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Other View: Biden and the Saudis: Of fist bumps and principles

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U.S. President Joe Biden arrives at the King Abdulaziz International Airport in the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah, on July 15, 2022.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images/TNS
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All who care about press freedom and other liberties Americans hold dear should have felt pangs of profound discomfort upon seeing President Biden fist bump Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince responsible for ordering the brutal murder of journalist and critic Jamal Khashoggi. Biden, who hours earlier had called for a “full and transparent accounting” of the killing, likely by Israel, of Palestinian American reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, left little doubt that when certain U.S.-allied governments do bad things, serious consequences are apt to fall by the wayside.

Still, Biden’s refusal to render Saudi Arabia a pariah state is less galling than Donald Trump’s warm embrace of the LIV Saudi golf tour at his Bedminster resort in New Jersey. The current president’s accommodation can be justified by the exigencies of Mideast politics; the ex-president’s, only by money, money, money.

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The United States’ most important ally in the region remains Israel, the Jewish homeland and a flawed civil democracy in a historically hostile neighborhood. Under the Trump administration, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco signed historic deals normalizing relations with Israel. The Saudis, who Thursday opened their airspace to Israeli airlines, look poised to follow suit — in what would be a powerful and important step toward broader peace.

Even as Saudi Arabia under its monarchy liberalizes far too slowly, Iran, the biggest sponsor of terror and maker of mischief in the region, continues to be ruled by religious radicals who deny their people basic freedoms while seeking nuclear weapons and, to boot, remain committed to Israel’s destruction.

Like them or not — and really, how can you like them? — the Riyadh royals are a critical economic and military counterweight to the Tehran mullahs. America’s appreciation of that counterweight ought not extend to worsening the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, but in the grand scheme, a fist bump is an easier pill to swallow.

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The Saudis, last we checked, also produce a lot of oil, a commodity whose price would be nice to nudge down as Americans try to fend off 40-year-high inflation.

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