as a convenient way to paper over their fundamental disagreement over what to do about Iran.