Forget the trivia, here’s what really mattered in Jeddah
And so US President Joe Biden concludes his visit to Jeddah. As Air Force One took off and began to vanish over the horizon, so did long weeks of unprecedented speculation, cynicism and second guessing.
It was regrettable to see how what should have been serious discussion of this important visit was too often trivialized by what would otherwise be nothing more than social media fluff. It was even more regrettable that some of our esteemed colleagues in reputable American media organizations were tempted to focus on the superficial optics while ignoring the substance.
They would perhaps have been better advised to ask themselves, what does the average American voter really care about? Do they seriously believe that a truck driver in Michigan, for example, feeling the pinch from inflation and soaring fuel prices, really cares who greeted Biden at the airport in Jeddah? Or whether there was a handshake or a fist bump? Wouldn’t it be rational to assume that he would be more concerned with the fact that Saudi Arabia — the world’s most significant oil producer — just confirmed its intent to increase its output to full capacity and restated its longstanding commitment to stabilize energy markets?
“The Kingdom will contribute to this field to increase its production capacity to 13 million barrels per day, and after that the Kingdom will not have any additional ability to increase production,” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said at a regional gathering attended by Biden.
As for us Arabs, it was unimaginably refreshing to hear Biden explicitly say that it was wrong for America to walk away from this region. We are delighted to see Washington finally realize what we have been trying for so long to explain: If you leave a vacuum, it is going to be filled by others — and you may not like who they are.
Do they seriously believe that a truck driver in Michigan really cares who greeted Biden at the airport in Jeddah? Or whether there was a handshake or a fist bump?
Faisal J. Abbas
Of course, many are now asking: “So, what did Saudi Arabia or the participating countries at the GCC+3 summit get out of it?” The answer is simple. We got the three words we have been waiting so long to hear: America is back!
However, welcome as those three words are, they prompt a question that is so obvious it has become almost a cliche: Yes, America is back, but for how long?
This is where we, the GCC+3 — Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq — must realize that the Jeddah summit, far from being the chequered flag, is in fact only the starting line. What a waste it would be if all the time and effort that went in to organizing this summit, aligning Arab points of view, and the enormous diplomatic back and forth that persuaded Biden to signal the US commitment to this region, were all for naught.
To avoid that outcome we must never forget that America is a democracy, and the nature of the beast is that its leadership will change every four or eight years. This means working closely and tirelessly with both Republicans and Democrats, and remembering that for every lobbyist for one Arab cause there will always be dozens of others competing for the same or opposing interests.
The conclusion of the summit also brought a curtain down on issues that have been long rumored. There is clearly no likelihood of an America-led Arab ‘NATO,’ or a military alliance with Israel against Iran. There was also no truth in the speculation that the visit would bring the grand reveal of a Biden-brokered normalization deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel. What is true, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told The Atlantic magazine a few months ago, is that Israel could be an important ally of Riyadh provided a just solution for the Palestinian issue is found.
“So, what did Saudi Arabia or the participating countries get out of it?” The answer is simple. The three words we have been waiting so long to hear: America is back!
Faisal J. Abbas
Most importantly, I believe the biggest achievement of the past few days for us in the Kingdom is that Biden finally got to see the new Saudi Arabia for himself. This is significant because it puts the enormous reforms that have been taking place here into perspective; the president and his team saw first hand how this transformation will not only secure a more prosperous, tolerant and stable Saudi Arabia, but also serves the whole region and American interests too.
• Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News