Helis Oil media tour

Drilling rig in Louisiana.

It will be a humbling spectacle for the United States next month when the leader of the free world visits a country he once portrayed as a murderous autocracy. And the trip is essentially to beg for more oil.

As a candidate for president, Joe Biden vowed to make Saudi Arabia “the pariah that they are” after concluding that the nation’s leader ordered the brutal murder and dismembering of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident who was a nettlesome critic of the oil-rich kingdom.

But nothing can change the mind of a politician more quickly than weak poll numbers and the prospect of a November electoral wipeout.

Voters are confronting the worst inflation in four decades and gas prices exceeding $5, due in part to Democrats’ mismanagement of the COVID-19 recovery and Biden’s misguided energy policies, so the president is off to mend fences with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom his administration last year accused of orchestrating the murder of Khashoggi.

Biden denies that the visit is about oil. “The commitments from the Saudis don’t relate to anything having to do with energy,” he said. “It has to do with much larger issues than having to do with the energy piece.”

But his press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, said energy will be a topic on the agenda. “To look at this trip as it being only about oil is not — it would be wrong to do that,” she said.

The trip is a month away, so the two of them have plenty of time to get their story straight.

The irony of a president entreating a murderous dictatorship to send us more fossil fuels won’t be lost on the patriotic, hard-working men and women of the domestic oil industry. In the name of climate change, the Biden administration is using all of its administrative powers — leasing, permitting, environmental and financial regulation — to punish fossil fuel producers along the Gulf Coast and in the nation’s other energy-producing regions.

Supporters of the president like to claim that his policies are not responsible for the current spike in oil and gas prices because it takes time for regulatory changes to weave their way into the economy. But it’s a weak defense, admitting in essence that bad policy choices don't matter because they will start damaging the economy next month or next year.

What is true is that some of the current pain in the energy markets stems from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And Biden has done a sound job holding our allies together to punish the Russian economy, even if his own constituents need to share in the pain.

But the European war could provide Biden a chance to explain to frustrated domestic voters that the nation’s climate goals may have to coexist with the national security imperative of building an economy that is less reliant on foreign energy. That would include support for the clean fuels of tomorrow, but also the fossil fuels that power the economy of today — and will be needed for decades to come. Our European allies have certainly learned that lesson.

A trip to the Persian Gulf may make sense for the president’s politics, and the Saudis have been a key U.S. ally in the past. But Biden should also come to the Gulf of Mexico and demonstrate that he understands the strategic importance of domestic fossil fuel production.

“I can tell you, President Biden, you don’t have to wonder what the answer will be in you ask them to produce more energy in Port Fourchon, La.” U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, said Tuesday. “Their answer will be yes.”