By Jack Rosen, President of the American Jewish Congress

Published originally in the New York Daily News.

The White House’s confirmation that President Biden is planning a reboot of relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia including his first presidential visit to Riyadh to meet with Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman this summer have not come as welcome news to many critics of the kingdom. But in the long run, these steps would help U.S. interests at home and abroad.

The obvious necessity of the visit is to convince the kingdom to increase oil production to help relieve gas prices for the American people. Indeed, Biden’s initial outreach to Riyadh after more than a year of silence has already resulted in the kingdom taking steps to increase production. Riyadh has also moved on restoring a ceasefire agreement in Yemen, another key U.S. priority.

The lesson is that the U.S. has little to no leverage with the kingdom by remaining aloof. Indeed, America has a dismal, self-defeating record of ignoring or isolating countries we don’t agree with in the hopes we can change them — a hardline position usually advanced by Republican presidents. We have seen boycotts of countries such as Cuba and China with whom there are legitimate clashes over values, leaving America’s only means of influence our “example.” This policy has invariably led to little change and indeed, retrenchment, as America becomes a convenient whipping boy for whatever ills befall the countries we choose to alienate.

In our hyperconnected world, we do not have the luxury of ignoring an energy superpower like Saudi Arabia. The war in Ukraine has demonstrated that energy shocks are communicable, driving up prices and disrupting supply chains here at home. Of course, Saudi Arabia is much more than the world’s gas station. The kingdom is an important check on Iran and can help pressure Tehran to denuclearize. The kingdom has undertaken a social liberalization effort resulting in millions of Saudi women entering the workforce and obtaining new rights that should be encouraged, not punished, as a model for other Middle Eastern states. A holdout in the so-called Abraham Accords, the series of diplomatic breakthroughs between Arab and Muslim states and Israel, Saudi Arabia is welcoming more and more Israeli passport holders and delegations of Jewish leaders, a fact that augers a new era of peace for America’s greatest Middle Eastern ally.

Biden knows that U.S. concerns with Saudi Arabia’s human rights record cannot be ameliorated by sitting in the corner and holding our breath. The answer is through deeper engagement, not isolation. Engagement brings access, confidence, and leverage. It is a good offensive strategy as well as a defensive move by the president: The truth is that Saudi Arabia has options when it comes to international partners, including Russia and China.

In the end, the U.S. does not have to choose between standing alone with its principles and a full-throated embrace of the kingdom. Biden connecting with the kingdom’s de facto ruler Mohammed Bin Salman — the two have never spoken during Biden’s nearly 18 months in office — is a good start to improving America’s leverage and ability to affect meaningful change. Biden can voice both his hopes and concerns about the relationship, and if common ground can be found that brings economic relief to the American people and peace and stability to the greater Middle East region, then the risk of reaching out is well worth it.

Rosen is president of the American Jewish Congress.

© 2020 American Jewish Congress.