News Brief: Biden’s Dictator Tour and the Tedium of Our “Human Rights Concerns” Theater

Citations Needed | July 20, 2022 | Transcript

Mohammed bin Salman and Joe Biden meet at Al Salman Palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, July 15, 2022. (Reuters)


Nima Shirazi: Welcome to a Citations Needed News Brief. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam Johnson: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: You can follow Citations Needed on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, and become a supporter of the show through All your support through Patreon is so incredibly appreciated as we are 100 percent listener funded. We do these News Briefs in between our regularly scheduled full length episodes when — I don’t know — Joe Biden is in the Middle East hanging out with our favorite human rights abusing regimes, and yet, all we hear time and time again is that, you know, it’s probably necessary that these are our best allies because you know what, Adam? We can influence them for good from the inside by being their friend.

Adam: Oh, yeah, we’ll get to that one. So for the sub, which you can go to and go subscribe, I wrote about what I call this “human rights concerns” theater.

Nima: Harkening back to actually Citations Needed Episode 8, from September of 2017. It’s what we call a reoccurring theme.

Adam: Right. So every three, four years, five years, the President of the United States, going back to since before I was born, they visit Saudi Arabia and they codify a long existing geopolitical relationship in the Middle East. Namely, a few things which we’ll go over, which is the US support of Saudi’s bombing in Yemen, which is seen as a quote-unquote “counter measure” against quote-unquote “expansionist” Iran. That’s how they view it. They support, everyone reduces this to oil, and oil is a part of it, but it’s much more than that. Saudi Arabia backs and supports sectarian forces that are used against Iran. Saudi Arabia has a formal alliance now but has had a de facto alliance with Israel for some time now, that is one of the other major functions Saudi Arabia serves. Saudi Arabia has 28 people in the Biden administration, thanks to a report by Sarah Lazare in The American Prospect a few months ago, showed the 28 members of the Biden White House had worked for organizations who were financial clients with the Saudi regime or the Saudi regime’s close ally, or UAE. The Biden administration, of course, sold Saudi Arabia $650 million in air-to-air missiles, they claim their defensive that’s been since debunked by people like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, not just people like me, but normie senators have said that that’s obviously bullshit, you can’t sell quote-unquote “defensive weapons” to a country that is bombing largely civilian population. We know this because if Biden had sold air to air missiles to Russia, we would not just simply call them defensive, and so you have this very warm relationship that’s existed since Biden was in White House, despite what he said on the campaign trail, because people on campaign trails, especially Democratic campaign trails to win over progressives they lie, they make things up, they want to win over The New York Times crowd who was briefly outraged by Mohammed bin Salman killing Jamal Khashoggi by chopping them up with a bone saw while he was alive, columnist for The Washington Post. So there was some sort of brief summer where people acted like they cared about these things. Saudi Arabia serves a very specific, consistent decades long function in US regional hegemony, to support US, UK, Israel, has for decades, and the thing that changes, and this is what’s frustrating, is the superficial public relations aspect to it, which is to say, is Biden going to do a person to person visit? These kinds of, what I referred to in my article as Council on Foreign Relations quasi-religious moral work around. So in the 14th and 15th century, 13th century when bankers in Italy needed to get around the church’s explicit prohibition against usury there were people who came up with really exotic ways, especially in Venice, for people to get around usury, right?

Nima: You find either the religious, biblical, constitutional legal ways around —

Adam: Right.

Nima: That the obvious, say, prohibition against doing something shitty, but you figure out the justification to do it, as if ‘Oh, it was really there all along and it actually serves a different purpose than what the haters are claiming because really there’s far more going on here than all of you whiners could possibly understand.’

Adam: In the 17th and 18th century, whenever a royal needed to get a divorce because they hated their wife or they wanted a younger wife or the wife more likely couldn’t breed them a male heir, they would have some council of priests come up with, almost always say, ‘Oh, they’re cousins, this is a violation of a taboo against marriage because they’re all cousins,’ right? So this is sort of similar to that where there’s this clergy class of reporters who needed to explain why the fist bump was not bad but because, my favorite was Peter Baker — who is the biggest fucking hack in the world — who’s a foreign policy for The New York Times wrote, quote, “As soon as Biden got out of the car and saw MBS waiting, he immediately put his fist out making clear it would not be a handshake.” This is followed by New York Times reporter Ben Hubbard who said, quote, “A chilly fist bump with M.B.S. welcomes Biden.”

Biden “fist bumps” Mohammed Bin Salman. (Reuters)

Nima: “Chilly.”

Adam: Right.

Nima: “Chilly,” see Adam.

Adam: A “chilly” fist bump.

Nima: They’re not friends, it was a “chilly” fist bump.

Adam: Right. And so then you get into this whole thing where everyone’s debating whether or not this, you know, about the fist bump, the optics, you know, cozying up to dictators, human rights, that’s all bullshit.

Nima: As if the decades long relationship, which is clear as fucking day, is not the actual story here.

Adam: Right and so the fist bump becomes a distraction in a sense, right? It becomes a way of, then the crime is not the selling of the $650 million in arms.

Nima: Right. Then we’re just reading fucking tea leaves instead of talking about the real issue.

Adam: Right. And so the big crime really should be the month-long Washington Post investigation, that came out on June 4 of this year, detailing how despite the fact that Biden claimed he was going to end the war in Yemen to much fanfare when he first came in office — obviously, on this show, we said that’s probably bullshit, turns out total bullshit — the US has been continuing to support the Saudi bombing of Yemen to this day since Biden’s office. So the crime is not that we’re supporting their war on Yemen or supporting the blockade of Yemen, although we sort of speak in platitudes about ceasefires and lifting blockades. Fundamentally, they’re still giving intelligence support, replacing parts, et cetera. Literally pointing to a map saying this is where you want to, you know, this is where the Houthi rebels are or whatever. The US obviously sells them hundreds of millions of dollars in weapons. None of that’s changed. Then there’s this whole narrative that, ‘Oh, he had to do it because of Ukraine.’ There was a Bloomberg headline that read, “Soaring Oil Prices Forced Biden to Engage with Saudis He’d Spurned.”

Nima: Again, remember, it’s not that Biden fundamentally as President of the United States is fine with the relationship with Saudi Arabia because it’s an absolutely critical relationship to what US foreign policy is and has been for decades. Biden does not have a problem with this. He is not hand wringing about this. He is not concerned with meeting with Mohammed bin Salman. This is not an issue and yet our media needs it to be this twisted, tough decision to make.

Adam: So from June 3, 2020, “Biden forced into Saudi thaw amid rising oil prices.” “Meeting with Crown Prince would cement U-turn for a US president who labeled kingdom a ‘pariah.’” Financial Times — not a U turn at all. Fundamentally, policy never changed.

Nima: Right. Labeling a pariah but doing nothing to create pariah status is not actually making a pariah.

Adam: Yeah, they did legal parsing over defensive versus offensive weapons but nothing changed and that doesn’t relay anything anyway. The New Arab, “The global energy crisis has forced Biden to focus on building a relationship with Riyadh.” Politico from June 8, quote, “‘Pariah’ no more? Democrats grit their teeth over Biden’s Saudi trip.” “The president’s Middle East reset raises human rights concerns for some fellow Democrats. Others are prepared to get pragmatic.” So —

Nima: Oh, oh, that’s a really good one.

Adam: Pragmatic.

Nima: Human rights concerns: niche issue. Pragmatism: reality.

Adam: Right. So you have this idea that there was a beat change, right? This is what screenwriters call a beat change, there has to be a contrived sense that something’s changed, that Biden was opposed to Saudi Arabia, now because of the Russians invading Ukraine —

Nima: If not for Putin, he would have spurned Saudi Arabia.

Adam: Right. The US would have otherwise told Saudi Arabia to fuck off and stop selling weapons and sanctioned it just like they did Russia.

Nima: Even though they were selling the weapons before the invasion of Ukraine and during and after and whatever.

Adam: And then they say, ‘Oh, well, he has to go to Saudi Arabia and he has to sell them weapons that he has to be nice to them because otherwise something something oil prices, something something they’re going to turn to China.’

Nima: ‘Something something Iran, something something Israel,’ it’s always something something.

Adam: Literally everyone who’s ever partnered with a dictatorship ever, you know, say, ‘Oh, they got to do it because they got to stop China, they got to stop this other baddie country who’s worse than us.’

Nima: Right.

Adam: That’s literally the same argument that the baddie country uses when they, you know, it doesn’t mean anything, and then of course, there’s the whole, one thing that always bothers me about it, which is kind of a fundamental arrogance, which I want to get into, which is this asymmetrical human rights sort of incumbency.

Nima: Right. We’re always at the top. The US is always —

Adam: Yeah.

Nima: The assumption is on the list of most noble, the US is all the way at the top.

Adam: Saudi Arabia is somehow sullying us, the otherwise pristine United States, and that we’re doing their bidding, you know, he’s bowing to the crown. He’s, you know, there’s this kind of tail wagging the dog.

Nima: Yeah.

Adam: Which I think begins to kind of veer into this seductive, we do this with Israel, right? ‘Oh, we’re doing Israel’s bidding,’ and it’s like, yeah, I mean, look, there’s some back and forth and obviously it’s not totally a one-way street but the greatest empire in the history of the world does not do the bidding of a country with the GDP that is half the size of Illinois.

Nima: Yeah, this is on purpose. This is for a reason. No one is pulling the US off a righteous path. This is literally the path.

Adam: Right. It’s the path we’ve had, since, again, long before you and I were born, and so you watch this play out and there’s this, you have people like Ken Roth, who does this kind of constant —

Nima: The head of Human Rights Watch.

Adam: Who is the executive director of Human Rights Watch, he’s retiring in August, but he does this routine every single time the US goes to Saudi Arabia or Israel and says, ‘Hey, man, here’s a couple more billion dollars’ worth of the weapons and support at the UN.’ He says, quote, “Saudi commitments to pump more oil in response to Biden’s visit are too small to lower the price at a pump in the near term which begs the question why Biden would abandon core human rights principles for so little.” But how was he abandoning anything? They don’t believe any of this stuff?

Nima: There’s so much packed into that. That if the tradeoff were better, it would be okay.

Adam: Yeah. Right. Then it would be worth it, right? But of course, everyone kept doing this got you, where it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s not even going to oil prices,’ it’s because it’s not about fucking oil prices. That’s a pretext the White House gave to justify what they were going to do anyway, and what every president before them always does every single time they get into office within the first two years.

Nima: Because again, in this thing that Ken Roth writes, and it’s like the pretense of everything we hear about these visits, all of the foreign policy, elite commentary, whenever this happens, every single administration again and again and again. ‘Why would Biden — this time — abandon core human rights principles?’ What United States core human rights principles are there?

Adam: Yeah, and this isn’t even meant to sort of cynicism or be kind of savvier than now.

Nima: Right. I’m not trying to get dorm room on this. Come on, let’s just be fucking real here.

Adam: This is what a child thinks, this is like debating why Santa Claus didn’t come on the 25th hoping he comes on the 26th, none of this is real, and the reason why it matters is because even when you do the whole disappointed schtick and you ostensibly criticize the United States, by operating under the assumption that this is not existential to how our foreign policy operates, you carry water for the fundamental myth that the US cares.

Nima: ‘It’s not that we should be better, it’s that we are better and we need to live up to the assumed betterness.’

Adam: Right, and that’s just not true, and so, for example, when Obama went to Vietnam in 2016, Ken Roth released this breathless report saying Obama needs to pressure Vietnam on human rights and releasing political prisoners and all that stuff, and I was like, okay, that sounds fine but why does Ken Rogoff not insist that the Vietnamese leaders pressure the United States for having the largest carceral state in the world, for having racist police who at that point were tear gassing protesters for the US supporting the apartheid regime in Israel? Why is it always assumed that white European countries, UK, you know, white majority European and North Atlantic countries, and sometimes Australia for good measure, why is it always assumed that they’re the ones that have to go around pressuring people on human rights?

Nima: Yes, scolding baddie regimes.

Adam: Right, which we know they do after decades, we know they do selectively, we know they only do when it suits their political interest. Again, we just all Biden go to Israel and Saudi Arabia and backslap everybody and set up weapons deals and basically indulge in every single racist Zionist myth on Earth.

Nima: Any reporter that those regimes want to murder, whether it’s Shireen Abu Akleh or Jamal Khashoggi, that’s okay, like, that’s actually not an issue.

Screenshots from the State Department “investigation” of the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh.

Adam: So every single time we do this we get the same hand wringing concerns and part of me is just kind of frustrated by this because I’m like, what’s the point of this theater? What’s the point at this point, in the year of our Lord, Ken Roth has been the head of Human Rights Watch for going on, you know, 35 years or going on 30 years now, right? You’d think after Clinton, Bush Jr., Obama, Trump, Biden all did the exact same trip, they greenlit the exact same weapons deals, they have soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia who then left but then sort of came back. You have the US selling every single Gulf despot from Kuwait to UAE to Saudi Arabia the same spy technology so they can spy on dissidents and lock them up. You have these very cozy business relationships between Saudi Arabia funds Vice media, UAE funds CNN, you would think after these decades of relationships that this is not something that deviates from quote-unquote “abandoning principles,” that it’s actually the principle itself and that once you shred that pretense, again, what replaces it shouldn’t be, might makes right nihilism or kind of Kissinger view of the world about power, it should be okay, well, what would a government that actually cares about human rights both negative and positive, right? Not just freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, but freedom from poverty, freedom for education, freedom for housing.

Nima: Right.

Adam: Which, by the way, we’re axiomatically not part of Human Rights Watch’s founding charter.

Nima: Right, literally stricken from the charter.

Adam: Right. What would that regime look like and is that something we could maybe pressure our government to do or fight for? The sort of classic critique of this arrangement is that allied states, the United States and allied states, are viewed as being, when they commit human rights violations, it’s seen as a deviation whereas when human rights are committed by enemy states, they’re existential to who they are.

Nima: Right. Fundamental to what those states are all about. They only understand power, they don’t care about their people, that’s all the stuff that we’ve that about on the show like about what these kinds of countries elsewhere deemed to be official US state enemies. They are fundamentally bad and we are fundamentally good.

Adam: Right and we just deviate. Yeah, we need a mild talking to, we need a mild chiding. And so a very infamous version of this was in January of 2015 when King Abdullah died, this is again this sort of worst of the worst human rights violators, this is before the war in Yemen started but we’re talking, you know, women can’t drive, chopping up dissenters, mass beheadings, oppressive Shia religious intolerance, blah, blah, blah, you name it, they got it, a lot of connections to al Qaeda, which we’ll table for another episode. Yeah, Human Rights Watch’s headline was, “Saudi Arabia: King’s Reform Agenda Unfulfilled,” and the article said, quote:

King Abdullah’s reign brought about marginal advances for women but failed to secure the fundamental rights of Saudi citizens to free expression, association, and assembly. Abdullah’s successor, King Salman, should halt persecution of peaceful dissidents and religious minorities…

So it’s like, okay, his reform agenda was unfulfilled, right? And contrast this with Hugo Chavez who died about 21 months prior, Human Rights Watch’s headline was, “Venezuela: Chavez’s Authoritarian Legacy.” “Dramatic Concentration of Power and Open Disregard for Basic Human Rights.” Throughout the obituary of Chavez he’s seen as existential to the regime as human rights abuses whereas Saudi Arabia remains, even though of course, they commit hundreds and hundreds of more human rights abuses than Chavez ever did, Saudi Arabia is seen as having a reform, unironically, said to have a reform agenda, which was simply unfulfilled.

Nima: Reform agenda. It just didn’t get to be completed, because the noble reformist died. Oops.

Adam: Yeah, their dog ate the reform agenda so they had to sort of write it again, it was a whole thing. I mean, this whole thing is so, you realize again, just after years and years and years of this kind of discourse how empty it is, how much it’s meant to sort of limit the conversation.

Nima: Well, because it’s such a performance. I mean, it is, there is nothing genuine about any of this analysis because everyone already understands what is actually happening here, and yet, time and again, it’s this straying from the path, ‘Oh, well, I guess there’s a reason why Biden has to go back on his promise to be a much tougher ally,’ right? ‘To really work from the inside, it’s always better to talk to these…’ So here, I actually want to pivot here Adam, because then there’s this entire genre of foreign policy analysis, where the justification for the approval of a US president having these close relationships with the leaders of Israel, the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the leaders of UAE, et cetera, et cetera, where that is all because of the care and concern that the United States and its leadership has for the people of those countries, and the best way forward, the best way to make their lives better, Adam, is to be close with their leaders and to change them from the inside. So one of the finest most recent examples of this genre was penned by New York Times reporter Ben Hubbard. This was published on July 14, 2022, the headline, “Biden’s Saudi Lesson: The Only Path Runs Through M.B.S.” M.B.S. being the cute nickname for Mohammed bin Salman.

Adam: It’s the only path, Nima, there is no choice, it is the only path.

Nima: That’s right. Now, here we go, here we go. Here’s the subhead, Adam: “President Biden tried to isolate Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over human rights abuses. Now, the United States needs Saudi Arabia, and Mr. Biden is about to visit.” So that’s the setup for this trip.

Adam: So he tried by selling him $650 million in air-to-air missiles. That was them trying, yeah. No choice now, they need to do it. No choice.

Nima: That’s right. And so in this piece, reporter Ben Hubbard writes this, this is a straight report, it is not an editorial, writes this, in one of my favorite five-word openings to any paragraph, New York Times or otherwise, starts like this, the mysticism and mystery truly swirls around this phrase. Here we go, quote:

Scholars of the Middle East point out that the United States has a long history of doing business with autocrats, including every Saudi king, and that engagement could more effectively shape their behavior than ostracism.

Perhaps, they argue…

“They” being the scholars of the Middle East.

Adam: These scholars of the Middle East are never named.

Nima: Scholars of the Middle East.

Adam: Never named. This is clearly a White House talking point, but go ahead.


Perhaps, they argue, a closer American relationship can cultivate the good and discourage the bad in how Prince Mohammed wields his tremendous wealth, power and ambition.

End quote.

Adam: So this is so good. Again, this is a straight report, this is not an editorial.

Nima: Yeah, scholars of the Middle East, the wizened scholars of the, unnamed mysterious scholars of the Middle East.

Adam: Not me, Ben Hubbard, saying this, this is or White House communications director.

Nima: But I also like how you need Middle East scholars, Arabists, the Arabists of old, scholars of the Middle East, they’re the ones, not just anyone knowing anything about anything, you need the scholar, the scholarly input to know that the United States has a long history of doing business with autocrats.

Adam: Yeah, I think the scholarly is more lending gravitas to the totally amoral and psychopathic claim.

Nima: And that engagement could more effectively shape their behavior. Exactly.

Adam: Yeah. So they’re going to change it from the inside, man, they’re going to go work at the oil company to fight for climate change, because that’s how you —

Nima: That’s right.

Adam: Yeah, I mean, this is obviously a total fucking joke. But yeah, again, the scholars are not named. I asked Ben Hubbard who were these scholars, sort of curious who thinks that by giving everything to Saudi Arabia by asking nothing in return, and by writing blank checks for missile systems and helping them bomb Yemenis forever, that’s somehow going to reform their behavior, because the idea is that if Mohammed goes and runs to the big bad Russians, the big bad Chinese that he’ll be more evil. By the way, this is an argument, anytime there’s something that fits the geopolitical interests, there’s a wave of takes from liberals to say, ‘Oh, no, there’s really manifestly obviously evil and cynical thing we have to do, we have to do it because if we don’t do it, some other worse baddie is going to do it,’ which of course, we’ve talked about in the show, many, many times, is what all empires say. All empires say that we have to do this bad thing because there’s this other empire that will do it marginally more evil.

Nima: Yeah, exactly, “constructive engagement,” and so now it’s, you know, ‘We’re going to do better in the long run, we’re going to make them better,’ right? ‘This isn’t about us.’ ‘This isn’t about us, Adam, this isn’t about the United States holding on to principles we’ve never had,’ right? ‘This is about we’re going to get Saudi Arabia,’ because somehow we’re a parent to the world and ‘we’re going to get them to act better by being nicer to them, by giving them more.’

Adam: Yeah.

Nima: ‘We’re going to encourage the good and discourage the bad.’

Adam: Would any New York Times reporter without irony say that scholars of the Middle East claim that it’s best that Russia align with Iran and Syria? Because that’ll promote good behavior, dissuade, no, you would be laughed out of the room if you said that. But this goofy, childish bullshit that has absolutely no empirical basis, is based on a bunch of racist assumptions, that somehow the US is the human rights Boys and Girls Club, is going to be your mentor, it’s going to look after you, it’s just going to look after these otherwise kind of restless young countries, and we’re going to, we’re going to guide them to the right path? What the fuck is that? After school special? Saudi Arabia knows what they’re doing, we know what they’re doing, they’ve been doing the same thing for decades, they serve a very specific function, and this idea that we’re going to change them from the inside. I mean, it’s the height of cynicism and Ben Hubbard is just a total fucking White House flunky, he’s a total national security state flunky, is going to just kind of seeing how many the sophistic little ratchet pellets he can shove in his article to so liberals can go, ‘Yeah, well, I guess he’s right, I guess we have no choice.’ So all that hemming and hawing and huffing and puffing over Trump patting dictators on the back and going to Saudi Arabia and doing this, it’s like, ‘I guess that this is somehow different than that.’ Well, no, it’s not different. Oh, because he did it with a heavy fucking heart.

Nima: Well, because see, this goes back to that sophistry, right? This goes back to the fucking sophistry, Adam, which is Trump did it because he fundamentally agreed with them and he wanted to be like them and he was impressed by dictators, right? But Biden, Biden does it because he just, ah, it’s such a bummer, he’s so forced, he’s going to, he’s going to be forced to give a “chilly fist bump” as opposed to —

Adam: Oh, a “chilly fist bump.”

Nima: Right. Here’s a chilly fist bump along with your $650 million worth of weapons. So before we go, though, Adam, I feel like we have to talk about the latest entry from foreign policy wizard, Max Boot, writing in The Washington Post on July 17, 2022 with this headline, is an opinion piece of course, because it’s Max, but it is shared around the beltway as if it is fucking sage advice, quote, “Cut Biden some slack. U.S. presidents have to deal with dictators.” That’s the headline, and in it, Max Boot argues, of course, what you would think which is, you know, hey, this is the way real politic is executed, why is everyone getting so up in arms about this? In the article he writes this, quote:

“In truth, MBS is a more ambivalent figure than the cartoon villain that he is so often made out to be in media coverage. It’s true that he is cruel and repressive. He has created a climate of fear in Saudi Arabia, imprisoned dissidents and accumulated absolute power. But, while illiberal politically, he is liberalizing Saudi society.”

Adam: Yeah, which he’s not, whatever, he’s been doing the same reform agenda for, you know, the 250 year Saudi Foreign reform agenda.

Nima: The long game.

Adam: It’ll be ready when my great-great grandson.

Nima: That’s right. “Tourists are welcome for the first time,” he writes. “Theaters and concerts have been opened.”

Adam: Oh, theaters and concerts. Okay.

Nima: That’s right.

Adam: Yeah. Lord knows that that’s the mark of a liberal democracy is bread and circuses that historically —

Nima: That’s right. And meanwhile, The Washington Post is publishing this and Jamal Khashoggi, again, who was bone sawed alive by the MBS regime, by, you know, guys carrying this fucking shit out, that is the same outlet that is publishing this shit for Max Boot justifying it.

Adam: Max Boot argues on Twitter that Nixon met with Mao Zedong, FDR met with Stalin blah, blah, blah, and it’s like, look, it’s true, I actually think that all the anger about the fist bump is a distraction. It’s not really the problem.

Nima: Right. The meeting is not the issue. That could be diplomacy. He’s not meeting MBS for diplomatic reasons.

Adam: Right. He’s meeting with him to talk about increasing the weapons sales that we, the substance of the relationship is the problem, which is supporting and backing the subjugation of dissidents, the bombing of Yemeni, the oppression of women, I mean, you name it, right? The support for sectarianism in the region, blah, blah, blah, which again, I think has geopolitical function for US and Israel. It’s not the actual fist bump.

Nima: The lie is that Biden is meeting with an enemy. He’s not.

Adam: He’s not. The problem is the substance of what the fist bump codifies and represents, so if Biden was meeting with, again, whatever, leader of North Korea, Iran, Russia, whatever, I have no problem with that. In fact, that’s usually good because, you know, the whole we can’t, you know, ‘The optics of meeting with the dictator and legitimizing the regime,’ that’s all neocon bullshit. That is also not true at all, you know, who’s in charge of the regime is who is in charge of the gene, regardless with the fucking US does, right? The issue is not that he is somehow legitimizing MBS. MBS is in charge of Saudi Arabia whether we want him to or not, the issue is that he’s in charge by and large because of US largesse and support. It is a, again, it’s not 100 percent client state relationship, there is a little bit of back and forth, Saudi Arabia will sometimes buy, you know, weapons from Russia occasionally, though not really, but it is largely a dependent relationship on the US, and it has been since the time of our fathers and our fathers’ fathers, and so to sit here and act like this is somehow abnormal or against the, this is why we have to do this every every four years. It’s become a ritual. It’s like the Olympics. It’s like, oh, we’re doing this again. Oh, it’s that time again, where the President goes there and then Ken Roth gets kind of, you know, a little bit upset, but then someone writes this take justifying it, and we kind of run through the rigmarole.

Nima: ‘Right, and remember when Max Boot was so frustrated that Trump was meeting with dictators, well, now there’s a reason, now there’s a reason, now it’s okay.’

Adam: Yeah, and it seems to skirt the primary issue, which is what if being agnostic to human rights, or supporting human rights violations is actually an essential feature of our foreign policy, in the extent to which we don’t, it’s largely incidental, and the extent to which we do talk about quote-unquote “human rights” it is 99.99 percent public fucking relations, it is a marketing tool to justify why the largest military in the world is in every fucking nook and cranny in the globe, that it actually is not a real thing anyone cares about, except for four or five low inflammation dopes at the State Department who didn’t get the memo that they’re not really supposed to believe this bullshit, and it strikes me as the height of credulity to keep doing this every four years because the next president, regardless of who it is, who’s elected, is going to do the same thing. We’re going to do this run to the same ritual, the same rigmarole, while avoiding the question of this is not some abandonment of principles, but it is in fact itself a principle.

Nima: Right. That is US foreign policy on purpose. It’s not the aberration, it’s not the deviation, we’re not stepping off the path, this is the path. But that will do it for this Citations Needed News Brief. Stay tuned for more full length episodes coming at you soon. Until then, of course, you can follow the show on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, if you’re not already, please do consider becoming a supporter through We are 100 percent listener funded and so your support is the reason we are able to keep doing these shows and so endless gratitude for all you who do support us. Thanks again for listening. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. Associate producer is Julianne Tveten. Production assistant is Trendel Lightburn. Newsletter by Marco Cartolano. Transcriptions are by Morgan McAslan. The music is by Grandaddy. Thanks again for listening, everyone. We’ll catch you next time.


This Citations Needed News Brief was released on Wednesday, July 20, 2022.

Transcription by Morgan McAslan.