It has been a little more than two weeks since President Biden greeted Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia with a fist bump while visiting Jiddah. A key purpose of Mr. Biden’s trip, which constituted a face-losing reversal of his previous efforts to isolate the brutal Saudi regime, was to get more oil production from the kingdom — and gas-price relief for U.S. motorists. MBS, as the Saudi leader is known, has just responded with his own gesture: an upraised middle finger. The flip-off wasn’t literal, to be sure; figuratively, though, the description fits Wednesday’s announcement that the global oil cartel Saudi Arabia leads will boost monthly production by a mere 100,000 barrels, or 0.1 percent of global demand for crude.
As a diplomatic exercise, Mr. Biden’s elaborate, legitimacy-conferring photo op with MBS was an especially regrettable example of political expediency, which could have been redeemed, in part, only if the president had accomplished offsetting U.S. goals. Progress on human rights, even in the limited form of political-prisoner releases, would have counted; none materialized. Now, it’s clear the president will have little more than a rounding error’s worth of additional crude oil supply to show for his efforts economically. Global oil prices will remain correspondingly elevated, which has the added disadvantage, albeit at the margins, of helping Russia, which works with Saudi Arabia to coordinate exports.
The message from Riyadh could not be clearer: MBS is in no mood to do Mr. Biden any favors in his hour of political need before the November elections. No surprise there: MBS got along well with Republican Donald Trump and might be trying to do his part for the GOP’s prospects. And even though ordinary people in the United States and Europe are suffering from energy disruptions brought on in part by Russian aggression against Ukraine, MBS is not inclined to help them. To be sure, this constitutes a snub not only of Mr. Biden but also of Britain’s Conservative government, whose erstwhile leader, Boris Johnson, preceded the president in Riyadh, and of French President Emmanuel Macron, who hosted MBS in Paris at the end of July. All the more reason for the West to reflect deeply about the possibilities for constructive relations with his regime.
As it happens, gas prices in the United States have been easing. The average price of a gallon of regular unleaded has fallen seven straight weeks since peaking in mid-June. Yet a major reason is slower U.S. economic growth, because of the Federal Reserve’s inflation-fighting interest-rate increases. In short, welcome as they are, lower prices are a mixed blessing both for Mr. Biden and the voters whom his party will soon face.
Meanwhile, the administration continues to bestow favors on MBS and his allies. On Tuesday, the State Department announced a new sale of missiles to resupply U.S.-made defense systems in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Congress can veto the deal, which provides an opportunity for a correction of Mr. Biden’s failed policy. The White House’s concessions to one of the world’s most vicious dictators have yielded next to nothing; it’s time to adopt a tougher approach.