Congress Caves to Saudi Arabia on Yemen War

A measure that would have blocked a $650 million arms sale to the kingdom was voted down this week.

Photo illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept, Getty Images

This week, the Senate voted down a resolution that would have blocked a defensive weapons sale to Saudi Arabia. The measure attracted support from senators of both parties for its potential to pressure the kingdom to end the war in Yemen. Intercept reporters Sara Sirota and Ken Klippenstein join Ryan Grim to discuss what the politics surrounding Saudi Arabia look like with a Democrat back in the White House.

[Intro music.]

Ryan Grim: This week was quite the roller coaster for Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, beginning with news that one of his top deputies had been arrested in Paris in connection with the butchering of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

Newscaster: A Saudi man suspected of involvement in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is arrested in Paris.

Newscaster: He was detained in Charles de Gaulle airport after his name appeared to match a man wanted in the killing.

RG: Later that day, the U.S. Senate took up a resolution aimed at blocking a $650 million arms sale to Saudi Arabia in order to put pressure on them to end the war in Yemen.

Sen. Rand Paul: We could stop this war if we rarely had the will to do it. All America should be appalled at the humanitarian disaster caused by the Saudi blockade of Yemen.

RG: The vote failed, 67-30. By the next day the suspect had also been released, with French police saying the man, Khaled Aedh Al-Otaibi, had conclusively demonstrated it was a case of mistaken identity.

Alec Guiness (as Obi-Wan Kenobi in “Star Wars: A New Hope”): These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.

Sandtrooper: These aren’t the droids we’re looking for.

AG: Move along.

Sandtrooper: Move along! Move along!

RG: There are indeed an endless number of Khaleds in Saudi Arabia and even more Al-Otaibis, so the story is plausible.

Regardless, the arrest in Paris showed that there was at least a tiny bit of willingness to confront MBS, and the vote in the Senate showed roughly the same thing.

But while the number of symbolic victories is mounting, so is the death toll in Yemen.

In 2018, after Khashoggi was murdered, Congress passed a War Powers Resolution calling for an end to the war. But the war went on, and the weapons continued to flow.

In the 2020 campaign, Biden went so far as to call MBS a pariah.

President Joseph R. Biden: I would make it very clear we were not going to, in fact, sell more weapons to them. We were going to, in fact, make them pay the price and make them, in fact, the pariah that they are.

RG: In his first foreign policy speech, he promised an end to U.S. support for “offensive operations.”

Of course, one man’s offense is another man’s defense. Senator Chris Murphy, a leading critic of the Saudis and a champion of the previous War Powers Resolution, put it this way to my colleague Austin Ahlman.

Senator Chris Murphy: I see this as a classic defensive arms sale. I’ve led the fight to and offensive weapons sales to the Saudis, but this is a true defensive weapons sale. And with the increased pace of Houthi drones coming into Saudi territory, it is actually important for them to have the ability to shoot them down.

RG: Rep. Tom Malinowski, who moved from Human Rights Watch into Congress, has also been an outspoken critic, but also expressed support for the sale.

Here’s what he told my colleague Sara Sirota:

Rep. Tom Malinowski: I’m not in favor, blocking weapons that are primarily intended for defense — missile defense, air defense weapons that would be useful to Saudi Arabia in case of an attack from either the Houthis or Iran or anybody else.

RG: I spoke with Lindsey Graham this week and got perhaps the most clear-eyed, realpolitik rationale for overlooking MBS’s brutality.

Here’s Graham — and if I sound muffled, it’s because I was wearing the mask still required in the Capitol during the interview.

RG: What is the way to end the Yemen conflict in your mind? Without —?

Sen. Lindsey Graham: Well, I’m more worried about how it ends than when it ends. I don’t want to end the Yemen conflict, giving Iran a foothold in Yemen, turn the place over to the Houthis who are alive with the Iranians. It matters how it ends.

