The life of any political leader is dotted with promises that come back like so many boomerangs when they come up against the facts.
For the 79-year-old American president, there is now the commitment, made during his campaign, to treat Saudi Arabia as a “pariah”.
Or this statement from July 4, 2021 on the place of the United States on the international scene: “We lead by showing the example, not by showing our strength. We are part of something that is beyond us. We are a compass for the world”.
How do you reconcile these words with the coverage of the American press on Saturday, when Joe Biden concluded a whirlwind visit to the oil monarchy?
On many, the same photo: the “fist bump”, fist-to-fist salute of Joe Biden with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who received him on Friday in his royal palace in Jeddah.
The same man whom the United States, under the impulse of Biden, designated as the sponsor of the assassination in 2018 of the critical Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The White House did try to demine a meeting it knew to be explosive. The Washington Post, newspaper for which wrote Jamal Khashoggi, published before the departure a tribune of the president explaining himself on his trip.
At the start of his first tour of the Middle East, which took him to Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Saudi Arabia, the communications team explained that Joe Biden would take additional health precautions due to the Covid-19. 19.
Journalists had immediately suspected a desire to avoid a handshake with the real strongman of the kingdom.
The president, of an expansive nature, did not stick to these instructions during his warm visit to the Jewish state, multiplying handshakes and hugs.
But in Jeddah, there was therefore this fist-to-fist salute, supposed to be safer in the face of the virus. But who has not immunized Joe Biden against the media storm.
It was “worse than a handshake,” Washington Post CEO Fred Ryan said in a statement. “It produced a sense of intimacy and ease that gives MBS the unconditional rehabilitation he so craves.”
The journalists present in Joe Biden’s convoy did not see the scene: when they arrived at the gates of the imposing Saudi palace, the American president had already returned.
But the official Saudi media quickly broadcast this image, which immediately went viral, followed by other pictures of the two men.
Journalists accredited to the White House, confined to a small room in the palace, only had access to a meeting of the American and Saudi delegations on Friday, during which the president and his host made short statements.
But impossible to hear them: the reporters, kept at a good distance from the large meeting table, had not been authorized to take boom microphones, those used in television and radio to better capture sounds.
The US executive then hastily organized a brief press briefing on Friday.
– “Drop of oil” –
A tense Joe Biden said he brought up the assassination “at the start” of his meeting with the crown prince. I let it be known “clearly what I thought of it at the time and what I think of it today”, he assured.
On Saturday, this president who wants to lead the fight of democracies against autocracies, also declared, during a meeting with MBS and Arab leaders: “the future will belong to the countries (…) whose citizens can question and criticize their leaders without fear of reprisal”.
But Joe Biden said, in Israel: “I have never been silent when it comes to talking about human rights. The reason for my coming to Saudi Arabia, however, is much broader. It is to promote the interests of the States -United”.
This implies reconnecting with an old strategic ally of Washington, a major consumer of armaments and an indispensable supplier of oil.
Joe Biden needs more crude oil production to bring down high gas prices, which are hurting his party’s prospects ahead of the November legislative elections.
“Autocrats smile, Biden’s support for human rights can be sold for a drop of oil,” Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, tweeted Saturday.
Yasmine Farouk, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, recently said during a debate: “If there is a country that can obtain any progress on human rights from Saudi Arabia, it is the United States. ( …) If they decide it’s too risky, or too time-consuming to talk with the Saudis about values and human rights, no one else will.”