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Don’t Believe the ‘Reformer’ Hype About MBS

Rosie Bsheer warns [1] Westerners not to fall for Mohammed bin Salman’s reformer act:

Even as Western governments and media outlets sing his praises, the young crown prince is viewed domestically as an incompetent and corrupt ruler who hides behind liberalism, tolerance and anti-corruption rhetoric [bold mine-DL]. This view is shared by ruling members of the monarchy, economic elites and the population at large, who see bin Salman as someone who has disturbed the status quo for the sake of massive personal enrichment and political aggrandizement.

Many Westerners are often eager to promote individual foreign leaders in as “reformers” or “moderates” so that it makes it easier to justify a close U.S. relationship with these leaders. Few would openly argue that the U.S.-Saudi relationship should remain the same or become even closer if the next king is a reckless incompetent who is actively destabilizing the surrounding region. For that reason, there is great reluctance on the part of supporters of the relationship to judge MBS on what he has actually done rather than what he says he wants to do in the future.

Bsheer comments on MBS’ recent power grab and how it benefits him and his father:

These arrests, cloaked in populist rhetoric trumpeting a purported campaign to end corruption, actually aim to silence and disempower, if not to completely purge, bureaucrats and members of the ruling family who hold economic and political power and are still not on board with Salman’s rise to power.

The arrests benefit Salman in two ways. Politically, they upend the balance of power in the Saudi regime, leaving Salman with few rivals. Financially, they make it easier to claim his rivals’ assets as his own, part of a two-year effort to consolidate economic power.

When stripped of their official justifications, we can see that these actions are not those of a reformer at all. They are the actions of a despot engaging in a massive abuse of power. If an adversarial authoritarian regime conducted such a purge and justified it in the same way, the near-unanimous response from the West would be criticism and ridicule, and that response would be appropriate. When MBS and his father do it, they are embraced by the president and their justification is taken at face value by far too many news outlets.

At the very least, MBS and his father should be subject to the same skepticism and criticism as any other authoritarian government. We should be wary of accepting the “reformer” credentials of a person who has so far distinguished himself for his hubris and incompetence while compiling a record of failure and repeated violations of international law. Perhaps we could refrain from labeling the man who is helping to starve millions of people to death as a “moderate.” Ideally, the U.S. should take the opportunity provided by MBS’ rise to recognize that the relationship with the Saudis has become a liability and put as much distance between us and Riyadh as possible.


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10 Comments To "Don’t Believe the ‘Reformer’ Hype About MBS"

#1 Comment By The Terror On November 8, 2017 @ 12:10 pm

The world has plenty of experience – all too much – with “reformers” who arrest and kill their rivals, and who commit mass atrocities against civilian populations, as MBS is doing in Yemen.

Our “friendships” in the Middle East have damaged and soiled us more than any foreign relationships in our history that I can think of.

At least when we “opened” to China we did it fairly clear-eyed, and one could credibly argue that it was necessary and served our national interest. But our sick, codependent relationships with Saudi Arabia and Israel have only entangled us in pointless messes, put America itself at risk, fouled us morally, and made us simultaneously a frightening, destabilizing force on the world stage, and an international laughingstock.

When and where will it end? I had some hope that Trump might do it, but so far he seems to be doubling down on the Bush the Younger / Obama stupidity.

#2 Comment By DanJ On November 8, 2017 @ 2:39 pm

It’s the oldest trick in the book and it still works! The “Reformers” used to be manly yet sensitive Communist revolutionary types and not well-groomed billionaire princes, but the rhetoric is still the same.

Sadly, the end result will also be the same. And the excuse: He meant well but must have been corrupted by power!

#3 Comment By Patrick D On November 8, 2017 @ 3:36 pm

No doubt MBS will be hailed by the usual neocon and liberal interventionist suspects as a Saudi Ataturk. He knows exactly what they want to hear.

#4 Comment By ADC Wonk On November 8, 2017 @ 5:45 pm

The world has plenty of experience – all too much – with “reformers” who arrest and kill their rivals

Hmm. Made me think of Michael Flynn chanting “lock her up!” to the delight of the RNC, who enthusiastically joined in.

When and where will it end? I had some hope that Trump might do it

Yeah. Right. Has Trump ever met a strongman he didn’t like? He’s attracted to powerful leaders.

David Ignatius notes:

(read it and weep)

MBS is emboldened by strong support from President Trump and his inner circle, who see him as a kindred disrupter of the status quo — at once a wealthy tycoon and a populist insurgent. It was probably no accident that last month, Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, made a personal visit to Riyadh. The two princes are said to have stayed up until nearly 4 a.m. several nights, swapping stories and planning strategy.

No doubt MBS will be hailed by the usual neocon and liberal interventionist suspects as a Saudi Ataturk.

So, which is it? Is Trump a neocon or a liberal interventionist?

#5 Comment By Kirt Higdon On November 8, 2017 @ 6:39 pm

“Is Trump a neocon or a liberal interventionist?”

That’s a distinction without a difference.

#6 Comment By Patrick D On November 8, 2017 @ 9:32 pm

“So, which is it? Is Trump a neocon or a liberal interventionist?”


Not sure whether you are addressing me but neither Daniel’s post nor mine reference Trump.

As Kirt Higdon points out there is little difference between neocon and liberal interventions. The only minor one I’d offer is that since neocons believe in “the noble lie” they will peddle and embrace what they know to be BS when they find it useful while liberal interventionists may actually believe it.

Kirt Higdon,

“That’s a distinction without a difference.”

Indeed. For some, they are both just family.


#7 Comment By mohammad On November 9, 2017 @ 8:35 am

Why is Saudi Arabia Prince treated differently by Trump and ofhers in the USA?

The answer is short and simple: Iran derangement syndrom on the part of many Americans!

#8 Comment By Sid Finster On November 9, 2017 @ 10:42 am

A neoliberal interventionist is a neocon dressed up with some transparently self-serving human rights talk.

Otherwise, they are identical.

#9 Comment By My Favorite Martian On November 9, 2017 @ 11:08 pm

He’s not just reforming Saudi Arabia, he’s reforming Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon too!

What a swell guy!

#10 Comment By T H On November 12, 2017 @ 7:44 pm

So in his estimation he’s the only decent flawless non corrupt fella out there. The hundreds of others who own and run legitimize businesses and built his country are deemed corrupt and should be tried by a system he himself controls. They don’t stand half a chance but the Picasso of lies will artfully paint the picture of sweeping corruption only he himself can control. If His Royal perfection is so clean and holier than holy he should stand up to some questioning. Where did he get the funds to pay for the 500 million dollar yacht he bought while vacationing in France on a whim? What’s his compensation plan for whatever product or service he provides to justify that? His reckless spending binges have long been out there.