Motorcycles Biden's early sanctions fall short of campaign promises to punish Putin and Saudi crown prince

16:45  03 april  2021
16:45  03 april  2021 Source:   msn.com

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President Biden’s tepid responses to Saudi Arabia’s murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the case of a Russian dissident have disappointed supporters while drawing praise from an unlikely quarter: Trump administration alumni.

Ned Price sitting in front of a screen © Provided by Washington Examiner

Candidate Biden pledged to rescue the “soul” of America from a then-president who he claimed “cozies up to dictators” — a rebuke that stemmed from former President Donald Trump’s frank indifference to human rights issues that threatened his priorities. Yet, Biden has not delivered the kinds of punishments that his supporters expected as his team confronts the same tension between American values and interests that beset his predecessor.

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With respect to Khashoggi’s murder, Biden’s decision to blame Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the murder and then decline to sanction him strikes the Washington Post columnist’s advocates as a toothless, even “dangerous” half-measure.

“It is extremely problematic, in my view, if not dangerous, to acknowledge someone’s culpability and then to tell that someone, ‘But we won’t do anything, please proceed as if have we have said nothing,’” United Nations special rapporteur Agnes Callamard, who investigates extrajudicial killings, said this week. “That, to me, is an extremely dangerous move on the part of the USA.”

Biden likewise took a risk-averse approach to imposing sanctions on Russia in response to the persecution of dissident Alexei Navalny, choosing to freeze the assets of several government officials rather than target the oligarchs whose suffering would trouble Russian President Vladimir Putin. That choice came as a surprise to Russia hawks who were thrilled to hear him say that the United States would not be “rolling over” for the Kremlin.

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“We were just expecting something big,” a Baltic official, on condition of anonymity to speak candidly, said. “We were expecting some kind of, like, serious sanctions; they seem serious, but maybe we were just, emotionally, expecting something bigger.”

Elliot Abrams, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s point-man for Iran and Venezuela, said in an interview it was "inevitable that the Biden administration would be hit from all sides on human rights policy."

“The Saudi case shows their effort to balance all our national interests intelligently, and they ought not to be worried about all the criticism. It goes with the territory," said Abrams, now with the Council on Foreign Relations.

That’s a counterintuitive compliment, considering candidate Biden was so harshly critical of his predecessor's foreign policy moves.

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“The presumption or easy thinking that's always possible during the campaign is that, ‘Well, if I just do the opposite, and I'm not friendly to dictators, then I should [see] the way to do the right thing,’” Foundation for Defense of Democracies senior fellow David Adesnik said. “The assumption that human rights fits neatly into a progressive foreign policy is turning out to be more problematic than expected.”

Biden has also emphasized any actions must also fall within U.S. national interests, which highlights the test he and his team face in their effort to revive nuclear talks with an Iranian regime that routinely executes dissidents and holds several American hostages.

“They can't just pivot to a pure national interest rhetoric with Iran while insisting that it's important to maintain a high bar with the Saudis,” Adesnik said. “The worst place to end up is looking like you have double standards across the board, and the only people you want to pick on are, perhaps, your third-tier allies — which doesn’t make for a particularly impressive policy.”

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In the meantime, Abrams allowed that Biden’s team has a chance to improve on Trump’s approach.

“Human rights policy was given less attention under Obama and Trump than it had under Clinton and George W. Bush, so there is room for a rebound,” he observed. "The basic issue is whether the president sees democracy and human rights as a central asset for the United States and sees alliances with other democracies as critical for our security. The Biden administration says it does — and time will tell.”

The new sanctions might not be the last word on Navalny if Biden concludes that individual oligarchs are also culpable for the anti-corruption activist’s abuse — but guilt will not be enough to trigger sanctions.

'Lack of imagination'

It also must be “in our interest to pursue designations against additional targets for human rights violations,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday.

But, so far, it is from the Democratic side that early criticism of team Biden has been sharpest.

The Khashoggi compromise, a public rebuke of MBS, as the Saudi royal is known, paired with expanded sanctions and visa restrictions for dozens of more junior figures, provoked some Democratic lawmakers to break with their newly elected standard-bearer. Two House Democrats have co-authored legislation to ban the crown prince from entering the U.S., while a third, California Rep. Ro Khanna, added that Biden had shown “a lack of imagination” in sidestepping a clash with the bloodstained crown prince.

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These criticisms offer an ironic convergence with the assessment from former Trump administration officials who are more protective of the U.S.-Saudi alliance.

“Cosmetic gestures like that sanctions package seem like an easy way out of a very difficult situation,” said former White House deputy national security adviser Victoria Coates, now a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy. “I think they’re basically getting themselves the worst of both worlds. On the one hand, they’re alienating the Saudis; on the other hand, they’re not actually doing anything about the behavior that they find objectionable.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki bristled at the suggestion that Biden has adopted an ineffective position.

“These decisions were made on the basis of decades of experience and consideration by our national security team on what would be most effective in not only deterring actions like this in the future ... but also being able to maintain a relationship moving forward,” Psaki said Tuesday during a White House press briefing. “We have important work we do with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia ... in the national interest of the United States.”

Abrams concurred. “A government, and that includes Democratic Party administrations, is not an NGO,” he argued. “A government always has to balance national security, trade, financial, and other interests with human rights policy. Remember where Jimmy Carter spent New Year's 1977-78: In Iran, celebrating with the Shah despite the abuses of his ‘Savak' secret police.”

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U.S. diplomats in the Carter administration likewise “diluted” his support for dissidents in the Soviet Union, as an internal White House memo acknowledged in 1979.

Tags: News, Foreign Policy, National Security, Alexei Navalny, Jamal Khashoggi, Rex Tillerson, Human Rights, Russia, Saudi Arabia, White House

Original Author: Joel Gehrke

Original Location: Biden's early sanctions fall short of campaign promises to punish Putin and Saudi crown prince

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