Joe Biden took office with the intent of holding Saudi Arabia at arm’s length, if not farther. But circumstances have changed, and next month Biden will make a stop in the oil-rich kingdom during his first presidential journey to the Middle East.

Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince and de facto ruler, is no less odious today than he was when Biden spoke of making Saudi Arabia a “pariah” in the wake of the assassination of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

But the House of Saud has long been allied with Washington, a valuable counterweight to Iran in the region and a quiet ally of Israel. And on the scales of evil, MBS’ reign of repression is outweighed by Vladimir Putin and the daily atrocity that is the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

That invasion, and the resulting sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States and its allies, have roiled the global energy markets and are a major (but not sole) factor in escalating gas prices in this nation and others. Biden would doubtless prefer to freeze out the Saudis, and the Russians, and the Iranians, and the Venezuelans; such a morally satisfying policy is economically impractical. Presidents have the duty of dealing with the world as it is, not as they wish it to be.

At least MBS is not getting Biden’s visit for free. The White House announced the trip after Saudi Arabia this month helped nudge OPEC+ to ramp up oil production by 648,000 barrels per day in July and August, and the kingdom agreed to extend a United Nations-mediated cease-fire in its seven-year war with Yemen. That’s far more than President Donald Trump ever got out of North Korea for his photo op meetings with Kim Jong Un.

Biden’s rapprochement with Riyadh is the acceptance of an unfortunate geopolitical reality. That contrasts to the behavior of a number of prominent professional golfers, most notably Phil Mickelson, eager to take Saudi money and burnish the kingdom’s reputation.

Mickelson and the others cite their beef with the established PGA Tour. Regardless of the legitimacy of their problems with the PGA, that doesn’t justify entangling themselves with MBS. The Saudi government may be a necessary geopolitical evil; it’s not necessary to athletics.

This editorial was originally published in The Mankato Free Press, a sister paper of the Weatherford Democrat.

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