On Realpolitik

Yesterday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Washington Post Associate Editor and Columnist David Ignatius observed about President Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia [the nation which Mr. Biden described during his presidential campaign as a “pariah” due, among other reasons, to Saudi Arabian de facto leader Prince Mohammed bin Salman (“Prince MBS”) Al Saud’s seemingly-well established complicity in the assassination of Washington Post Journalist (and Prince MBS Critic) Jamal Khashoggi]: 

“Biden is going in a classic exercise of what diplomats call, ‘Realpolitik.’ … [The definition of ‘Realpolitik’] is policy that is premised on power.  Raw power and the needs of power, as opposed to values and principles.  And that’s what the President is doing.  He thinks American power requires a relationship with Saudi Arabia, especially during the Ukrainian war, especially when gas prices are so high, and so he’s going to do what’s necessary to establish a passable relationship with Saudi Arabia.”

Prince MBS … is a bad man.  I described him in a post a while back as “arrogant, willful, and malign.”  Although it is up to the Almighty to judge, a case can arguably be made that he is a moral peer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and perhaps dozens of tinhorn dictators who maintain their power across the globe through terror, violence, and repression.  As the parent of a Washington Post journalist, I could not be more sensitive to Prince MBS’ culpability for Mr. Khashoggi’s murder.  Even so, and although progressives and progressive media outlets may well condemn any indication of amity between the President and Prince MBS as a betrayal of American values, I completely agree with Mr. Biden’s apparent purpose.  When our power, vast as it is, is insufficient in and of itself, sometimes we need to make deals with bad men (and I suspect occasionally with bad women) to secure our interests.  U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill didn’t love Russian Chairman Joseph Stalin, but they were happy to have Russia’s help in defeating Nazi Germany.  Although Mr. Biden’s challenges are obviously of a markedly-lesser nature than those faced by Messrs. Roosevelt and Churchill, the principles of Realpolitik still hold.  We need Saudi Arabia’s help on energy today – which will lower the democracies’ costs and perhaps augment sanctions to weaken Russia’s economic condition — but more importantly, in the long term, given our reduced presence in the Middle East, we need to foster a bulwark, in which Israel and Saudi Arabia are necessary pillars, to hold off the advances of Iran.  

It is what it is.

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