Momani: Biden’s futile trip to Saudi Arabia

Of note. Pivoting to address new circumstances has consequences:

American President Joe Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia this past weekend was bad theatre. At best it gave the impression of him addressing American consumers’ woes and at worst reaffirmed every skeptic’s view of hypocritical U.S. foreign policy. Make no mistake – this trip would not have happened were it not for Mr. Biden’s dwindling approval ratings at home, attributed in part to rising inflation and growing fears of a recession. Both economic woes are tied to high energy costs caused by Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Biden administration officials provided a laundry list of reasons for the President’s trip, from the long-time favourite of “promoting peace in the Middle East” to getting the Saudis to increase oil production to ease prices on American consumers. But geopolitical and oil market experts had rightly assessed that nothing substantive would come from this trip when it came to either issue. Despite Israeli-Saudi commercial, defence and intelligence ties being at an all-time high, the frail and elderly King Salman was not expected to sign a formal peace treaty with the Israelis. He will instead leave this to his son, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), to ink when he becomes king.

On oil, Saudi Arabia is already pumping crude at record levels and has very little spare capacity for export. Saudi Arabia’s scorching summer heat also means it has high energy needs of its own to power its air conditioners. Hence while Saudi officials paid lip service to providing the world with a stable supply of crude oil, few expected any substantive change to its output levels. Unsurprisingly, oil prices have not decreased since Biden’s Saudi trip.

Yet, this trip’s futility highlights a recurrent issue in U.S. foreign policy. It was only a few short years ago that Mr. Biden, then on the presidential campaign trail, said he would make Saudi Arabia “a pariah” for its involvement in the brutal murder of Washington Post journalist and Saudi democracy activist, Jamal Khashoggi. There has been little change in U.S. foreign policy toward Saudi Arabia during Biden’s time as President, but at minimum the soon-to-be ruler of the oil-rich kingdom was seen as persona non grata in international forums. At G20 meetings, most Western leaders went to great lengths to avoid being pictured with the ostracized monarch.

Of course, leaders of China and Russia have been quite happy to be seen with MBS. They have continued to make lucrative deals with the world’s largest oil exporter and weapons importer. For much of the world, business and realpolitik sadly eclipses any notion of a human rights-based foreign policy. While many may have scoffed at Donald Trump’s transactional foreign policy during his time in the presidential office, it can at least be said that he was transparent about courting Saudi Arabia for its money alone. He boasted at having encouraged them to buy more U.S. arms and to allow further American investment in the Kingdom.

Mr. Biden claimed U.S. foreign policy would change from the Trump era. Yet there was Mr. Biden this weekend giving MBS a fist-bump and proceeding to sit across the table from the man who, for ordering the dismemberment of Mr. Khashoggi’s body, was dubbed Mr. Bone Saw. Saudi media reported that MBS used the meeting with Biden to point out the U.S.’s own human rights failures, from the 2004 Abu Ghraib prison abuses when the U.S. occupied Iraq to the most recent whitewashing of the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

There are consequences to this U.S. hypocrisy. When the West asked for support in condemning Russia for its brutal war and occupation of Ukraine, it was no wonder that so many long-time U.S. allies declined to support a UN resolution condemning Russia. Across the world, states have rebuffed the U.S. and the West, instead choosing to continue to do business with Vladimir Putin’s regime despite the horrors it inflicts on Ukraine. They have rejected the West’s normative framing of the war on Ukraine as one of Western values of democracy versus autocracy.

After all, it only took Mr. Biden two years for an about-face on an autocratic Saudi Arabia. How long will it be before the West capitulates and imports Russian oil and grain, or calls the occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea and the Donbas “facts on the ground.” The consequences of Mr. Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia is an affirmation of what has long been skeptics’ view of U.S. foreign policy: self-serving and hypocritical.

Bessma Momani is professor in the department of political science at the University of Waterloo and senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation.

Source: Biden’s futile trip to Saudi Arabia

Biden Aims to Rebuild and Expand Legal Immigration

Good overview:

If President Biden gets his way, it will soon be far easier to immigrate to the United States. There will be shorter, simpler forms and applicants will have to jump through fewer security hoops. Foreigners will have better opportunities to join their families and more chances to secure work visas.

A 46-page draft blueprint obtained by The New York Times maps out the Biden administration’s plans to significantly expand the legal immigration system, including methodically reversing the efforts to dismantle it by former President Donald J. Trump, who reduced the flow of foreign workers, families and refugees, erecting procedural barriers tougher to cross than his “big, beautiful wall.”

Because of Mr. Trump’s immigration policies, the average time it takes to approve employer-sponsored green cards has doubled. The backlog for citizenship applications is up 80 percent since 2014, to more than 900,000 cases. Approval for the U-visa program, which grants legal status for immigrants willing to help the police, has gone from five months to roughly five years.