The goal is not just to end the conflict, the goal is to end it in a way that America’s national security is enhanced, that the people of Yemen don’t live under the yoke of the Iranians.

RG: Sara Sirota previously covered the Air Force for the Washington trade publication Inside Defense, and is now a congressional reporter for The Intercept. She’s been covering the fight over the Yemen war and this arm’s sale in particular.

We’ll also be joined in a moment by Ken Klippenstein, another Intercept colleague, who recently covered Mohammed bin Salman’s deliberate strategy of driving up gas prices to get leverage over Biden and U.S. foreign policy. The context of MBS’s relationship with Trump here is important.

MBS gambled big on that relationship, and it’s no secret he’d love to see him returned to power, along with his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is reportedly on the cusp of getting a very large infusion of Saudi cash into his new investment firm, Affinity Partners.

We’ll talk about all that with Ken later, but first: Sara, welcome to Deconstructed.

Sara Sirota: Thanks, Ryan. Thanks for having me.

RG: So tell us about these weapons. You’ve spent a bunch of time in the defense industry press covering weapon systems and sales. First of all, what was in this package?

SS: Yes, so this was $650 million worth of Advanced Medium Range air-to-air missiles built by Raytheon. They’re intended to target aerial weapons, so they’re different from air-to-ground missiles that would target ground supplies or civilians or infrastructure.

RG: So they’re trying to shoot down other planes and drones.

SS: Correct.

RG: How often is that going to happen? Obviously the Houthis don’t have much of an Air Force. But there is a lot of talk about drone strikes in Saudi Arabia or attempts by —

SS: Cross-border attacks.

RG: Yeah. So what is going on around that border region? Are they actually getting hit by an occasional drone attack?

SS: Sure. Yeah. I mean, we had a pretty devastating scenario of Houthi-backed attacks targeting Saudi oil facilities a few years ago that created major disruptions in the global economy. But in terms of the argument that these attacks pose a major risk to civilians, Americans and Saudi civilians and therefore these $650 million worth of Amram missiles are justified given the Saudi offensive on Yemen has been brought into question.

RG: And it feels like they successfully have trapped opponents of the conflict into this kind of linguistic conversation about offensive weapons and defensive weapons. Because now you’re sitting there, and the opponents of it are trying to make the case in a roundabout way that they can be used offensively in order to enforce this blockade, which is an act of war. And then the defenders of the sale will say: Well, that’s a roundabout explanation. These are actually defensive, instead of people being able to step back and say: No, we’re against this war. We don’t want weapons being sold, period.

Chris Murphy, earlier this year, said he was going to oppose all weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.

SS: Yeah, he’s shifted his tune a little bit.

RG: And the White House came out after Biden was elected. He said: We’re going to end offensive operations. Still, at that point, Murphy was saying we’re gonna end all sales. So what’s the State Department position? And it seems like Murphy and the State Department are pretty well lined up here.

SS: Yeah, I mean, I think that inside the State Department, there is an establishment way of thinking that is a little bit sympathetic towards the Saudis. We had the State Department pushing a ceasefire that many experts said was not fair. It was biased towards the Saudi side. And we’ve seen Chris Murphy and the State Department continue to push this line.

RG: The State Department is pushing for what?

SS: The State Department was pushing for a ceasefire, that many experts across the spectrum have said is one-sided in favor of the Saudis.

RG: In favor of the Saudis. Gotcha.

SS: And so Chris Murphy has sort of toed that line of pushing for the ceasefire. Meanwhile, that was going on around a similar time that Elizabeth Warren put out a letter calling on the Biden administration to pressure the Saudis to end their blockade, which Chris Murphy notably did not sign on to, although several of his colleagues did. So just further evidence of him working alongside the State Department to push their narrative and not really continuing his approach that he’s had in the past.

RG: Part of this debate, you talked to Tom Malinowski. And he mentioned that he was supportive of this weapons sale.

