After 18 months in office President Joe Biden decided that he would visit the Middle East. Oil is most likely what is dragging him back to the Middle East, and why for months now he had been warming up to Saudi Arabia, despite having said as a presidential candidate that he would make the Saudis “pay the price, and make them in fact the pariah that they are,” while saying that there was “very little social redeeming value in the present government in Saudi Arabia.”
Noam Chomsky points out in this exclusive interview Truthout, Biden is carrying on a U.S. tradition: Relations with Saudi Arabia “have always proceeded amicably, undisturbed by its horrifying record of human rights abuses, which persists.” Security also likely figures in the equation of Biden’s trip, particularly with regard to Israel. He will also visit the West Bank and meet with Palestinan leaders, but it’s hard to say what he hopes to accomplish there. As Chomsky points out, “Palestinian hopes lie elsewhere.”
Chomsky has been a respected supporter of Palestinian human rights for decades and one of the most eminent analysts of Middle Eastern politics over the past decade. There are many books by Chomsky on the Middle East. Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians; Middle East Illusions; Perilous Power: The Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy(with Gilbert Achcar); On Palestine (with Ilan Pappé); Gaza in Crisis (with Ilan Pappé). Chomsky is a professor emeritus in Philosophy and Department of Linguistics of MIT and a professor of linguistics and the Agnese Nelms Hary Chair in the Program in Environment and Social Justice of the University of Arizona.
C.J. Polychroniou: U.S. foreign policy under Joe Biden is barely distinguishable from that of Trump’s, as you Pointed outOnly a few short months after Biden’s election,. Indeed, as a presidential candidate, Biden had called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but as president he is warming up to its de facto and murderous leader Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). What do you think the purpose of his visit is to Saudi Arabia
Noam Chomsky: It is a grave mistake to assassinate a journalist for their publication. Washington Post, particularly one who was hailed as “a guardian of truth” in 2018 when he was chosen as Person of the YearBy Time Magazine.
That’s definitely bad form, particularly when done carelessly and not well concealed.
U.S. relations with the family kingdom called “Saudi Arabia” have always proceeded amicably, undisturbed by its horrifying record of human rights abuses, which persists. That’s hardly a surprise in the case of “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history … probably the richest economic prize in the world in the field of foreign investment,” as the State Department described the prize in the mid-1940s, when the U.S. wrested it from Britain in a mini-war during World War II. More generally, the Middle East was regarded at a high level as the most “strategically important area in the world,” as President Eisenhower said. While assessments have changed over the years, the essence is the same.
This holds true even for countries that are not at this level. The U.S. has provided support to murderous tyrants whenever it was convenient, often until the very end of their rule: Marcos and Duvalier, Ceausescu and Suharto and a long list of other villains, including Saddam Hussein, who violated (or perhaps misunderstood?) orders and invaded Kuwait. The U.S. follows in the footsteps of its imperial predecessors. Nothing new, not even the rhetoric about benevolent intentions.
The most revealing examples are when the intent really is benevolent, not unconcealed Kissingerian cynicism (“realism”). An instructive case is Robert Pastor’s explanation of why the Carter Human Rights administration reluctantly had to support the Somoza regime, and when that proved impossible, to maintain the U.S.-trained National Guard even after it had been massacring the population “with a brutality a nation usually reserves for its enemy,” killing some 40,000 people.
The Latin America specialist [Jimmy Carter]Pastor, a true liberal scholar and administrator, was undoubtedly sincere in expressing his regrets. He was also perceptive in providing the compelling reasons: “The United States did not want to control Nicaragua or the other nations of the region, but it also did not want developments to get out of control. It wanted Nicaraguans free to act on their own. Except when doing so would affect U.S. interests adversely” (his emphasis).
We sincerely want you to be free — free to do what we want.
It’s much the same with Saudi Arabia. We wish they were politer, but first things first.
In the case of Biden’s visit, first things presumably include renewed efforts to persuade MBS to increase production so as to reduce high gas prices in the U.S. There are other options, such as a windfall tax on fossil fuel industries that are drowning with profits. The revenues would be distributed to those who have been gouged over the neoliberal Class War of the past 40+ years, which has transferred approximately $50 trillion to the pockets and pockets of the top 1 percent. That, however, is “politically impossible.”
The feasible measures to stop the poisons flowing would be politically even more difficult to calculate in elite calculations. These are not necessarily the calculations of those with an interest in leaving a decent future for their grandchildren and children. There is no time like the present.
There are broader considerations in Biden’s Middle East tour. One goal surely is to firm up Trump’s one great geopolitical achievement: the Abraham Accords, which raised tacit relations among the most brutal and criminal states of the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region to formal alliance. Although the accords have been widely celebrated as a contribution towards peace and prosperity, not all are thrilled. Not, for example, Sahrawis, handed over to the Moroccan dictatorship to secure its agreement to join the accords — in violation of international law, but in conformity to the “rules-based international order” that the U.S. and its allies prefer to the archaic and unacceptable UN-based order.
