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Reining in the Rogue Royal of Arabia

If the crown prince of Saudi Arabia has in mind a war with Iran, President Trump should disabuse his royal highness of any notion that America would be doing his fighting for him.

Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS, the 32-year-old son of the aging and ailing King Salman, is making too many enemies for his own good, or for ours.

Pledging to Westernize Saudi Arabia, he has antagonized the clerical establishment. Among the 200 Saudis he just had arrested for criminal corruption are 11 princes, the head of the National Guard, the governor of Riyadh, and the famed investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.

The Saudi tradition of consensus collective rule is being trashed.

MBS is said to be pushing for an abdication by his father and his early assumption of the throne. He has begun to exhibit the familiar traits of an ambitious 21st-century autocrat in the mold of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.

Yet his foreign adventures are all proving to be debacles.

The rebels the Saudis backed in Syria’s civil war were routed. The war on the Houthi rebels in Yemen, of which MBS is architect, has proven to be a Saudi Vietnam and a human rights catastrophe.

The crown prince persuaded Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE to expel Qatar from the Sunni Arab community for aiding terrorists, but he has failed to choke the tiny country into submission.

Last week, MBS ordered Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to Riyadh, where Hariri publicly resigned his office and now appears to be under house arrest. Refusing to recognize the resignation, Lebanon’s president is demanding Hariri’s return.

After embattled Houthi rebels in Yemen fired a missile at its international airport, Riyadh declared the missile to be Iranian-made, smuggled into Yemen by Tehran, and fired with the help of Hezbollah.

The story seemed far-fetched, but Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the attack out of Yemen may be considered an “act of war”—by Iran. And as war talk spread across the region last week, Riyadh ordered all Saudi nationals in Lebanon to come home.

Riyadh has now imposed a virtual starvation blockade—land, sea and air—on Yemen, that poorest of Arab nations that is heavily dependent on imports for food and medicine. Hundreds of thousands of Yemeni are suffering from cholera. Millions face malnutrition.

The U.S. interest here is clear: no new war in the Middle East, and a negotiated end to the wars in Yemen and Syria.

Hence, the United States needs to rein in the royal prince.

Yet, on his Asia trip, Trump said of the Saudi-generated crisis, “I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing.”

Do they? In October, Jared Kushner made a trip to Riyadh, where he reportedly spent a long night of plotting Middle East strategy until 4 a.m. with MBS.

No one knows how a war between Saudi Arabia and Iran would end. The Saudis has been buying modern U.S. weapons for years, but Iran, with twice the population, has larger if less-well-equipped forces.

Yet the seeming desire of the leading Sunni nation in the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia, for a confrontation with the leading Shiite power, Iran, appears to carry the greater risks for Riyadh.

For, a dozen years ago, the balance of power in the Gulf shifted to Iran, when Bush II launched Operation Iraqi Freedom, ousted Saddam Hussein, disarmed and disbanded his Sunni-led army, and turned Iraq into a Shiite-dominated nation friendly to Iran.

In the Reagan decade, Iraq had fought Iran as mortal enemies for eight years. Now they are associates, if not allies.

The Saudis may bristle at Hezbollah and demand a crackdown. But Hezbollah is a participant in the Lebanese government and has the largest fighting force in the country, hardened in battle in Syria’s civil war, where it emerged on the victorious side.

While the Israelis could fight and win a war with Hezbollah, both Israel and Hezbollah suffered so greatly from their 2006 war that neither appears eager to renew that costly but inconclusive conflict.

In an all-out war with Iran, Saudi Arabia could not prevail without U.S. support. And should Riyadh fail, the regime would be imperiled. As World War I, with the fall of the Romanov, Hohenzollern, Hapsburg and Ottoman empires demonstrated, imperial houses do not fare well in losing wars.

So far out on a limb has MBS gotten himself, with his purge of cabinet ministers and royal cousins, and his foreign adventures, it is hard to see how he climbs back without some humiliation that could cost him the throne.

Yet we have our own interests here. And we should tell the crown prince that if he starts a war in Lebanon or in the Gulf, he is on his own. We cannot have this impulsive prince deciding whether or not the United States goes to war again in the Middle East.

We alone decide that.

Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of a new book, Nixon’s White House Wars: The Battles That Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever.3

21 Comments (Open | Close)

21 Comments To "Reining in the Rogue Royal of Arabia"

#1 Comment By johnhenry On November 13, 2017 @ 10:06 pm

Reigning, not reining, unless Mr Buchanan is a cowboy.

An aural/lingual disconnect – not illiteracy – I suspect.

#2 Comment By johnhenry On November 13, 2017 @ 10:15 pm

oops…looks like the Sage of Baltimore’s doppelgänger was right and I was wrong. For once.

#3 Comment By Wilfred On November 13, 2017 @ 11:07 pm

Johnhenry: No, it’s “reining” in this context.

True, a king “reigns”, but “reining in” as used here is to control a horse (or in this case, a camel) by pulling on the reins.

King Salman, or Queen Salmonella, should rein-in their boy.

#4 Comment By MEexpert On November 14, 2017 @ 12:55 am

There is a fat chance of Trump reining in MbS. He is trying to put his brand on a new war. He just can’t decide if it is going to be North Korea or Iran. Since Israel wants the US to confront Iran, my guess will be that is where Trump will put his money. The consequences be damned.

Meanwhile the Americans continue to snooze.

#5 Comment By Michael Kenny On November 14, 2017 @ 8:46 am

Reining in? I thought Mr Buchanan believed in “non-intervention”!Or is that only when non-intervention suits Vladimir Putin?

