Mohammed bin Salman’s Bizarre Western Fan Club
Tom Friedman gushes some more about the Saudi crown prince:
M.B.S. is definitely bold. I can think of no one else in the ruling family who would have put in place the profound social, religious and economic reforms that he’s dared to do — and all at once. But I can also think of no one in that family who’d have undertaken the bullying foreign policy initiatives, domestic power plays and excessive personal buying sprees he’s dared to do, all at once. They are two halves of the same M.B.S. package. Our job: help curb his bad impulses and nurture his good ones.
His potential is vast. M.B.S. is trying to forge a societal transformation in Saudi Arabia. Call it “one country, two systems.” For those who want piety, the mosque, Mecca and Islamic education, they’ll all be available and respected. But for those who want modern education and a more normal social life between men and women — and access to Western film, music and the arts — those too will be available and respected. No more religious domination. That is huge.
Friedman’s unceasing praise for Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) is an extreme form of the bizarre admiration that the crown prince seems to inspire in a lot of Western pundits. Unlike his first love letter, this column at least alludes to some of MbS’ flaws, but Friedman doesn’t really let any of those flaws bother him. There is no proof as yet that there is any substance to MbS’ rhetoric about moderate Islam, and there is every reason to think that it is a not very convincing distraction from the Saudis’ promotion of sectarianism in Yemen and elsewhere. The “one country, two systems” description given here doesn’t have any connection to reality.
There are a few serious problems with this excessive enthusiasm for the Saudi heir. Almost all of the “reforms” that MbS has promised have not yet been put into practice, and so may prove to be far less “profound” than his boosters imagine. It is not certain that most of the crown prince’s reform agenda will ever happen. Instead of waiting to see what he actually does, Friedman and other fans celebrate him for what he might do. Meanwhile, they ignore or wave away the awful things that the crown prince has done and is doing at the moment. For whatever reason, the modest changes that MbS might one day make are given more weight than the serious war crimes and other abuses his government has been committing for the last three years. When Western pundits are this credulous about a foreign leader, they are almost always kidding themselves and end up being misled at the same time that they mislead their readers. At best, this is unreasonably positive spin masquerading as analysis, and at worst it is just naked propagandizing on behalf of a foreign government.
Yemen is mentioned only twice in the column. Friedman does allow that Yemen is one of MbS’ “failed overreaches,” but that is the only criticism he will offer. The most that he will say about the war is that Trump should “appoint a James Baker or Dave Petraeus as your special envoy to the Arab Gulf [sic] who can help M.B.S. defuse Yemen.” Unfortunately, Friedman doesn’t seem to grasp that MbS doesn’t want to “defuse Yemen,” but instead wants to keep battering and starving it in pursuit of unrealistic goals. Friedman won’t fully acknowledge MbS’ responsibility for coalition war crimes and helping to create the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and any “memo” to the president that fails to address these things isn’t worth very much at all.