Voices: In 2020, Biden said he wouldn’t compromise his values for Saudi oil. Now he’s changed his tune

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Biden (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
Biden (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Inflection moments are one-of-a-kind chances to change the course of history. The United States is currently in one of those moments, but the Biden administration has chosen political expediency over environmental heroism.

With gas prices surging past $5 a gallon, and the Democratic Party watching its slim majorities in the House and Senate fade to life support as this November’s midterms approach, Biden chose to whiff on climate change. Instead of taking an admittedly Quixotic stand on oil conservation and urging Americans to adjust their wasteful habits, Biden opted to “reset” relations and crawl over to Saudi Arabia on bended knee to beg Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud (a.k.a MBS) to please! send us more oil.

More oil, Biden hopes, will lower prices at the pumps. Lower prices, Biden prays, will cease the whining of entitled Americans whose SUVs can then continue to ruin the planet as they drive without a care in the world for the fate of future generations. Less whining, consultants advise, will translate into more votes for Democrats in November and in 2024, when Biden and Harris will grab a second term in the White House. Dream on, Joe.

Because it matters, let’s review the good president’s past statements on the country from which 15 of the 19 terrorists who perpetrated 9/11 resided; the same nation led by MBS, who allegedly ordered the killing and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey.

This is the same crown prince who, with the help of US-made 500-pound, laser-guided bombs, led a catastrophic bombing of Yemen, one of the poorest countries on Earth.

Regarding the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, in a 2019 debate with other Democratic presidential candidates Biden said, “We are going to in fact make them pay the price, and make them in fact the pariah that they are…” and there is “very little social redeeming value in the present government in Saudi Arabia.” As president, he would, he added, “end the sale of material to the Saudis where they’re going in and murdering children.” He left out the part about US complicity in those murdered children. You know, those 500-pound bombs?

(In January of this year, Biden approved a $650m sale of missiles to Saudi Arabia. The missiles are made by the US company Raytheon, the same company that manufactured those 500-pound bombs used in Yemen.)

Jump ahead to October of 2020, when then-presidential candidate Biden promised that, “under a Biden-Harris administration, we will reassess our relationship with the Kingdom, end US support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and make sure America does not check its values at the door in order to sell arms or buy oil.” Heaven forbid we would do that.

Move forward to last week, when, reciting talking-points for the Biden administration, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told CNN that “there is no doubt that Saudi Arabia has to account for what they did with Jamal Khashoggi,” but “there is also no question that we have to increase global [oil] supply. And OPEC, led by Saudi Arabia, is at the head of the pack for that.” I love that “but.”

Then the president himself chimed in, “I’m not going to change my view on human rights.” Of course not.

I often wish newly elected presidents would plan their agendas as if they only had four years in power. Forget the idea of running for a second term, as Biden himself has threatened. Ignore the polls. Let those stated promises during the election actually mean something. And say what isn’t supposed to be said. It’s not like Biden is a novice at going off-script.

In this case, Biden might have looked elsewhere for more oil. Or, perhaps explained to us why the United States is no longer energy-independent.

But that does no one any favors. Why not tell us the hard reality? That we will never see $2-a-gallon gas again. Nor should we. That we cannot continue to consume energy resources at the same harmful levels we are accustomed to. That drilling the Earth into extinction is not an option anymore. Oil is finite. Someday even the Saudis will run out and all those crown princes might have to actually roll up their sleeves and do some real work for a change.

We need a renewable energy Marshall Plan that shifts our country away from Saudi oil and Russian natural gas dependency. And we will all have to change our habits to make this happen. If these “inconvenient truths” hurt Biden at the polls, so be it.

Stephen J. Lyons is the author of five books of essays and journalism. His most recent book is “West of East.”

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