Editor’s Note: Every Monday, Managing Editor Frederick Deknatel highlights a major unfolding story in the Middle East, while curating some of the best news and analysis from the region. Subscribers can adjust their newsletter settings to receive Middle East Memo by email every week.
One of the few countries that waited a conspicuously long time to congratulate Joe Biden on his election win over Donald Trump was Saudi Arabia. King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, finally issued a statement, via the Saudi state news agency, applauding President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, more than 24 hours after the U.S. presidential race was called Saturday. It hardly seemed like an accident.
Biden, after all, has promised to “reassess” America’s longstanding relationship with Saudi Arabia, which under Trump veered into blatant defense of a kingdom that brutally murdered a prominent Saudi journalist abroad, in one of its own consulates, no less. The killing of Jamal Khashoggi prompted the kind of international outcry that past Saudi human rights abuses had not, including war crimes in neighboring Yemen, where Saudi forces have killed thousands of civilians in targeted attacks during their U.S.-backed air war. But Trump and his administration were quick to whitewash the Khashoggi affair, even after reports that the CIA concluded Mohammed bin Salman himself had ordered the murder. “I saved his ass,” Trump later admitted to journalist Bob Woodward. “I was able to get Congress to leave him alone. I was able to get them to stop.” Trump also vetoed a bipartisan congressional resolution that would have ended U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which began during the Obama administration.