In almost every case over the last four years, immigrating to the United States has become harder, more expensive and takes longer.

And while Mr. Biden made clear during his presidential campaign that he intended to undo much of his predecessor’s immigration legacy, the blueprint offers new details about how far-reaching the effort will be — not only rolling back Mr. Trump’s policies, but addressing backlogs and delays that plagued prior presidents.

The blueprint, dated May 3 and titled “D.H.S. Plan to Restore Trust in Our Legal Immigration System,” lists scores of initiatives intended to reopen the country to more immigrants, making good on the president’s promise to ensure America embraces its “character as a nation of opportunity and of welcome.”

“There are significant changes that need to be made to really open up all avenues of legal immigration,” said Felicia Escobar Carrillo, the chief of staff at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, of the efforts to reverse Mr. Trump’s agenda. “In the same way that they took a broad-stroke approach to closing off avenues, I think we want to take a broad approach toward opening up the legal avenues that have always been available but that they tried to put roadblocks up on.”

Since taking office four months ago, Mr. Biden has struggled with a historic surge in migration by Central American children and teenagers that has prompted some Republicans to accuse the president of flinging open the nation’s borders to people trying to enter the country illegally, a charge the White House rejects.

In fact, Mr. Biden does want to open the country to more immigrants. His ambition, as reflected in the blueprint, is to rebuild and expand the opportunities for foreigners to enter the United States — but to do so legally.

Divided into seven sections, the document offers detailed policy proposals that would help more foreigners move to the United States, including high-skilled workers, trafficking victims, the families of Americans living abroad, American Indians born in Canada, refugees, asylum-seekers and farm workers. Immigrants who apply online could pay less in fees or even secure a waiver in an attempt to “reduce barriers” to immigration. And regulations would be overhauled to “encourage full participation by immigrants in our civic life.”

Even with a more restrictive and slower immigration system, about 1 million people obtained green cards in 2019, the last full year before the pandemic. Most had been waiting for years. In the final year of the Obama administration, 1.2 million people received green cards.

But if Mr. Biden accomplishes everything in the document, he will have gone further than just reversing the downward trend. He will have significantly increased opportunities for foreigners around the globe to come to the United States, embracing robust immigration even as a divisive, decades-long political debate continues to rage over such a policy.

Most of the changes could be put into practice without passage of Mr. Biden’s proposed overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented people living in the United States but has stalled in a bitterly divided Congress. While surveys show that most Americans support increased immigration, many Republican voters have eagerly backed Mr. Trump’s more restrictive policies.

White House officials declined to comment directly on the Homeland Security Department’s blueprint, saying that such documents go through many drafts and that decisions about specific steps to address legal immigration remain in flux. But they said the president remained committed to significantly rolling back the restrictions imposed by his predecessor.

That effort will take time and has not yet caught the public’s attention like the surge of crossings at the southwest border. But conservative activists who have for years demanded lower levels of legal immigration are vowing a fight to stop Mr. Biden and extract a political price for his actions.

“They just want to shovel people in here,” said Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, a former Virginia attorney general who served as the acting head of Citizenship and Immigration Services under Mr. Trump. “They are not running an immigration system for the benefit of America, and certainly not for the benefit of ordinary Americans. ”

Most research has shown that legal immigration to the United States has benefits for the country’s economy, especially at a time when the country’s population growth is slowing. But Mr. Cuccinelli and others who favor severe restrictions on immigration say it is obvious to them that letting foreigners compete for jobs — especially when the country is still recovering from an economic downturn like the one created by the pandemic — will hurt the prospects for American citizens.

“The number one job for the immigration services is to make sure that immigration does not hurt Americans,” said Roy Beck, the founder of NumbersUSA, a group dedicated to far lower levels of legal immigration.

Motivated by that belief, Mr. Cuccinelli set in motion a transformation of the government’s legal immigration system during the Trump administration — changing his agency from one that confers benefits on foreigners into a “vetting agency,” in part by issuing numerous restrictions on offering asylum for immigrants and trying to raise fees.

The increased vetting, as well as travel restrictions imposed during the pandemic, helped contribute to the result the Trump administration had sought: The influx of immigrants slowed significantly, as winning legal approval to enter the United States became much harder.

With fewer immigrants coming through the pipeline, there has been less money to finance Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is supported almost entirely by fees paid by immigrants. Restoring the agency to full capacity is at the heart of Mr. Biden’s effort to expand legal immigration, according to the document and interviews with administration officials.

A central element of the blueprint is addressing backlogs in the immigration system.

The administration is planning to fast-track immigration applications by expanding virtual interviews and electronic filing, as well as limiting the requests for evidence from applicants. Mr. Biden has tapped Cass R. Sunstein, a former Obama administration official and legal scholar at Harvard Law School, to remake the immigration system so it is “more effective and less burdensome” than it has been in decades by “reducing paperwork and other administrative requirements.”