#6 Comment By VikingLS On November 14, 2017 @ 9:38 am

“Reining in? I thought Mr Buchanan believed in “non-intervention”!Or is that only when non-intervention suits Vladimir Putin?”

READ the article, not just the title. His method or reigning in the Crown Prince is by telling him we won’t intervene on his behalf.

#7 Comment By SDS On November 14, 2017 @ 9:59 am

“We alone decide that.”

If only that were the case….

Israel decides what we do….

They are friends with S.A. now; so we will do what Israel/S.A. wants; regardless of the person in power there…. Israel wants us to attack Iran in some fashion and would rather have ISIS in Syria; so we’ll start talking about how Assad must go again; and we’ll just “HAVE” to support S.A. when they get a broken nose picking a fight with Iran. They’re our “allies”; after all…
SO the next gulf war starts….

#8 Comment By Rock Stehdy On November 14, 2017 @ 10:52 am

Key quote: “In October, Jared Kushner made a trip to Riyadh, where he reportedly spent a long night of plotting Middle East strategy until 4 a.m. with MBS.”

Let’s hang on a minute here. Since when is American policy in the Middle East determined by this unelected young man?

#9 Comment By checkpoint cheryl On November 14, 2017 @ 11:02 am

I agree with the risk assessment but on the other hand, how successful was the policy of allowing the Saudi vested interest oligarchy to determine the speed of reform and modernization (zero miles per hour). As with so many other pivotal events in history, if he succeeds it will be seen as a brilliant policy and if he fails all the back seat drivers will have known it all along…

#10 Comment By NY Teacher On November 14, 2017 @ 12:19 pm

Are some readers/commentators of this astute article victims of the opioid crisis that ills this society? Or mere literacy buffoons?

Or just saudi neocons trolling this site, disoriented with the maryjane Rx another article here suggests?

#11 Comment By Omar On November 14, 2017 @ 12:55 pm

“We alone decide that.”

Who is We? The Military-Industrial Complex? The Israeli lobby/Deep State? Liberals? Conservative? The “We” is not unified and that is the problem.

#12 Comment By amir On November 14, 2017 @ 1:20 pm

Iran population is 4 times of Saudi not 2 times

#13 Comment By Will Harrington On November 14, 2017 @ 1:26 pm

John Henry

Mr Buchanon was correct. Reining someone iin is a metaphor referring to the use of reins to slow down horses, oxen, mule, etc and bring them to a stop. Reign is a word that refers to royalty. Royalty reign. That word simply makes no sense in the context of what Mr Buchanan wrote here.

#14 Comment By johnhenry On November 14, 2017 @ 2:31 pm

Thank you, Will (and Wilfred above). I did see my error 9 minutes after I posted it and then confessed my shame, but I accept your (and Wilfred’s) further correction
🙂

#15 Comment By b. On November 14, 2017 @ 3:40 pm

“In an all-out war with Iran, Saudi Arabia could not prevail without U.S. support.”

Saudi Arabia cannot even bomb Yemen without assistance from the US.

#16 Comment By Lenny On November 14, 2017 @ 8:44 pm

Why is supporting Iran’s expansionist policies , in the interests of the USA?
SA was model for cautious foreign policy but how long can they take it? Every day , a lawman is killed in the eastern province where the Shia majority lives, and to claim Iran have nothing to do with it is really , well, dumb.
The USA have interests in the region and they have to pick a side: SA or Iran

#17 Comment By Whine Merchant On November 14, 2017 @ 8:47 pm

@ Rock Stehdy: “Let’s hang on a minute here. Since when is American policy in the Middle East determined by this unelected young man?”

Hey, get with the Trump program: It’s a family package. The Trumpets elected Team Trump and they were very clear about that on the campaign trail. No more swamp creatures engaging in nuanced diplomacy, no more getting bogged-down with facts, just Israel First…err, I meant ‘murica first.

– and don’t forget Benghazi!!!

#18 Comment By expanding views On November 15, 2017 @ 9:45 am

@Lenny : “Why is supporting Iran’s expansionist policies , in the interests of the USA?”

According to the history books and respectable news sources, Iran hasn’t expanded by a single inch of territory in over 100 years. That means you should at least cite a source or two for claims about Iranian “expansionism”.

Of course there is a Middle Eastern country that has been expanding. Israel has expanded so much that it doesn’t even have internationally agreed boundaries. The “occupied territories”, the Golan Heights, etc. The US constantly lectures Israel about expanding into the West Bank. And unlike Iran, Israel is credibly reported to have a stockpile of outlaw WMDs, including nukes that threaten our NATO treaty allies.

So the question isn’t so much “Why is supporting Iran’s expansionist policies , in the interests of the USA?” as “Why is supporting Israel in the interests of the USA?”. Or, better yet, “why is it in the interest of the US to be involved in the Middle East in the first place? Shouldn’t the locals make their own arrangements and leave us out of it?”

#19 Comment By Fred Bowman On November 15, 2017 @ 12:10 pm

Unfortunately Pat, Trump will no doubt go along with the neo-conservative/liberal invertionist crowd and support the Saudi’s Crown Prince in whatever misadventures he wishes to pursue. Now if you think differently, please tell us why, as I don’t you can?

#20 Comment By KevinS On November 15, 2017 @ 3:30 pm

“In October, Jared Kushner made a trip to Riyadh, where he reportedly spent a long night of plotting Middle East strategy until 4 a.m. with MBS.”

Oh My God!!!!!

#21 Comment By Alex (the one that likes Ike) On November 16, 2017 @ 4:52 am

Queen Salmonella

Indeed a metaphysical definition of the Saudi state of mind.