SS: Right. He said it was purely defensive, and he didn’t want to completely break off the relationship with Saudi Arabia, and he was in favor of continuing with this sale.

RG: But then he talked about a way to ground Saudi warplanes.

SS: Right.

RG: Can you talk about that a little bit? What is up with Saudi Arabia that they can’t fix their own planes without us?

SS: Yeah, so their war planes are dependent on U.S. contractors continuing to maintain them. So without those maintenance contracts, their air force effectively would be grounded and that could help to facilitate the end of the conflict.

So when President Biden announced an end to offensive support for the Saudi war, there was sort of this loophole that existed whereby the U.S. would continue allowing contractors to maintain their warplanes that are used offensively.

So Rep. Ro Khanna in the House and Senator Bernie Sanders in the Senate introduced amendments to this year’s NDAA that would have prevented U.S. contractors from doing those maintenance and logistical supports for Saudi warplanes.

So when Congressman Malinowski talked about ending maintenance support for the Saudis, that was sort of what he was referring to.

And Rand Paul, when he gave a speech last night calling on his colleagues to support the resolution to ban this the sail also made extensive mention of the continued maintenance and logistical support that the U.S. supplies for the Saudis.

RG: And how does the U.S. explain away the idea that it is not going to support offensive operations, but it’s going to help fix up these planes so that they can offensively go into Yemen and bomb them. Is it just like a gun store that says: Look, what you do with this weapon once you walk out the door, I hope you behave responsibly, but it’s not my responsibility?

SS: Yeah. I mean, it’s a loophole that exists that I think many people say the White House was hoping people wouldn’t notice. I mean, that was something that Congressman Malinowski, who himself is a former State Department official, outrightly said that he thinks that members of the White House perhaps hoped that people in Congress wouldn’t have noticed this loophole. But it has been brought out in the open.

RG: Some of the people involved in this fight earlier this year had said, this NDAA route is a dead end.

SS: Mhmm.

RG: That what ought to be done is a War Powers Resolution that just ties the hands of the Biden administration. And then if you go the route of the NDAA — that’s the authorization bill that gets voted on every year and it’s an opportunity for everybody to fight over different policies, military and otherwise — if you go through that route, you might be able to get something good through the House. But then once it gets to the Senate, it’ll get watered down, and once it gets into conference, it’ll get basically stripped of all meaning, so don’t waste all your time and energy doing this. They ended up doing that anyway. And was there a prediction of how this would unfold about correct?

SS: Sure, I mean, I think some would argue that it wasn’t necessarily likely that the NDAA route would work out. But I think it was necessary to prove that there were exhausting all options on the table before taking the more drastic measure of moving on to invoking the War Powers Resolution.

RG: And so they wound up getting, what 29 Democrats, or at least a majority of the caucus, if it wasn’t —

SS: It was 28 Democrats and two Republicans, Mike Lee and Rand Paul, who were original sponsors of the resolution. But 28 Democrats marks the majority of Democrats. So in many ways this was a win for activists that are trying to end the war. You had the majority of Democrats coming out opposed to this arms sale that is intended to lock Houthi attacks into Saudi Arabia, it’s not precision-guided missiles that are targeting infrastructure on the ground in Yemen. And yet, just this overwhelming show of force from the majority of Democrats saying we should not be doing this. Also, just to illustrate the stark contrast between Chris Murphy in the past and Chris Murphy now, that he’s digressing from where most Democrats stand on this.

So I think between that show of force, and between the compromise NDAA that the House passed last night, not including the language that would end U.S. support for the maintenance of Saudi warplanes, I think we are looking: Well, but what are the next steps? And a War Powers Resolution seems like the path.

RG: What’s the next step for the weapons? Are they guaranteed to ship? Or is the Biden administration going to use them for some sort of leverage? Is he going to try to get gas prices down?

SS: I think if there was leverage to be had, that would have been before the White House approved of this sale. The State Department approved this sale.

RG: So it’s out the door now?

