The Fist Bump Heard ‘Round the World

President Joe Biden’s fist bump with Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman earned blowback across the political spectrum.


President Joe Biden’s fist bump with Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) earned blowback across the political spectrum as figures from left and right criticized the president’s trip to Saudi Arabia.

  • Human rights activists, the Washington Post’s publisher, and politicians of both parties condemned the president’s chummy public appearance with the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia.
  • President Biden claimed he raised the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi with MBS and directly blamed him for the killing. The Saudis disputed his account and said the discussion was not nearly as confrontational as Biden claimed.
  • The president’s fist bump with the Saudi Crown Prince marks an abrupt U-turn from his harsh vows on the campaign trail to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” for dismembering journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
  • Biden’s trip sought to balance Saudi security concerns, American desires for increased oil production, and Biden’s own criticism of Saudi Arabia’s ghastly human rights record. The summit achieved incremental security steps, seen as a sign of warming Saudi-Israel ties.
  • After Biden’s trip, Saudi Arabia opened its airspace to Israeli flights and concluded a deal over a Red Sea island desired by the Saudis, although the Saudi foreign minister downplayed any talk of a thaw in Saudi-Israel relations.
  • That being said, Biden’s summit with Arab leaders failed to achieve substantial security agreements including Israel or commitments to increase oil production.


reporting from the left side of the aisle


  • The Washington Post, the outlet Jamal Khashoggi wrote for before he was killed, was initially excluded from Saudi media briefings and the Post’s publisher called Biden’s trip “shameful.”
  • The Intercept summed up the message they thought Biden sent Saudi Arabia and Israel: “Sure, kill our journalists.” The author argued Biden’s attempts to “paper over” the killings of Jamal Khashoggi and Shireen Abu Akhleh (allegedly shot by the Israeli military) are weak and amoral.
  • CNN reported the Saudi government compared the killing of Jamal Khashoggi to the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib during the Iraq War. The Saudi Foreign Minister told CNN, “We investigated, punished and ensure that this doesn’t happen again. This is what countries do. This is what the US did when the mistake of Abu Ghraib was committed.”



  • Fox News covered Biden’s angry comments scolding the press for criticizing his fist bump with MBS. When asked if he regretted the fist bump, the president lashed out at the reporter, saying “Why don’t you guys talk about something that matters?”
  • The Wall Street Journal offered its perspective on Biden’s vision for America’s role in the Middle East: heavy on diplomacy and committed to keeping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Biden sought to reassure “mounting concern” in the region after last year’s chaotic retreat from Afghanistan.
  • National Review countered, asking “Why should we believe Biden?” Biden told an Israeli broadcaster he would use force “as a last resort” to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, but his history of untruths about Afghanistan and inflation makes clear his credibility is lacking.


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© Dominic Moore, 2022