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End the Noxious U.S.-Saudi Relationship Now

President Donald Trump speaks with Mohammed bin Salman in 2017 in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Ali Shihabi tells us that the U.S. will have to keep dealing with Mohammed bin Salman:

But the idea that the United States can magically disentangle Saudi Arabia from its crown prince is fanciful. If Mohammed bin Salman stays, Washington will not be able to sideline him without harming its own vital interests.

Shihabi is right that the U.S. cannot separate the Saudi government from the crown prince, but he draws all the wrong conclusions from this. Mohammed bin Salman is the de facto ruler in the kingdom and heir to the throne, and it is obviously not within our government’s power and it is none of our business to change any of that. It doesn’t follow that the U.S. has to maintain the same relationship with Saudi Arabia while Mohammed bin Salman is in power. The idea that the U.S. would be harming its “vital interests” if it held the crown prince to account for his crimes assumes that continuing to indulge the reckless crown prince has something to do with securing those interests. That’s not true. Saudi Arabia isn’t our ally, and Saudi Arabia under Mohammed bin Salman is a regional menace and a liability. The sooner that the U.S. cuts off its reckless client, the better it will be for U.S. interests.

Shihabi grants that the crown prince is inexperienced, but the bigger problem is that Mohammed bin Salman has not learned anything from his many failures and crimes. The crown prince seems to take for granted that he will always have U.S. backing no matter how many people his government starves and bombs in Yemen and no matter how many dissidents and critics he has tortured and killed. The Trump administration has given him every reason to believe that he can do whatever he likes without jeopardizing ties with Washington, and that guarantees that there will be more of the same reckless and destructive behavior that we have seen over the last four years. Shihabi’s prediction that “Saudi Arabia should have a more measured and thoughtful foreign policy in the future” is based on nothing more than wishful thinking.

If it is true that “his future and the future of Saudi Arabia are indissolubly intertwined,” that makes the case for disentangling the U.S. from Saudi Arabia even stronger. Mohammed bin Salman will likely be in charge of the kingdom for a long time to come, and unless the U.S. wants to be implicated in many more crimes and abuses committed by the crown prince and the Saudi government the time to downgrade the relationship with Riyadh is right now.

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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