SS: And then Congress had 30 days to issue a resolution. That’s the power that Congress has to stop the sale. This resolution failed. And so the sale is set to go forward.

RG: So from the perspective of people in Washington who were fighting this sale: How did this turn out?

SS: In the conversations that I’ve had with people who are advocating to end the war, the big point that they’re trying to get across is that this vote last night, yes, while it was a disappointing departure for Chris Murphy from his past stance, many didn’t even think that we would get this vote on the arm sell. The majority of arms sales just float by; Congress doesn’t bother to introduce a resolution to try to stop it. And so the fact that we had Rand Paul coming in first and then he got Bernie on board and a few others to introduce this and force the vote on this weapon was hugely significant. And then to have 28 Democrats vote in favor of the resolution was a significant win in the eyes of activists that are trying to end this war.

RG: I think it’s an interesting point in the sense that activists, in some ways, undermine their own win by earlier arguing: No, actually, this is an offensive sale, like this can be used offensively, so therefore, it falls under this rubric, and therefore, it ought to be blocked. When in reality, it is mostly a defensive product that’s aimed at shooting drones out of the sky before they blow up a building or blow up oil fields.

And so to get 28 Democrats on record saying: No, even these weapons, even even a generally defensive weapon, is something that we don’t want sold to the kingdom right now, while these atrocities in Yemen are ongoing, is a huge win, but it’s harder to celebrate that win because they previously claimed that these were offensive weapons. So it’s sort of like they’re getting caught up in their own — it’d be one thing to be able to say, wow, it’s a big deal that a majority of Democrats blocked a weapon sale that is, you know, fundamentally defensive in nature. But then you have to concede that you’re kind of playing games.

SS: A little bit.

RG: Right. But which, again, goes back to the technocratic trap that advocates of the war have drawn opponents into, because they’re all wrapped up in this language over whether or not this bomb is for defensive or offensive purposes. And we just breeze past the fact that we’re talking about a war.

SS: Right. A war that has created massive devastation in Yemen, which the U.N. has labeled the worst humanitarian crisis.

RG: Well, thank you so much for joining us.

SS: Thanks for having me, Ryan.

[Musical interlude.]

RG: That was Sara Sirota.

Ken Klippenstein is an investigative reporter for The Intercept.

Ken, welcome to Deconstructed.

Ken Klippenstein: Good to be with ya.

RG: So tell me a little bit about Saudi Arabia’s role in OPEC, and OPEC’s role in gas prices around the world, and the role of gas prices around the world in prices of everything else?

KK: So there are obviously a bunch of different members, but Saudi has the lion’s share of the global oil supply, with Russia coming in close behind it. And so between the two of them, they sort of establish what is the set price for what oil is going to be, and that has downstream effects for everything, not just the pump that you go to fill your gas in your car, but the products that you buy. Not only are they shipped overseas using oil and large tankers, and also shipped over interstate highways in trucks, but even just the manufacturing and production of oil factors into all of that.

And so via the strategic control of the supply of oil, they’re able to affect the prices. And what oil experts like to talk about a lot is how they’re able to keep those prices within a certain range. It can be detrimental if it falls below a certain number, and it falls above a certain number.

RG: Explain why that is. What’s wrong with it going too high for them?

KK: Saudi might make a lot of money, and it’s not necessarily bad for them. But in a case like that, then all those downstream effects I was talking about a minute ago, things that were profitable for a business to ship and sell, perhaps operating on, you know, modest margins, becomes not profitable anymore. And so then you start to have these supply chain problems, like what we’re seeing. They stop producing certain things, because it’s not worth it to them anymore. And just in general, commerce depends on sort of stability. And when there’s too much volatility that just has the effect of really putting a shock in market systems.