Mr. Biden wants to restore opportunities for foreign employees through the existing H-1B visa program, which is intended for workers with special skills. The administration also intends to create new pathways for foreign entrepreneurs who wish to “start-up businesses and create jobs for U.S. workers,” according to the document.

Officials are working on a regulation that could allow migrants to win asylum in the United States if they are victims of domestic violence or their relatives were persecuted. During the Trump era, Attorney General William P. Barr moved to end asylum protection for those who claimed they deserved it for those reasons.

Mr. Biden is also aiming to expand immigration opportunities for L.G.B.T.Q. refugees from countries where they are persecuted or where same-sex marriages are not recognized.

In addition, he wants to revamp a program that provides a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who help law enforcement by cooperating with police or testifying in court.

The waiting list for the U-Visa program has ballooned, leaving crime victims and survivors of domestic abuse vulnerable to abusers who may threaten to report them for deportation if they continue to talk to the police, said Leslye E. Orloff, director of the national immigrant women’s advocacy project at American University.

The Biden administration is considering extending protections to immigrants who cooperate even before they make it on the official waiting list for the visa, according to the document.

“They’re recognizing that there’s danger for these victims,” Ms. Orloff said.

Critics say the Biden administration is ignoring the negative consequences of their efforts. The H-1B program has been attacked as a loophole for tech companies to import cheap foreign workers to compete for jobs. Granting asylum to the victims of domestic abuse could open the door to accepting millions of additional people. And some Republicans say Mr. Biden should not loosen vetting of foreigners, though officials insist they will continue to screen for terrorists and other threats.

As the Biden administration pushes forward with the changes, officials appear willing to use emergency rules and presidential memos to avoid the lengthy regulatory process, in much the same way that Mr. Trump put his own agenda in place. But that could make Mr. Biden’s immigration legacy subject to a similar reversal by a Republican president in the future.

“The question looming over all of this work is how do you do this in a way that isn’t easily so capsized next time around,” said Doug Rand, a founder of Boundless Immigration, a technology company in Seattle that helps immigrants obtain green cards and citizenship.

Change could not come soon enough for Jenn Hawk, 37, who is currently living in with her Argentine husband in Poland, where he works, even though her autistic son is in the Washington area with his father.

Because of delays in processing her husband’s immigration application, she is faced with a choice: stay in Poland with the man she married, or go back to the United States alone to be with her 10-year-old son.

Ms. Hawk filed to sponsor her husband’s immigration to the United States in October of 2020, spending $575 on the application. But they are facing a delay of more than a year and a half before they can even submit their financial and medical information, let alone get an interview with an immigration officer.

“I just want to go home,” Ms. Hawk said. “It seems like they’re doing everything in their power to restrict that from being a possibility.”

Breaking With Predecessors, Biden Declares Mass Killings of Armenians a Genocide

Significant even though many other countries, including Canada, have already done so:

President Biden on Saturday recognized the mass killings of Armenians more than a century ago as genocide, signaling a willingness to test an increasingly frayed relationship with Turkey, long a key regional ally and an important partner within NATO.

“Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring,” Mr. Biden said in a statement issued on the 106th anniversary of the beginning of a brutal campaign by the former Ottoman Empire that killed 1.5 million people. “And we remember so that we remain ever vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms.”WHAT TO KNOWAfter years of avoiding the topic, the United States now officially views the killing of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire a century ago as genocide.

The declaration by Mr. Biden reflected his administration’s commitment to human rights, a pillar of its foreign policy. It is also a break from Mr. Biden’s predecessors, who were reluctant to anger a country of strategic importance and were wary of driving its leadership toward American adversaries like Russia or Iran.

The Turkish government, as well as human rights activists and ethnic Armenians, gave a muted response to the news, which leaked days in advance, describing the move as largely symbolic. Later on Saturday, the country’s foreign minister summoned the U.S. ambassador to protest the declaration, state media reported.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has repeatedly denied that the killings amounted to genocide, had lobbied hard to prevent the announcement, mounting a conference and media campaigns before the anniversary on Saturday.

But in a call on Friday, Mr. Biden told Mr. Erdogan directly that he would be declaring the massacre an act of genocide, according to a person familiar with the discussion who spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose details of the conversation.

A summary of the call provided by the White House said only that the pair had agreed to an “effective management of disagreements.” The Turkish presidency said in a statement that both leaders agreed on the “importance of working together.” They are scheduled to meet at a summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in June.

In his statement on Saturday, Mr. Biden acknowledged the Armenians who were forced to rebuild their lives.

“We affirm the history,” he said. “We do this not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated.”