Sahrawis can join Palestinians and Syrian Druze, whose territories have been annexed by Israel in violation of the unanimous orders of the Security Council, now endorsed by the U.S. And they can also join other “unpeople,” not least the Palestinian victims of Israel’s brutal and illegal occupation in areas not officially annexed.
Celebration of these diplomatic triumphs will presumably also be heralded as one of the achievements of Biden’s visit, though not exactly in these terms.
Biden may be the least popular US president, but Israel is the only country where he is less popular than Trump. It’s also hard to forget the humiliating remarks he received from Bibi Netanyahu, the former Israeli Prime Minister. What is Biden’s visit to Israel going to accomplish other than to reaffirm U.S. Support and to strengthen the relationship between the two countries in this region? After all, the Biden administration proceeded with whitewashing Israel’s killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in advance of the president’s visit to the Middle East.
As in the Khashoggi case, the handling of Abu Akleh’s killing was bad form. Not just the killing — or, quite likely, assassination. It’s not wise, in front of TV cameras, to allow the IDF to attack a funeral procession and even the pallbearers, forcing them to almost drop the coffin. The brazenness of this attack is a clear illustration of Israel’s drift to the right and the confidence in his ability to accept almost any offer. The confidence is not totally misplaced, especially after Trump’s four years of lavish gifts and punching Palestinians in their faces.
I haven’t seen polls, but it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to find that Trump is also popular in Hungary’s “illiberal democracy,” praised by Trump and virtually worshipped by media star Tucker Carlson on the far right. Orbán’s Hungary is now becoming a close ally of Israel on the basis of shared racist attitudes and practices and shared grievances about being unappreciated by soft-hearted liberals in the West.
It’s an open question how much domestic capital Biden will win with his expected professions of eternal love for Israel. That stance has become less popular among his liberal base than it used to be as Israel’s criminal behavior becomes harder to gloss over. Evangelicals have shifted their support to Israel to the right and the right. These sectors believe that Biden is not the elected President and a large portion of them are right. believes Biden and other top Democrats are grooming children for sexual abuse. However, there will be some domestic gains. And it will show the hawkish elements that run foreign policy that he’s committed to containment of Iran by an Israel-Saudi alliance, to borrow prevailing doctrine.
Biden may wish to consolidate the alliance, but they do not really need his help. The alliance has been stable since 1967, despite all the rhetoric.
In brief, at the time, there was a sharp conflict in the Arab world — in fact, an actual war in Yemen — between Saudi-based radical Islam and Egypt-based secular nationalism. Like Britain before it the U.S. supported radical Islam and saw it as less threat to its imperial dominance. Saudi Arabia won the victory and Israel settled the matter. The U.S. supported Israel at that time took an extreme form. This was part of a Middle East strategy built on three pillars: Iran (then under Shah) and Saudi Arabia. Technically, they were at war. In reality, they were close allies in the cases of Iran and Israel, but they were tacitally allies.
The Abraham Accords bring the alliance to a formal stage, but with a slightly different cast. It seems to be going well on its merits, based on shared interest. It’s not clear that Biden can do much beyond expressing U.S. support, which in any event is hardly in doubt.
Do you see any reason for Palestinian leaders to meet with Biden. Can they do more than just take pictures with the President of the United States?
Failure to do this will result in a torrent of hostile propaganda. This is the last thing the beleaguered Palestinians want right now. Doing so will achieve little or nothing, but it’s the least bad option, it seems.
This narrow question is irrelevant. The Palestinians have other hopes.
It may seem strange to make this statement, given the massive and unprecedented U.S. assistance for Israel since its demonstrations of military power in 1967. But, it is possible that the United States could be the source of Palestinian hope. There are cracks in the once solid support for Israeli actions. Liberal opinion has shifted towards support for Palestinian rights, even within the Jewish community. as Norman Finkelstein documented a decade ago. The increasingly brutal torture of the 2 million inhabitants of Gaza’s open-air prison has had particularly dramatic effects.
These shifts have not yet affected policy but they will as Israel continues to drift to the right and almost daily crimes become harder for Israel to conceal or explain away. If the Palestinians can overcome their deep internal divisions, and if effective solidarity movements are developed in the U.S. government policy, then there will be changes at the people to people level as well as in government policy.
There’s a background. There’s a background. In the 1970s, Israel made the fatal decision to choose security over expansion, rejecting peaceful settlements along the lines of an international consensus. This led to Israel’s dependence on the U.S., which entails compliance with U.S. demands. These demands were made by every president prior to Obama and, despite their resistance, Israel must comply. Changes in U.S. government policy can have a significant impact on Israel’s policy options.
This could be a pathway to the unattainable goal of a peaceful former Palestine and regional accords that will not only reflect the interests repressive power structures, but also those of the region who have struggled for a better future.