AMAC Exclusive By- Daniel Roman
The city leaders in our nation’s capital are no strangers to dramatic gestures involving renaming public spaces. Ask Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser about the city’s skyrocketing crime rate, or imploding educational system, and you will get blank looks. If you are a business looking to operate in D.C. and would like a street or square free of homeless tents, garbage, or crime on which to operate, the City Council will tell you that you are out of luck. But if you want a provocative, virtue-signaling name for just such a street, you are in the right place.
Last year, Mayor Bowser renamed a stretch of 16th Street leading into Lafayette Square in front of the White House “Black Lives Matter Plaza,” ordering the political slogan painted onto the asphalt in humungous yellow letters by the City’s public works department. Under the guise of “woke” politics, this stunt allowed Bowser and her city government to distract from their inability to maintain basic public order. Lafayette Square faced the White House, then occupied by one Donald J. Trump, and Mayor Bowser cast the renaming and graffiti job as her own personal contribution to the #resistance. If you can’t beat them, join them.
Earlier this month, once again desperate to distract from D.C.’s soaring crime rates and criticism from their own police force, D.C. leaders again made another renaming move. No doubt inspired by the struggles the Biden administration has faced with inflation and supply chain issues in general, and the price of gas in particular, the Council has taken it upon itself to spur OPEC into action: passing legislation that would rename the street outside of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia after slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi (who was widely alleged to have been killed by agents of the Saudi government). Mayor Bowser is expected to sign the bill before it undergoes the required Congressional review.
At a time when the nation’s capital has seen its highest murder total in 18 years when the Metropolitan Police Department has lost over 400 officers, and when the city’s own citizens are being shot, stabbed, and assaulted in increasing numbers, one might wonder why the City Council and Mayor are preoccupied with seeking vengeance for the death of an Islamist Saudi dissident killed 5,000 miles away in Turkey more than three years ago.
But if you are puzzled as to why the D.C. City Council is attempting to conduct American foreign policy, it helps to remember that this pointlessly provocative action is little more than a reflexive ideological tic persisting from the Trump years, when the American left suddenly became rabidly anti-Saudi, in the service of attacking Donald Trump with the accusation that he was… too polite to an American ally and too respectful to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques of Islam. (In this case, Democrat shrieks about Trump’s “Islamophobia” and “alienating our allies” seamlessly gave way to unabashed neocon liberal imperialism in a spectacular display of cognitive dissonance.)
But the D.C. City Council’s action this month is not merely one more sad death throe of a movement consumed by Trump Derangement Syndrome. It also unintentionally highlights a major shortcoming of the American left’s (and by extension, the Biden administration’s) approach to world affairs. Namely, virtue signaling and anti-Trumpism do not a foreign policy make.
It is probably not worth filling an entire article with the ways in which the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is imperfect in the eyes of most Americans, and not just those on the far left. Undoubtedly, the Khashoggi killing was evil, and Saudi agents are presumably responsible, as U.S. intelligence alleges. But the truth, as Donald Trump recognized, is that Saudi Arabia exists, and it is a major power economically, politically, and culturally. It controls much of the world’s oil reserves. Its control of Mecca and Medina gives it enormous “soft power,” as D.C. residents like to term it, throughout the Islamic world. Whatever our problems with those who rule Saudi Arabia, and Donald Trump-like, all of his predecessors, presumably had many, the conclusion he drew, correctly, is that virtually all the alternatives to being allies with them would be worse.
In this case, among many others, Trump’s presidency represented a welcome return to a foreign policy based on realism. America had tried out naïve idealism in the Middle East under Trump’s immediate predecessors – the result had been two decades of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, the rise of ISIS, a massive refugee crisis, Islamist uprisings against secular regimes throughout the region, and advancing the Muslim Brotherhood under the banner of democracy and social justice. The Middle East was on fire, and Trump was content to get the Saudis’ help in destroying ISIS and defeating America’s enemies before lecturing them on their views about the finer points of women’s fashion.
Sometimes, there is no better alternative to befriending some tough people in this world, who occasionally do unseemly things. Adults understand this.