RG: How much do you think it has to do with the fear of pivoting away from fossil fuels. If you remember back in 2008, when gas prices last spiked up over $4 all of a sudden, people were not so enthusiastic about Hummers and other gas guzzlers, and you started seeing hybrids really start to take off and you start to see people trying to figure out ways to get around oil. Is some of it strategic? Like: We want to milk this as long as we possibly can and not encourage people to move away from it?

KK: I believe so. Yeah. I mean, if you look at a lot of the progress that’s been made in alternative energies, like solar power, a lot of the r&d that’s gone into it, a lot of the progress has been because it’s suddenly profitable and it’s saleable on a consumer level, as opposed to the sorts of things that maybe the Defense Department is able to do and operate at a loss. If you have a huge consumer market for something, suddenly, it becomes feasible to pursue things in ways that you hadn’t before.

RG: Right. Right. That’s a key point. Because once the kilowatt price or the price per barrel of fossil fuel energy hits a certain point, then it becomes profitable to move to, say, wind, if it’s a tiny bit cheaper. So they have to keep it within a range there.

Now, the former guy, President Donald Trump, had a real knack for identifying the levers that could move the economy and finding ways to browbeat them to his will. And he famously went after the Federal Reserve relentlessly — and I think appropriately, I think, from the perspective of driving the economy toward full employment. He pushed the Fed not to raise interest rates to push unemployment lower, and below what a lot of economists thought was possible and, as a result, wages did go up. So in that sense, I think he was actually right to step outside the norms of what presidents had done before and really go after the Federal Reserve Chairman in the Federal Reserve.

He did the same thing to Saudi Arabia. He would badger Mohammed bin Salman on Twitter, saying: Hey, pump more oil, get my gas prices down, because as a politician, he felt like the two things that would hurt him the most would be a slowing economy and rising gas prices, and those two things can be linked.

And so what do we know about his success in getting MBS to pump more and get prices down?

KK: He had extraordinary success. And what’s interesting about it is the time that it happened. On two different occasions, he requested that Mohammed bin Salman change the production quotas — in either direction, actually, to produce less during the pandemic to protect the fledgling domestic oil shale production here in the U.S., and then to increase production in 2018 — in both cases, just prior to the elections. The elections in 2018 obviously being the midterm elections, and then 2020 being the presidential elections. And I remember, at the time, there was a lot of sort of hand-wringing about, you know, how ridiculous this is, and how he’s behaving like a tin-pot dictator. But I think, in a sense, he was rational about it, because there’s a wealth of political science research to suggest that gas prices, oil prices, have a major effect on political outcomes with respect to elections in the United States. There’s clearly historical evidence for that.

But what’s interesting about how he went about doing it. In 2020, he really ratcheted things up. I mean, he had wheedled MBS to do it in 2018. MBS complied. Then, in 2020, in the context of a pandemic, that was hurting everyone, including the Saudi government, which is running a very high deficit, they have all sorts of internal problems, and so they very much had national incentive to drive up production in order just to make more money, and they ended up listening to Trump, because Trump threatened to withdraw the military presence from Saudi, which was unprecedented in the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia. The way, in the past, that they have registered displeasure with the kingdom has been kind of like what we’re doing now, having a debate about: Are we going to suspend a certain weapons shipment, kind of around the margins?

RG: Are we gonna say mean things on the floor of Congress?

KK: Exactly. And Trump really went for the centerpiece of the entire relationship, because they don’t have their own military in any conventional sense of it. I mean, they depend on us, not just for the military presence there, but also we have engineers running things. It’s a country that’s had to try to develop very recently, and so they don’t have a lot of the trappings of a developed society. And so they basically use that oil money to farm out that sort of work. And so that gives us enormous leverage that you saw him exercise and that I think people in Washington are loath to admit exists. I think that there’s this tendency to say: Oh, what can we do? It’s another country. We don’t have any influence.

RG: And so based on your reporting, based on sources that you’ve been able to, to develop and talk to about MBS’ thinking about gas prices vis-a-vis his relationship with the Biden administration, what is driving MBS now?

