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Mohammed bin Salman’s Bizarre Western Fan Club

Tom Friedman gushes some more [1] 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.

12 Comments (Open | Close)

12 Comments To "Mohammed bin Salman’s Bizarre Western Fan Club"

#1 Comment By Richard W. Bray On March 7, 2018 @ 2:34 pm

“bullying foreign policy.” Mohammed bin Salman didn’t steal somebody’s lunch money. He’s currently inflicting massive suffering on millions of men women, and children.

Must one be entirely indifferent to human suffering to qualify as a member in good standing of America’s foreign policy establishment?

#2 Comment By b. On March 7, 2018 @ 2:50 pm

Friedman Units are back. I see Tom’s “Suck On His” and raise him another “six months to turn the corner” in Yemen.

How does the principal mouthpiece of the Iraq War still have a job, now that the mall is flat, too?

#3 Comment By b. On March 7, 2018 @ 2:54 pm

Is a “bullying foreign policy initiative” in any way related to a “bull s**t market” and a generally bullyish attitude towards anything perpetrated by the current generation of inbred wealth?

MbS is – like Trump, Bush, and even Obama – a textbook example of the virtues of a Republic whose citizens are deeply committed to distrust and disrespect any man who chooses to pursue power. Unfortunately, none of the so-called Western nations currently have such a Republic to their name, nor the citizens that would fit that bill.

#4 Comment By Taras 77 On March 7, 2018 @ 6:41 pm

Friedman is unfamiliar with credibility and embarassment-why does he still have a job and why does anyone listen to him.

#5 Comment By Fran Macadam On March 7, 2018 @ 9:37 pm

Tom Friedman is paid to try to create public opinion for what the elites he serves desire, against the real public interest. If you don’t know what is they seek, you are uninformed, but if you believe his shilling, you are misinformed.

#6 Comment By Lower Delaware On March 7, 2018 @ 11:09 pm

Can you imagine how cynical it must make you, to have gotten wrong almost every important question in your own chosen field for over two decades — and still have your opinion asked and published?

So cynical, apparently, that you can flack for the contemporary world champion of crimes against humanity, salving the shriveled residuum of your moral sense with a few tut-tuts about buying Leonardo da Vinci paintings.

The New York Times has a long history of sweeping under the rug the crimes of butchers who were “on the right side of history” – the Shah springs to mind, another “liberal” ruler of a torture/police state. MBS (or MbS, or MBZ, or whatever cutesy acronym is supposed to be in vogue) is just the latest example. And Friedman is just its latest Walter Duranty.

#7 Comment By Georgetown George On March 7, 2018 @ 11:43 pm

“MBS (or MbS, or MBZ, or whatever cutesy acronym is supposed to be in vogue) “

MBS’s latest contribution to regional harmony and stability is to accuse Turkey of being in league with Iran and Qatar in a “triangle of evil”.

Friedman’s great Saudi hope — an unhinged autocrat who likes to hang his enemies upside down, roast prisoners alive, kidnap foreign leaders, starve children, blockade his neighbors, and openly attack senior members of NATO.

#8 Comment By NC think tanker On March 8, 2018 @ 11:26 am

It’s not a bizarre fan club. It’s just the kind of fan club you’d expect.

It’s discredited old farts swimming like eels through the undersea grotto of a legacy media op-ed page. Show me even one of them who didn’t either plump for the Iraq War or the attack on Libya, who didn’t cheer when Sisi overturned the Egyptian elections, or scream for Obama to involve us in the Syrian mess.

See? Not bizarre at all. In fact, it’s the usual suspects. What’s bizarre is that we haven’t banned these useful idiots and foreign agents from the public square.

#9 Comment By Adulteration On March 8, 2018 @ 10:04 pm

I agree with “NC think tanker” that most MbS boosters in the West turn out to have supported the invasion of Iraq, and some even helped lie us into that war. Others seem to be (one way or another) on the Saudi or Israeli lobby payroll.

We need a labeling system for op-ed pieces similar to the one for food products. Americans have a right to know when they’re being poisoned.

#10 Comment By Matija On March 9, 2018 @ 6:05 pm

We’ll NYTimes is writing the first draft of history, hence history truly is bunk.

#11 Comment By Matija On March 9, 2018 @ 6:05 pm


#12 Comment By Moone Boy On March 11, 2018 @ 5:39 pm

I look at that photo and think: poor TCU.

It’s aptly the alma mater of [2] from the Simpsons.

You read the headline articles at
[3], and think: that sure sounds like the foreign policy version of the Western Branch of American Reform Presbylutheranism First Church of Springfield, alright.