In the Middle East, this was a lesson already learned the hard way in Iran, when another American President, Jimmy Carter – who Joe Biden resembles more and more each day – allowed the Shah to be overthrown by those promising an Islamic Republic.
An Islamic Republic, by the way, is the experiment that Jamal Khashoggi stood for. Khashoggi was an odd martyr at best for the left, even at the time. The man Mayor Bowser and the City Council now seek to commemorate in the American capital, he was a scion of the Saudi elite, and it seems the Saudi intelligence services as well, before ending up on the wrong side of a power struggle in the royal family. He was close to the Muslim Brotherhood, which talked about “Islamic Democracy” in the same way Iranian Supreme Leader Khomeini had, but did not practice the democracy part in Egypt, as much as the Obama administration supported it. Khashoggi seems to have been an anti-Saudi “liberal” of convenience.
Ironically, the anti-Saudi, anti-Trump hysteria that reached a crescendo with Khashoggi’s death was aimed at what became one of the core successes of the Trump presidency. Anyone claiming that Trump got the “short end of the stick” out of his relationship with Saudi Arabia (including his refusal to participate in the Khashoggi panic) is delusional. Not only did Trump get contracts to buy vast amounts of American goods, but he secured Saudi support for Arab peace with Israel, the isolation of Iran, the stabilization of Iraq, and the defeat of ISIS. Most importantly, he secured low oil prices, with the Saudis at one point bending over backwards so far they fell over, and futures contracts for oil prices actually traded at a negative value.
Meanwhile, if liberals still want to complain that Trump did not bring equality and democracy to Saudi Arabia, as Biden envisioned at his recent Zoom summit on “Democracy,” Biden himself has zero achievements to brag about there. But unlike Trump, Biden has sacrificed his relationship with Saudi Arabia without gaining anything. Iran still refuses to talk to Biden. And those gas prices that reached historic lows under Donald Trump? They are now at historic highs. And the Saudis are laughing about it. Biden is refusing to call them, and they have made clear that until he does, prices are not coming down. On the contrary, Saudi Arabia just announced an increase in oil prices for American customers, less than three days after the D.C. Council finalized plans for its intentionally offensive renaming. A coincidence? Perhaps. But if so, future price increases will not be, and the timing seems awfully exquisite.
Indeed, the strategy of provocation adopted by Biden, the D.C. Council, and Mayor Bowser seems like a plausible way to instigate the Saudis to drive up prices further. It serves no diplomatic purpose. Moreover, Biden has shown zero interest in pursuing the Khashoggi killing in any sort of legal manner, and even if he did, nothing Bowser does could help change Saudi Arabia—only help push them into the arms of the Russians or raise gas prices for Americans.
Maybe if the Biden administration and Democrats like Mayor Bowser had a strategy to make America energy independent, they could afford to focus on street names. But instead, Biden killed the Keystone XL pipeline project and is resisting calls even from members of his own party to revive it.
Right now, Joe Biden is facing a major crisis in Ukraine, where (once again driven by the left’s Trump Derangement Syndrome) he followed a non-stop policy of provoking Russia combined with zero preparations to resist Russia when Putin responded. Now he is desperately trying to surrender to get himself out of it. In Afghanistan, too, Biden tore up Trump’s deal with the Taliban because it “gave too much away,” then he ran away and lost everything, including what was in the deal. A pattern seems to be arising. The Democrats pick fights with foreign powers while at the same time undermining America’s ability to successfully fight them if a conflict breaks out. When those foreign powers respond to the provocation, Democrats act shocked, blame everyone but themselves for their own surrender, then repeat the process.
This losing strategy has cost us Afghanistan, it may cost us Eastern Ukraine or even Poland, and now for a futile and pathetic gesture, Mayor Bowser seems to be baiting the Saudis into raising everyone’s gas prices even more. All to “own” Donald Trump.
It’s an unbelievable thing to watch. If they keep this up, Biden and the left may virtue-signal their way into World War III.
Daniel Roman is the pen name of a frequent commentator and lecturer on foreign policy and political affairs, both nationally and internationally. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics.