Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty When Joe Biden ran for the White House, he campaigned on making Saudi Arabia a “pariah” on the international stage. But a year into his presidency, Biden has stopped well short of getting tougher on Saudi Arabia—and prominent elected Democrats are following suit.
At first, Biden seemed like he’d make good on his campaign rhetoric. Democrats—long opposed the Trump administration’s approach to arms deals for Saudi Arabia—controlled both chambers of Congress. And Biden had been critical of Saudi Arabia given its role in Yemen’s war and the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, which the CIA pegged to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
In February, Biden announced that the United States would be backing off the Trump administration’s approach of funding Saudi Arabia’s offensive military operations.
Saudi Arabia has been launching airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen for years, ever since Houthi rebels took Yemen’s capital Sanaa in 2014, and followed up with attacks against Saudi Arabia in turn. A Saudi-led coalition tried to intervene on behalf of the internationally recognized Yemeni government, but the conflict has so far brought 5 million to the brink of famine , killed hundreds of thousands, and has no clear end in sight as peace processes have stalled.
But, as the idiom goes, ‘do as I say, not as I do.’
Rather than backing off funding the conflict, the Biden Administration has actually renewed efforts to arm Saudi Arabia. Biden found a carve-out to still fund the conflict, by only allowing “defensive” arms sales to Saudi Arabia—a decision that has put him at loggerheads with some members of his own party who say it allows him to take rhetorical credit for bucking Trump’s approach, but which in reality perpetuates and contributes to the conflict.
Just last month, the State Department approved a $650 million missile sale to Saudi Arabia—the first major arms sale to the Kingdom during the Biden administration—and it’s left Democrats on Capitol Hill fuming about the administration’s willingness to support a country with a derelict human rights track record.