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Why MBS misses the Trumps

Biden and MBS meeting in Riyadh in July

The embarrassment of Joe Biden fist-bumping Saudi Arabia’s autocratic crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, “would have been worth the gain” if it had undercut Russia, says Edward Luce in the FT. But since Biden’s cap-in-hand visit to the kingdom in July, MBS seems only to have “moved closer to Putin”. There are three reasons why the prince is such a “recurring thorn” in America’s side. The first is financial: Biden needs the recent drop in oil prices to stick, both to curb Putin’s dollar earnings and boost his own electoral prospects back home. But MBS has offered little more than a “token” rise in oil output. His motive “may be more monetary than geopolitical” – higher oil prices mean boosted Saudi income. “But collateral damage to Biden is a bonus.”

Then there’s MBS’s hostility to hectoring Western liberals. Unlike Donald Trump and his “predilection for strongmen”, Biden insists on extolling the virtues of democracy. Saudi Arabia’s recent jailing of two dissidents for a combined 79 years – “extreme even by the standards of strongmen” – shows how little Prince Mohammed cares for Biden’s concerns. The final reason is personal: MBS “viscerally prefers” Trump and his family to the boring Bidens. The Saudi sovereign wealth fund invested $2bn in Jared Kushner’s private equity firm, despite a screening panel finding its operations “unsatisfactory in all aspects”. For the Saudi regime, the best way for relations with America to improve would simply be for Biden to be replaced by a different president – preferably Trump.