Poor President Joe Biden! He is caught between a current-day Scylla in the form of Russian President Vladimir Putin, aka “War Criminal” and the Charybdis of Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), aka human rights “Pariah.” Can he negotiate around or through these dangerous waters whether over the war in Ukraine or a pending visit to Saudi Arabia? This dilemma contrasts the tensions between a pragmatic and values-based foreign policy and Biden’s construct of a battle possibly to the finish between democracy and autocracy. This foreign policy debate has often been cast as Washingtonian versus Wilsonian legacies. In his Farewell Address, President Washington warned: “to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world” (and did not say to avoid permanent entanglements) reflecting his pragmatism. President Wilson called for an “end to all wars” through a League of Nations relying on an idealistic view of the future. Ironically, in dealing with Putin and MBS, both seem strikingly interchangeable in terms of actions and intentions. Both started wars for similar reasons. Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine was largely directed against NATO. MBS’ war in Yemen is against the Houthis, surrogates for Saudi’s archenemy Iran. The difference is that Putin is using Soviet weaponry in Ukraine; MBS is bombing the Houthis with American-made weapons systems. Biden would be well advised to let the Democracy versus Autocracy slogan gradually dissipate. Both are ruthless autocrats. Both have punished dissenting elites by stripping them of wealth and position. Putin has arrested, jailed and killed opponents not only in Russia. So has MBS. US law enforcement and intelligence agencies attributed the murder and dismemberment of Saudi-American journalist Jamal Khashoggi directly to MBS. Both Russian and Saudi economies are entirely dependent on energy-gas and oil reserves. Both also use oil as a political weapon to gain leverage. Europe is dependent on Russian gas and oil. The US is now depending on MBS to increase oil production to drive down the costs of gasoline in America which are now at $5 or $6 a gallon. Yet, here is the rub. Saudi Arabia is an American “ally” buying many billions of dollars of US weaponry; providing basing access, and standing against Iran. Saudi cooperation in improving relations with Israel and ultimately recognizing it is vital to long-term regional stability. And the world depends on its oil. Is that more important than human rights? Russia is a huge disruptor in Europe. A near-permanent conflict with NATO over Ukraine seems inevitable with the risk of escalation. But without negotiations or some form of reconciliation, a strategic nuclear arms race will drain treasuries and lead to further tensions especially as “newer” technologies such as hypersonic weapons threaten to destabilize the current military balances. What should or might President Biden do? First, his dichotomy of democracies and autocracies needs to be revised as it is a false distinction. Two NATO allies for whom all are committed to defending if either were attacked, Hungary and Turkey, are not pristine democracies. During the Cold War, virtually any Soviet opponent could become an American ally. And as Napoleon and Hitler learned, opening a second front against Russia led to disaster. The US has declared a two-front battle against China and Russia. Yes, America won a two-front war against Japan and Nazi Germany. But this is not 1941. Neither Nazi Germany nor Japan had the world’s second-largest economy like China’s or Russia’s nuclear superpower status. Biden would be well advised to let the Democracy versus Autocracy slogan gradually dissipate. Further, national interests should dominate thinking and not necessarily human rights. The purpose of a visit to Riyadh should be focused on improving relations with Israel; ending the Yemen War; and developing a viable security regime for the region. Should MBS agree to increase oil output, that must be his decision and not a formal request from the president of the leader of the free world. About Russia and Ukraine, negotiating with a “war criminal” would, at best, seem awkward. But there must be back channel, discrete talks, led by the Secretary of State or Defense; or by the CIA Director who has long experience dealing with Russia as a former ambassador there. The purposes are to end the war in Ukraine that preserves Ukrainian independence and sovereignty and establish a dialogue with Moscow. That will take time. But talks must start now. Hypocrisy, pragmatism and human rights are always in conflict. The president should pursue the second to avoid falling into the trap of the first. But, will he? The writer is a senior advisor at Washington, DC’s Atlantic Council and a published author.