- The American Conservative - https://www.theamericanconservative.com -

Dennis Ross’s Shameless Paean to the Saudi War Criminal

The Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) is coming to Washington next month, so naturally we are already being treated to shameless propaganda on his behalf in our newspapers. Here’s Dennis Ross’ plea [1] to “get behind” the Saudi king’s son:

I have just returned from my second trip to Saudi Arabia since Mohammed bin Salman, the 32-year-old crown prince, became the driving force for change in the kingdom. His efforts to transform Saudi society amount to a revolution from above. Many seem to equate him with the shah of Iran, who thought he could Westernize his country without modernizing its social, religious roots and was ultimately swept away in the revolution that produced the Islamic Republic of Iran. I see him as more like Mustafa Kemal Ataturk — a leader who revolutionized Turkey by taking away the power of the religious base and secularizing the country.

It is bad enough to take MbS’s “reform” program at face value, as Tom Friedman did [2] last year, but it is ludicrous to suggest that this power-grabbing Saudi despot can be compared to a secularizing modernizer like Ataturk. There is little evidence that he is “taking away the power of the religious base,” especially when his foreign policy has been marked by fueling sectarianism and pandering to Saudi clerics [3]. Bruce Riedel reported [3] on this last month:

Pursuing a very sectarian agenda at home and abroad gives the king and crown prince clerical support despite the defense minister’s vocal support for “moderate” Islam and reforms like permitting women to drive. It’s a way to keep the mainstream Wahhabi establishment and the Al Sheikhs content that their core interests are safe.

Ataturk didn’t embark on disastrous wars and incompetent regional power plays. As crown prince and defense minister, MbS has presided over a calamitous, failed war in Yemen, and the military coalition that Saudi Arabia leads has been responsible for numerous war crimes. The coalition blockade is directly creating the conditions for the worst famine in decades, and the coalition is the main author of a humanitarian crisis that could be the worst in half a century [4]. This reflects the Saudis’ incompetence and failure of the Saudis’ signature foreign policy initiative under King Salman and his son, and it proves the Saudis and their allies to be some of the most despicable governments on the planet. Predictably, Yemen barely receives a mention in Ross’ op-ed, and there is no acknowledgment that the crown prince he is applauding is also major war criminal.

Ross declares MbS to be a “Saudi revolutionary.” That is a very questionable assertion, but why would the U.S. want to be siding with such a “revolutionary” in any case? The last thing that the U.S. needs is to support more upheaval and destabilization in that part of the world, and to date more upheaval and instability are the only things MbS has created. The crown prince’s rapid rise is a warning to the U.S. that it needs to disentangle itself from the noxious Saudi relationship as soon as possible.

MbS is gulling Western audiences with his internal reform rhetoric while carrying out external policies that fan sectarian hatred and lend strength to jihadist groups. As far as U.S. interests are concerned, the latter are obviously dangerous and alarming developments, and the former is much less meaningful and less important. It is almost always a bad idea to bet so heavily on the ambitions of an inexperienced, rash foreign leader, and in this case it is folly to take MbS at his word about what he is trying to do. That is why it is simply wrong to say that “[w]e in the United States have a tremendous stake in MBS’s success.” If his “success” at home involves destabilizing the rest of the region with reckless adventurism, the U.S. should have nothing to do with it.

change_me

9 Comments (Open | Close)

9 Comments To "Dennis Ross’s Shameless Paean to the Saudi War Criminal"

#1 Comment By Patrick D On February 12, 2018 @ 8:03 pm

Called it! Not that I can see into the future. It is just that neocons and liberal interventionists are so predictable.

[5]

#2 Comment By Jonathan Shultz On February 12, 2018 @ 8:15 pm

Always outstanding commentary by Larison. The Saudis have so clearly purchased this administration beyond anything they managed to do in the past. MBS is truly a war criminal and our cooperation with him makes the US an outlaw regime as well.

#3 Comment By one American says On February 12, 2018 @ 8:32 pm

We have no stake in MbS’s “success”. We have a stake in not letting ourselves be associated with the overpowering stink coming from Riyadh.

#4 Comment By Taras 77 On February 13, 2018 @ 12:30 am

I never believed that Ross ever had anything useful, truthful, or intelligent to say-he has always been a propagandist.

#5 Comment By Christian Chuba On February 13, 2018 @ 7:06 am

It looks more like he is pursuing the Chinese model of attempting to reform the economy while preserving a dictatorial govt which is fine as long as you call it for what it is.

Woman drivers in a year, great, Iran let’s woman drive but we hiss at them incessantly. Unlike Iran, the Saudis still fund Sunni fundamentalists with the tacit agreement, ‘keep your crazy outside our borders’. It’s not like MbS is reforming govt institutions.

In Yemen, they boast that the Houthis now only control 15% of Yemen’s land area but Hadi’s govt controls even less than that.

#6 Comment By cka2nd On February 13, 2018 @ 6:28 pm

Ross worked for the first President Bush and for both Clinton. In other words, he’s a golden boy of the bipartisan, imperialist foreign policy establishment. I certainly hope the foreign policy so-called “realists” have called him out and denounced him, since they were the ones supposedly running Papi Bush’s foreign affairs.

#7 Comment By Gerald Arcuri On February 13, 2018 @ 9:14 pm

“Innocents Abroad”. That’s how the photo of Jared Kushner and Ivanka posing with MbS heading this article should be captioned.

Churchill lamented the oft-dilatory and fecklessness of U.S. foreign policy when he quipped prior to our being pushed into WWII that Americans could be counted on to do the right things, after first having exhausted all other alternatives. Trial and error is no way to run a foreign policy, nor is unbridled exuberance toward any foreign power. We seem never to learn this lesson.

Having spent time in “The Magic Kingdom” myself, I don’t see any cause for optimism with the ascendancy of MbS, let alone enthusiasm. It’s all premature, at the very least.

#8 Comment By Gerald Arcuri On February 13, 2018 @ 9:17 pm

“Innocents Abroad”. That’s how the photo of Jared Kushner and Ivanka posing with MbS heading this article should be captioned.

Churchill lamented the oft-dilatory manner and fecklessness of U.S. foreign policy when he quipped prior to our being pushed into WWII that Americans could be counted on to do the right thing, after first having exhausted all other alternatives. Trial and error is no way to run a foreign policy, nor is unbridled exuberance toward any foreign power. We seem never to learn this lesson.

Having spent time in “The Magic Kingdom” myself, I don’t see any cause for optimism with the ascendancy of MbS, let alone enthusiasm. It’s all premature, at the very least.

#9 Comment By your generation On February 15, 2018 @ 4:41 pm

Dennis Ross. A name one had reason to hope had disappeared from American public life. For good. I’m very sorry to see it crop up again.