The Saudi Lobby Builds Back Better

In partnership with Responsible Statecraft.

“THEY’RE SCARY MOTHERFUCKERS to get involved with. … We know they killed Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights,” said professional golfer Phil Mickelson of the Saudi dictatorship, which is financing LIV, an upstart golf league and a rival of the PGA Tour. In an interview last November, Mickelson explained that the league is nothing more than “sportswashing” by a repressive government.

“Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it?” Mickelson posed at the time, claiming that the opportunity was too good to pass up. Ten months later, Mickelson has in some ways become the face of LIV Golf. He’s played in every LIV tournament this summer, including an event held at one of former President Donald Trump’s golf courses. He’s suffered hecklers and expressed his “empathy” for 9/11 victims who wrote a letter to Mickelson and other LIV golfers explaining: “When you partner with the Saudis, you become complicit with their whitewash, and help give them the reputational cover they so desperately crave — and are willing to pay handsomely to manufacture.”

Through LIV Golf, the Saudi dictatorship has made Mickelson the highest-paid athlete in the world, with an estimated $138 million in earnings in the past 12 months. In that time, he didn’t win a single golf tournament.

In working with Saudi Arabia despite understanding the regime’s myriad transgressions, Mickelson is far from alone. His most prominent peer, President Joe Biden, famously called the Saudi government a “pariah” on the campaign trail in 2019 and this summer shared a fist bump with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, as he agreed to sell the kingdom billions of dollars’ worth of weapons.

Read the full piece in The Intercept.