Since taking office, Mr. Biden has kept Mr. Erdogan at a distance, calling other world leaders — and leaving his Turkish counterpart, who enjoyed a friendly relationship with President Donald J. Trump, waiting for months.

After news broke on Wednesday of the impending announcement, Mr. Erdogan said in a statement that Turkey would “defend the truth against the lie of the so-called ‘Armenian genocide.’”

Mr. Erdogan is widely expected to use the designation to whip up support at home, where he has increasingly adopted a nationalist-Islamist stance to retain his voter base. But political analysts said he was likely to tread carefully with the United States.

Relations between the countries have reached their lowest point in decades, as Mr. Erdogan has turned increasingly combative in his dealings with Washington, particularly after a failed coup in 2016. Mr. Erdogan has blamed the bid to oust him from power on a Turkish cleric living in self-imposed exile in rural Pennsylvania, and by extension on the United States.

Tensions escalated with Turkey’s deal to buy a missile system from Russia in 2017, which prompted the Trump administration to impose sanctions on Turkey in December. Syria, too, has been a flash point. Mr. Erdogan has bitterly criticized the United States military’s support of Kurdish forces in Syria that are affiliated with a group that has waged a decades-long insurgency against Turkey, and his own operations there have further tested the Atlantic alliance.

Mr. Erdogan sees Turkey, a country of 80 million and a member of the Group of 20, as a regional power that deserves greater respect on the world stage. That view has fueled a greater geopolitical assertiveness demonstrated in military interventions in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Azerbaijan and in exploration for energy in contested waters in the eastern Mediterranean last year.

European leaders and members of the Biden administration advocate continued engagement with Mr. Erdogan’s government because Turkey houses millions of Syrian refugees who might otherwise head to Europe. They also point to Turkey’s support for Ukraine and Afghanistan, where it will maintain a small force to train Afghan army and police personnel as the United States and other coalition troops withdraw by Sept. 11.

The White House’s sustained silence toward Mr. Erdogan had been seen as a sign that Mr. Biden did not view Turkey as a priority and intended to manage the relationship at lower levels of the administration.

“They don’t want to have a conflict with him, but they don’t want to be too cozy with him either,” said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, the director of the Ankara office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Mr. Erdogan also would not seek to further damage relations over the genocide designation, said Asli Aydintasbas, a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. By one count, at least 29 other countries have taken similar steps.

“In the past, Turkey used to issue all types of threats, but lately the policy toward genocide recognition from allies has been to shrug it off,” she said. “They will issue denouncements, but not go so far as to create a crisis.”

Mr. Unluhisarcikli, like other analysts and human rights defenders, questioned the timing and purpose of the announcement.

“The Turkish government will feel obliged to respond in ways that are consequential for the U.S. and for U.S.-Turkey relationship,” he said.

The Turkish public will see it as evidence of American double standards, and anti-Western forces in Turkey will use it to incite fury, he said.

Both opposition and pro-government leaders attacked the expected designation.

“This is an improper, unfair stance,” said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the largest opposition party, the Republican People’s Party.

Dogu Perincek, the leader of the ultranationalist Patriotic Party, in an open letter to Mr. Biden, questioned his authority to issue such a declaration. “As is known, the genocide against the Jews was adjudicated at an authorized court,” he wrote, “but regarding the 1915 incidents, there is no judicial ruling.”

The killings of Armenians occurred at the end of World War I during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor of modern Turkey. Worried that the Christian Armenian population would align with Russia, a primary enemy of the Ottoman Turks, officials ordered mass deportations in what many historians consider the first genocide of the 20th century: Nearly 1.5 million Armenians were killed, some in massacres by soldiers and the police, others in forced exoduses to the Syrian desert that left them starved to death.

Turkey has acknowledged that widespread atrocities occurred during that period, but its leaders have adamantly denied that the killings were genocide.

n the days leading up to Mr. Biden’s announcement, Armenians and human rights activists in Turkey expressed caution, partly because of years of political seesawing over the issue.

“Personally, it is not going to make me excited,” Yetvart Danzikyan, the editor in chief of Agos, an Armenian-Turkish weekly newspaper in Istanbul, said, pointing to a statement President Ronald Reagan issued in 1981 about the Holocaust that mentioned the “genocide of the Armenians” in passing.

Murat Celikkan, a journalist and longtime human rights activist, said the declaration would be good for American-Armenian citizens, but he did not expect it to change attitudes in Turkey or encourage reconciliation between Turks and Armenians.

“It did not change with more than 20 countries officially recognizing it, including Germany,” he said.

In the United States, some Armenian activists welcomed the declaration as a step forward.

“The denial of the genocide has been such a painful chapter,” said Bryan Ardouny, the executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America. “This is a really critical moment in the arc of history, in defense of human rights.”

“The president is standing firmly against basically a century of denial and is charting a new course,” he said.