A Gratuitous Insult in Jeddah

Photograph Source: The White House – Public Domain

The most quoted words from the speech which President Biden read on July 16 while seated at a table in Jeddah with the leaders of eight autocracies (the six GCC monarchies, Egypt and Jordan) and the interim prime minister of one dysfunctional remnant of American regime change (Iraq) was: “We will not walk away and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia or Iran. And we’ll seek to build on this moment with active, principled American leadership. The United States is not going anywhere.”

In light of all the chaos, death and destruction which the United States has wreaked on the region over the past two decades, many in the region — and even at the table — might have wondered whether this pronouncement should be viewed as a promise or a threat.

More importantly, it is remarkable that whoever wrote these words (presumably Tony Blinken and/or Jake Sullivan) did not grasp how insulting they were to the nine leaders to whom they were, at least formally, addressed and to their countries.

The first clear implication of these words is that the countries of the region do not possess either the capacity or the right to stand on their own feet and determine their own destinies but are destined always to be dominated by some outside greater power — in the recent past, the Ottomans, British and French and more recently the Americans — and that the Americans fully intend to maintain their current position of dominance.

The second clear implication of these words is that the countries of the region are not of interest to the United States for any reason inherent in their peoples, their societies or their histories but purely as pawns on the great geopolitical game board on which the United States competes for power and influence against its own demonized adversaries.

Such is the state of American “diplomacy” today.

In their defense, the speechwriters may not actually have been addressing those words to the people in the room but, rather, through the media, to Americans who were questioning why Biden was making this trip at all, and they may also have assumed that no one in the room would take anything that Biden said seriously.

The words with which Biden ended his speech were no doubt not written in the paper text in his hands: “And God protect our troops.”

These are the ritual words with which Biden concludes virtually all of his political speeches on home territory. When he uttered them at the end of his famous “Putin must go!” speech in Warsaw, they were not inappropriate, since he was promising more war. However, at the end of his speech in Jeddah, in which he was professing to be interested in peace and stability in the region, they were simply bizarre.

John V. Whitbeck is a Paris-based international lawyer.