KK: My understanding is that there’s a conflict going on in the National Security Council right now about how to handle this, and that there’s actually a lot of cognizance — this doesn’t spill out into the public, because they’re a very disciplined administration, there are not a lot of leaks, it’s been a hard area to report on, frankly — but what I’ve learned is that the administration, or at least significant parts of it at the very highest levels, understands that MBS is thirsty for engagement with the United States, not just for meeting with President Biden, which to his credit, he has followed through on and not met with the Crown Prince as he vowed to do, perhaps falling short of his promise to make them a “pariah.” But that is something. That’s something that previous presidents haven’t done. The impression I get is that they are very much aware, and that this picture that oh, you know, MBS might just go to the Russians or might just go to the Chinese, is very inaccurate. And to say that so glibly, it’s very complicated to establish a sort of relationship of the sort that we have with them to not just stand up a sort of military there, in Qatar — and help them with flying sorties, F16s over Yemen. That’s complicated stuff. This is complex equipment. And so they need help using it.

So they depend on us in all sorts of ways. The administration knows that. Why they’re not saying that or capitalizing on that, I don’t know. And that is the crux of the debate going on at NSC right now.

RG: So MBS, as I gather it, is using oil prices as a kind of lever to try to extract out of the U.S. what he wants. Now, he’s getting this $650 million arms sale. Do you think that that’s related?

KK: Totally.

I will just tell you what folks in the intelligence space who have a lot of insight into how this individual thinks and I’ve had access to him for years and years. They say that this is the exact wrong way that you deal with a figure like this, because it’s going to send the message that maybe there will be some inconveniences if you do something like murder a journalist and have him dismembered in a Turkish consulate. Maybe there’ll be some embarrassing headlines, maybe the President will wait a while to meet with you. But on a systemic level, the sort of geostrategic nature of relationships will remain more or less the same.

And I have to say, that comports with common sense when you’re dealing with a bully: giving them concessions and trying to be nice, it doesn’t necessarily work the best.

RG: What about his relationship with Trump and his ongoing relationship with Jared Kushner? There’s been recent reporting that the kingdom is going to make a massive investment into Jared Kushner’s investment vehicle, which he is calling Affinity Partners. And this sets up a really unusual situation where you have the Crown Prince, having a much warmer relationship with the former president who may be the future president, and having a direct financial relationship with the son-in-law’s senior adviser to that former president and potential future president. Is there any concern in the national security apparatus or inside the administration that MBS just wants to undermine Democrats generally, and Biden specifically, because he knows that politically, he’ll be much better off, geopolitically, he’d be much better off with Trump back in office?

KK: One hundred percent. And I think that’s where we’re finally starting to have a more public debate about the problematic character of our relationship with this country, which has always been embarrassing to elites in Washington. I mean, the human rights record in this country is atrocious. That hasn’t changed. MBS has certainly done things that his predecessors might not have done. But the general character of the regime is not wildly different than it was, except for this partisan character that has drawn the ire of folks, as you said, in the national security space and politicals, too. They’re willing to talk about this stuff more. That’s why they’re telling me some of these things where they would not have in the past. And I’ve tried to cover this country for years prior to the Biden administration, so I can say that with personal knowledge.

But that’s exactly the sense that they have: that this politicized relationship is going to become something like what the debate about the Russia investigation was at the beginning of the Trump administration. And in this case, we have some very strong evidence. I mean, when you look at him setting up a fund that the Saudis invest [in], that is a common mechanism by which they influence-pedal in Washington. So we’re not going out and speculating saying: Oh, maybe. No — that’s how they are able to have the sort of clout that they do on K Street.

And we have a case of a billionaire who got indicted. How often can you say that happens? Tom Barrack, who was head of Colony Capital, he was a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, indicted for influence peddling on behalf of the UAE, a very close partner of Saudi Arabia.

