Home/Daniel Larison/Britain’s Decision to Host Mohammed bin Salman Is Misguided

Britain’s Decision to Host Mohammed bin Salman Is Misguided

The ridiculous Boris Johnson abases himself further with this endorsement of Mohammed bin Salman (MbS):

If you are inclined to dismiss these advances, then I will respectfully suggest that you are making a profound mistake. Change does not come easily in Saudi Arabia. In a matter of a few months, genuine reform has taken place after decades of stasis.

Western policymakers and pundits are always overeager to praise a “reforming” leader in other countries before he has achieved anything, and once they have endorsed the “reformer” they tend to become apologists for whatever he does because he is on the side of “reform.” Instead of waiting to see whether the promised reforms materialize and succeed, Western cheerleaders take the promises of the “reformer” at face value and ignore all of the evidence that shows that they are being taken for a ride. Of course, foreign leaders see this pattern of behavior and know that they can gain Western backing by saying the right things about a few issues, and they have no problem feigning “moderation” if it means getting a free pass on their abusive and destabilizing policies. To give MbS some credit, he has learned how to play Western governments very effectively. Johnson’s defense of the crown prince’s visit to the U.K. is proof of that.

If MbS has been crown prince for only a few months, surely it is too early to tell whether “genuine reform” has happened. If we judge MbS by his entire record since 2015 and not just by the handful of modest changes that he has made (or promised to make in the future) in the last year, we would have to conclude that he is at best an inept, overreaching leader and at worst a power-hungry menace.

Johnson doesn’t completely ignore the war on Yemen, but he does have to leave out a great deal and lies about the rest:

Today Britain and Saudi Arabia are working together to counter Iran’s disruptive behaviour in the Middle East and bring the war in Yemen to an end.

There is no evidence that Britain and Saudi Arabia are working to bring the war in Yemen to an end. U.K. support for the Saudi-led coalition remains the same as ever, and the coalition has shown no signs that it is willing to accept a compromise that would bring the war to an end anytime soon. The reality is that the U.K., like the U.S., has provided uncritical backing to the coalition war effort, puts no pressure on them to stop their bombing campaign, and spends more time criticizing Iran for its minimal role in the conflict than it spends on addressing the massive humanitarian crisis that the coalition war and blockade have created. That has nothing to do with “upholding our values as a force for good” and everything to do with continuing arms sales to despotic regimes as they bomb civilians in one of the world’s poorest countries. Johnson claims that he “will not minimise Britain’s differences with the kingdom,” but his entire op-ed is an exercise in doing just that.

May’s willingness to host MbS is an embarrassment for Britain, so I suppose it is fitting that her embarrassment of a Foreign Secretary should be the one to defend it.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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