Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) spoke to Jeffrey Goldberg recently, and during their conversation he made this ridiculous statement:
About his bête noir [sic], the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Prince Mohammed said, “I believe the Iranian supreme leader makes Hitler look good. Hitler didn’t do what the supreme leader is trying to do. Hitler tried to conquer Europe. … The supreme leader is trying to conquer the world.”
Mohammed bin Salman may be foolish enough to believe his own propaganda, but more likely he thinks that this is what will get the attention of ignorant Western hawks. If MbS genuinely believes that Hitler is not as bad as Khamenei because the former was supposedly less ambitious in his goals of conquest, he is far stupider than anyone suspected. Whether he really thinks this or not, it is worth noting that he must think Western governments are stupid enough to take this claim seriously because he keeps repeating it and things like it. He keeps harping on equating contemporary Iran with Nazi Germany because he thinks it makes Riyadh’s obsessive rivalry with them seem less obnoxious and self-serving than it really is. Western governments should take this unhinged rhetoric as a warning sign that Saudi recklessness in foreign policy is just getting started.
Goldberg asked one question about the war on Yemen, which I suppose is better than nothing. However, there was no pushback or follow-up when Mohammed bin Salman gave his evasive and dishonest answer. Among other things, the crown prince said this:
Our campaign is focused on helping the legitimate government and bringing stability. Saudi Arabia is trying to help the people of Yemen.
Everything in these statements is false or misleading. The prince refers to the “legitimate” government, but that government has no influence in Yemen and the nominal president is hated equally in both the north and south. As a practical matter, there is no “legitimate” government in Yemen left to “help,” and Yemen has already had quite enough Saudi “help” for several lifetimes. Since the coalition intervened, Yemen has fragmented, AQAP has gained in strength, and southern separatists are moving towards establishing a state of their own. If we judge the intervention by how much stability it has brought, we have to conclude that it is a total failure. Of course, there was never any chance that the intervention would “bring” stability. Intervention in Yemen was always going to prolong and intensify the conflict, and that is exactly what has happened.
It is obviously not true that Saudi Arabia is “trying to help the people of Yemen,” but even if we credited them with “trying” to do this they have failed as badly as one possibly could. Before the intervention, Yemen was poor and many Yemenis were food insecure, but in the last three years the economy has been ruined, over eight million are on the brink of famine, and the country has suffered the worst cholera epidemic on record. A government that is genuinely interested in helping the people of Yemen wouldn’t have starved them for three years, systematically bombed their sources of food production, destroyed their infrastructure, attacked their medical facilities, and wrecked their water and sewage treatment plants, but the Saudis have done all these things and continue to do them. It would have been novel and refreshing for an interviewer to ask him about some or all of these things, but once again he was not forced to face up to what his government and its allies have done.
As he does in virtually all Western interviews, the crown prince gets to hold forth at length with his self-serving statements and rarely meets any challenge. On Yemen, he was not challenged on the blockade or the famine that it is causing. Notably, the words famine, starvation, and blockade never appear in the interview at any point. No doubt he would come up with some lame excuse if he were pressed on this issue, but he still needs to be confronted about it.
Later in his answer, the crown prince whines that he has to answer one very tame question about Yemen:
We don’t want to come here, as Saudi Arabia, and be asked these questions. We want to be asked about the economy, our partnerships, investment in America and Saudi Arabia. We don’t want to spend our lives arguing about Yemen.
I’m sure that MbS would prefer that his interviewers treat him even more obsequiously than they already do, but if he doesn’t want to be asked about the war on Yemen he would do well to stop waging it. The crown prince doesn’t like being asked about the failed war he is presiding over because even he understands that it detracts from the P.R. blitz that he and his supporters have been engaged in over the last year. It really does spoil a triumphant foreign tour to have to talk about his responsibility for war crimes and the mass starvation of innocents. MbS must also find talking about the war difficult because his talking points are nonsense and persuade no one that has paid any attention to the story for more than five minutes.