When I talk to folks in the FBI, and I say: A billionaire who’s connected to the president like and he got indicted, that’s a huge story! They were all amazed by it. And the sense that I get from them is there’s a lot more there that perhaps we don’t know about. Because the hurdles you have to clear — a lot of the rank-and-file investigators, they want to go after more powerful people, but they’re not always able to because there are political realities.

RG: Feels like there’s some poetry at work here.

In a sense, Biden apparently thinks of himself now as a kind of modern-day FDR, like he wants to recreate FDR’s presidency. But it was FDR who created the deal with Saudi Arabia in the beginning. And that deal, and the petrodollar that flowed from it, powered the growth of the U.S. middle class-powered the growth of the U.S. into the Empire that it became. But now that the relationship with Saudi Arabia has turned partisan. It seems like it is a deep problem for Democrats, if a partisan enemy of theirs has control over gas prices, because that’s the thing that’s going to cost you every midterm that you’ll ever have, as long as gas prices are a thing that continue to drive prices throughout the economy, food prices and everything else.

And so what is the solution for Democrats here, beyond just fully moving away from a fossil fuel economy? Should Democrats just hand over the store and say: Slaughter everything in your path? Or what are the kind of progressive foreign policy types saying is a realistic and moral approach to this intractable problem?

KK: Well, I thought the arms sale just now was a sort of measured response to it that I thought was wise, because I do think that there’s a case to be made for that you don’t want to just shift off of the linchpin of the entire global economic system in short order. I mean, these are things that you have to deal with cautiously, and you don’t want to swing a sledgehammer trying to solve these very delicate problems. And something like that can send a signal to them that you know, there are going to be consequences and then you can talk about something else you can do after that. You can start to ratchet up tension — kinda like with Trump. I mean, you look at the way that he went about getting his oil concessions in 2018, and 2020. His 2020 threats were a lot more direct and sort of dramatic than his 2018 ones. I mean, we know how to do this. We do this with the Russians. We do this with the Chinese. You use a carrot and stick, there are incentives you can use, there are disincentives. And it doesn’t have to be something where it’s going to be some huge global realignment or lead to war or anything like that.

MBS is very sensitive. As I mentioned before, the NSC and the White House understands he’s very sensitive to what Washington thinks. I’m told he pays extremely close attention to domestic U.S. politics. So this notion that he doesn’t care, and he might just, you know, walk away, that’s really a bluff.

RG: And from your reporting, has he or the people around him made it clear that there’s a link between his oil policy and whether or not he can get a meeting or a call with Biden?

KK: I’ll give you an example. Just last week, and it’s amazing to me that this stuff isn’t reported more broadly, Mike Pompeo, the former CIA Director and chief of the State Department under Trump traveled to Riyadh and he met with the former head of Saudi Aramco. That’s their national oil company. I don’t know what they talked about. I’m trying to find out.

But Saudi Arabia — that is their chief asset. And I think it’s impossible not to have that be in the backdrop of anything that you’re talking about. But whether or not they’ve discussed that directly, certainly NSC appreciates that, and it’s just shocking the disjunct between the extent to which it’s understood in the White House, and then what we see publicly. Because it’s not discussed that way publicly.

RG: The whole thing is untoward. And it’s unseemly. And I think it’s hard to talk about, because you’re tying together the fate of Democrats in the midterms and the price that we pay at the pump with the fates of people’s lives in Yemen and elsewhere throughout the region. And it’s an ugly thing to even think about.

KK: Certainly our role in it. And you’re talking about FDR, you look back in history, we propped up these guys. And so I don’t mean to suggest that the Saudi people — because the citizenry hates their leadership in that country, as is often the case in authoritarian regimes. And so I think that’s part of what Biden is bumping up against is, if we’re going to recalibrate that relationship, we’re gonna have to change our own behavior, too.

RG: Well, Ken Klippenstein, thank you so much for joining us.

KK: My pleasure.

[Credits music.]

RG: That was Ken Klippenstein and that’s our show.

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